Forest Planning and Practices
in Coastal Stream
In early 1997, the Forest Practices Board began a special
investigation into forest planning and practices around streams in
coastal British Columbia. Logging practices around streams were the
subject of public controversy at the time. The Board decided to
undertake this investigation in its role as public watchdog over
effective forest management, and because streams and their adjacent
riparian areas are of great interest to the public and to
organizations involved in forestry.
The Forest Practices Code
The Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act and its
regulations and guidebooks, referred to collectively as the Code,
direct the conduct of forestry operations on Crown forest lands in
British Columbia. The Code was introduced in June 1995 amidst
concerns about the need to improve forestry practices in British
Columbia. Changes were made to the Code in June 1997, but many of
the requirements related to riparian areas remain the same. This
investigation was based on the requirements in place prior to the
June 1997 changes.
One of the objectives of the Code is to ensure that planning and
practices around streams and riparian areas provide
protection to fish and fish habitat as well as the riparian area
itself. The Code requires the identification of streams in and
adjacent to cutblock areas proposed for logging and classification
of the streams based on width and the presence or absence of
|Riparian areas occur next to the banks of streams, lakes
and wetlands and include both the area dominated by continuous high
moisture content and the adjacent upland vegetation that exerts an
influence on it. Riparian areas contain many of the highest value
timber and non-timber resources in the forest. Streamside vegetation
protects water quality and provides a "green zone" of plants that
stabilize streambanks, regulate stream temperatures, and provide a
constant source of woody debris to the stream channel.|
Under the Code, a riparian management area must be
established next to all streams. This area consists of a riparian
management zone and, for larger fish streams, a riparian reserve
zone (see Key Concepts and Terms). Each of the zones has width
requirements based on the stream classification. Restrictions on
forest practices apply within these zones, the most stringent
requirements affecting the reserve zone. Here, for example, the
cutting of trees is restricted to help protect the stream ecosystem
and the diversity of wildlife habitat and vegetation in the riparian
Comparison to Pre-Code Studies
|Between 1992 and 1995, the Ministry of Forests released several
reports (principally authored by Derek Tripp, who also participated
in this special investigation) on forest practices conducted around
streams and in compliance with the Coastal Fisheries Forestry
Guidelines, which were in place before the Code was enacted. The
forest practices studies were carried out between 1988 and 1992.
The investigation found that alterations to streams caused by
logging activities were significantly lower than in the pre-Code
period examined in earlier studies (1988-92). This improvement is
particularly evident for larger fish streams, and for non-fish
streams that were previously subject to high levels of alteration
(i.e., disturbance)(see graph
below). Several factors have contributed to the improvement,
with the primary one being the introduction of the Code. Reasons for
improvements under the Code include:
Comparison of level of alterations to streams
with pre-Code period
- Larger fish streams are now protected by mandatory riparian
reserve zones, in which the cutting of trees is highly restricted.
- Compliance with plan requirements for reserves has increased.
The Code sets out significant penalties and fines for
non-compliance involving damage to streams.
- A greater emphasis is being placed on falling and yarding
trees away from streams and cleaning logging debris from streams
after the completion of harvesting.
- Detailed planning requirements, which apply to even the
smallest non-fish streams, combined with training, have increased
logging crews' awareness of streams and the need to minimize
- It has become common practice to exclude larger streams (both
fish and non-fish) from harvest areas when designing cutblock
Objective and Scope of the Investigation
The objective of the investigation was to determine whether
forest planning and practices in coastal areas comply with the Code
and protect streams and associated riparian areas. Three questions
- Do forest planning and practices comply with the Forest
- Are the specific practices being used consistent with the best
management practices outlined in the Riparian Management Area
- Are the specific practices being used minimizing impacts on
streams and riparian areas?
Selection of cutblocks and streams inspected
A sample of 96 coastal cutblocks was selected for field
assessment from within six coastal Ministry of Forests districts.
