Forest Planning and Practices
in Coastal Stream Areas
Technical Report

Summary Report
June 1998



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 fish.

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 area.

Investigation Findings

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 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 stream alterations.
  • It has become common practice to exclude larger streams (both fish and non-fish) from harvest areas when designing cutblock layouts.

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 were asked:

  1. Do forest planning and practices comply with the Forest Practices Code?
  2. Are the specific practices being used consistent with the best management practices outlined in the Riparian Management Area Guidebook?
  3. 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 cutblocks.

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 Code

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 Classification

Stream class 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 classified

S1 18 18 0 0 0
S2 29 23 0 6 6
S3 43 21 0 22 22
S4 42 20 4 18 22
S5 33 21 0 12 12
S6 190 163 8 19* 27

All 355 266 12** 77 89

* Streams classed as S6 by the field teams, though operators had not previously classed them as streams.
** In addition to these were 25 watercourses classed as streams but subsequently determined by the field teams not to be streams.

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 been completed;
  • classification of low gradient streams as non-fish streams, based on a fish inventory that was not adequate to confirm fish absence; and
  • 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 planning.


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 reaches;
  • removing temporary stream crossings, once operations are complete; and
  • 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 wind).

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.

Fish Streams

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.

Non-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 channels.

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 areas.

The Riparian Management Area Guidebook recommends stream cleaning and falling and yarding practices for S4, S5 and S6 streams.

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 management zone.

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:

  1. 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 carried out.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 pre-Code studies.

Key Recommendations

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 management.
  • 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 these parties.

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 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
Keith Moore, chair
Cindy Pearce, vice-chair
John Cuthbert, member
Klaus Offermann, member
Jack Toovey, member
Frances Vyse, member

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