These were the Port McNeill and South Island forest districts on
Vancouver Island, Chilliwack and Sunshine Coast forest districts on
the southern coast, and the Kalum (Terrace) and Queen Charlotte
Islands forest districts on the north coast. The forest districts
were chosen because they broadly represent the range of physical and
geographic conditions that exist in the 10 districts along British
Columbia's coast. On average, each coastal cutblock contained six
streams. Of the 430 cutblocks logged on the coast between December
15, 1995, and March 31, 1997, only 7% did not contain streams. The
investigation examined 355 stream reaches in the selected
The sample included cutblocks of forest companies and the
Ministry of Forests Small Business Forest Enterprise Program. The
sample was designed to adequately portray forest planning and
practices around all six classes of streams under the Code.
The streams were examined using rigorous auditing methods to
ensure the accuracy and the credibility of the results.
Compliance with Planning and Practices Requirements of the
Measuring compliance with the Code required examining the
planning requirements that were followed and the practices
implemented in the field. This included checking the identification,
classification and mapping of streams, the establishment of riparian
management areas, and the fulfilment of obligations set out in
site-specific plans and other requirements.
The correct identification and classification of streams is
important because stream class determines the extent and location of
the riparian management area and the practices that will be applied
around the stream. The investigation found this step to be the main
aspect of planning that requires improvement. Although
identification and classification of S1 and S6 streams was very
good, nearly half of S3 and S4 streams were underclassified (see table
below). This misclassification led to inappropriate practices in
a number of cases, which resulted in the alterations to stream area
observed in S4 streams, and harvesting in what should have been
reserve zones along S3 streams. It is worth noting, however, that -
despite the incorrect plans - the misclassification was sometimes
corrected in the field by logging crews and the appropriate
practices were carried out.
|Accuracy of Stream
||Number of stream reaches assessed
||Number of stream reaches correctly classified
||Number of stream reaches overclassified
||Number of stream reaches underclassified
||Total number of stream reaches incorrectly
* Streams classed as S6 by the field teams, though
operators had not previously classed them as streams.
addition to these were 25 watercourses classed as streams but
subsequently determined by the field teams not to be
The main causes of misclassification were:
- measurement errors, for both stream width and stream gradient;
- failure to comply with the Code requirement to consider low
gradient streams as fish streams when a fish inventory has not
- classification of low gradient streams as non-fish streams,
based on a fish inventory that was not adequate to confirm fish
- failure to recognize watercourses as streams, because of a
lack of clarity in the Code definition of what constitutes a
stream. (Note: this definition has been revised as part of the
recent changes to the Code.)
Many of the plans containing misclassified streams were approved
by government without adequate information or work to determine the
presence or absence of fish.
Once streams are identified and classified, plans must set out
the riparian management areas that will be applied and the practices
that will take place in the riparian area. The investigation found
high levels of compliance with these planning requirements of the
Code. However, for those streams that were underclassified, the
plans were not appropriate for the actual stream conditions.
The investigation also found similar levels of compliance across
districts, except for Kalum Forest District, which ranked lowest for
Compliance with the requirements of the Timber Harvesting
Practices Regulation was very high across all six stream
classes. The regulation prescribes:
- leaving stable material in place in stream reaches;
- not depositing harmful amounts of slash and debris in stream
- removing temporary stream crossings, once operations are
- avoiding damage to the stream by ground-based machinery.
The practices set out in approved plans - maintenance of the
riparian management zone, streambank retention, stream cleaning, and
falling and yarding - were found to be generally followed on the
ground. The compliance levels were higher in fish streams and lower
in non-fish streams.
The main areas of non-compliance with plans were: failure to
carry out stream cleaning, and falling and yarding across streams.
In some cases, non-compliance resulted from poor plans that either
proposed unsuitable practices for the site, or were too vague to
indicate what was to take place on the site.
Nearly half of the alterations in fish streams were the result of
misclassified streams and the subsequent approval in plans of
inappropriate practices that were then followed on the ground. Where
fish streams were correctly classified and the plans followed,
practically no alteration was observed in the streams.
The practices of stream cleaning, falling and yarding trees away
from streams, and maintaining streambank vegetation were highly
effective in preventing stream alterations. So too was the
establishment of riparian reserve zones. For their part, riparian
management zones were effective in protecting the reserve zones and
preventing blowdown in them (i.e., the uprooting of trees by the
Summary of the Results of Forest Practices by Stream Class
Assessing the wildlife habitat values affected by logging
activity was not possible in this investigation, since the Code does
not specify objectives for the protection of wildlife habitat in
riparian management areas. The focus of plans was stream protection.
Specific measures to protect non-timber values in riparian areas
were lacking, making it impossible to assess the wildlife habitat
affected by logging activities. It is assumed, however, that
maintaining riparian management areas, especially riparian reserve
zones, contributes to the maintenance of wildlife habitat too.
Alterations in large fish streams were found to be almost
non-existent, as a result of operators' high level of compliance
with the reserve zone requirements for these streams. For S1 and S2
streams, 41 out of 46 had reserve zones that were equal to or
greater than Code requirements, with 16 maintaining significantly
more trees than required.
For S3 streams, compliance with the reserve zone requirements was
only 65%, due to the misclassification of 22 of the streams. Seven
were corrected in the field by logging crews, but 15 did not receive
the required reserve zone. This finding is a concern because
establishment of adequate riparian reserves is one of the most
important of the Code's riparian requirements.
Eighteen S4 streams were underclassified as S6 non-fish streams,
which led to inappropriate practices in the riparian management zone
with woody debris deposited in these small fish streams.
The level of alteration in smaller fish streams is notably lower
than in pre-Code studies, but still remains a concern because their
small size makes them more vulnerable to impacts from disturbance.
Over half of the area altered in S3 and S4 fish streams resulted
from inappropriate practices due to misclassification. Clearly,
addressing the misclassification problem will reduce the incidence
of alterations and ensure that requisite reserve zones and
appropriate practices are applied around fish streams.
Alterations were significantly lower for both classes of non-fish
streams compared to what was shown in pre-Code studies. The larger
S5 streams tended to be located along block boundaries rather than
within the harvest area, and significantly more trees were
maintained - an average of 2.5 times as many - than the maximum
recommended in the Code's Riparian Management Area Guidebook,
which helped reduce alterations.
The incidence of alteration in S6 streams has dropped
significantly since pre-Code studies. Approximately 64% of the area
altered in S6 streams resulted from practices (mainly leaving
logging debris in streams) set out in approved plans. This reflects
the less stringent requirements the Code applies to these small
streams. Other alterations occurred primarily because operators
failed to comply with plans, and left logging debris in the stream
Of particular concern is that nearly half of the non-fish streams
found with debris left in them had the potential to transport the
debris downstream. Such situations can lead to stream blockages and
diversions, and may ultimately affect fish streams.
Use of Guidebook Recommendations
Many of the specific forestry practices around streams and
riparian areas are not prescribed by regulation, but are set out as
recommended practices in the Riparian Management Area
Guidebook. While guidebook recommendations are not legally
binding, they represent practices that should be considered.
Although some of the plans examined in this investigation were
developed before the guidebook was released, many called for the
recommended management practices in riparian management
|The Riparian Management Area Guidebook recommends stream
cleaning and falling and yarding practices for S4, S5 and S6
In most cases, for example, stream cleaning, and falling and
yarding recommendations were applied. So, too, were recommendations
regarding the amount of streambank vegetation and trees that should
be maintained in riparian management areas on larger fish streams.
However, only 72% and 66% of S3 and S4 streams respectively, had the
recommended amount of vegetation maintained in the riparian
Only 39% of S6 streams had the recommended amount of streambank
vegetation and the recommended amount of vegetation in the riparian
management zone maintained. These findings reflect the fact that,
for small streams, operators have a general tendency to leave a
larger number of trees on a few streams rather than a smaller number
on all small streams.
|The maximum recommended amounts of vegetation to maintain along
streambanks and in riparian management zones are 50% for S1, S2 and
S3 streams, 25% for S4 and S5 streams, and 5% for S6 streams. |
The average amount of vegetation and trees maintained met or
exceeded the maximum recommended for five of the six stream classes,
although there was a wide range both above and below the
recommendations in each stream class. As noted above, the anomaly
with S3 streams was due to misclassification.
For S6 streams, the limited use of the guidebook recommendations
was likely because clearcutting and cross-stream yarding - both
considered by the Code to be acceptable practices on these small
streams - are incompatible with maintaining streamside vegetation.
Cross-stream yarding was permitted on 54% of non-fish streams and
was likely a major contributor to the debris that was observed in
the streams, and part of the reason that trees were not maintained
in the riparian management zones.
In answering the three questions posed by this investigation, the
Board reached the following conclusions:
- The investigation found high levels of compliance with the
planning and practices requirements of the Code, but two areas
still requiring improvement are:
- Proper classification of small fish streams is needed to
ensure riparian reserve zones are maintained and debris is not
deposited in these streams.
- Appropriate stream cleaning and falling and yarding
practices in and along non-fish streams need to be planned and
- The practices recommended in the Riparian Management Area
Guidebook are generally being used, except for the retention
of vegetation along streambanks and the retention of vegetation in
the riparian management zone for small streams.
- When they are used, the practices recommended in the Code are
effective in minimizing impacts on streams and riparian areas, and
the level of impact is significantly lower than was found in
To remedy the problems identified during the investigation and
encourage continued improvements in forest planning and practices in
coastal British Columbia, the Board presents a detailed list of
recommendations (see section
4). The Board's key recommendations are listed here:
- Government, working with the forest industry, should provide
standards, guidance and training to improve stream inventories,
identification and classification. A clear definition of a
"stream" is also essential.
- Government should develop more specific requirements and
recommendations for retention of trees and vegetation in riparian
management zones, to meet objectives for biodiversity and habitat
- Government and the forest industry should work together to
improve planning and practices around small streams, particularly
to prevent the transport of debris in non-fish streams.
- Government and the forest industry should prepare plans that
are clearly written and practical for the sites they address, so
they can be implemented in the field.
- Government and industry should consider undertaking long-term
assessments to monitor the effects of specified forest practices
in controlling or preventing such occurrences as blowdown.
The Board wishes to thank everyone involved in this special
investigation for their efforts and their cooperation in completing
the project. The ministries of Forests and Environment, Lands and
Parks, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and the Coast Forest and Lumber
Association all contributed to the development of the terms of
reference for this investigation. The special investigation team
dedicated countless hours of work to the collection and analysis of
the data, both in the field and in the office. Staff of the forest
companies and the Ministry of Forests district offices accompanied
the investigation team in the field, reviewed summaries of the
findings, participated in exit meetings, and provided their
cooperation in ensuring the investigation team had all relevant
information to complete the analysis. This special investigation
would not have been possible without the contributions of all of
Special thanks to Darlene Dahl, Jon Davies, Bill Grant, Kevin
Haberl, Shawn Hamilton, Sucha More, Chris Mosher, Chris
Ridley-Thomas, Dag Rutherford, and Derek Tripp.
To Obtain More Information
To contact the Forest Practices Board call 1-800-994-5899 in BC,
or 250-387-7964 in Greater Victoria and from outside BC. This report
is also available on the Internet at http://www.fpb.gov.bc.ca/. You
can also reach the Board by fax at 250-387-7009, or by mail at P.O.
Box 9905, Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8W 9R1.
June 25, 1998 Forest Practices Board
Cindy Pearce, vice-chair
John Cuthbert, member
Jack Toovey, member