Forest Practices and the Hummingbird
Creek Debris Flow

Complaint Investigation 990189
August 2001

July 1997 was a wet month in the Salmon Arm area. Record rainfalls that month resulted in the largest non-volcanic debris flow recorded in B.C., sending debris down Hummingbird Creek into Mara Lake, about 20 kilometres northeast of Salmon Arm. This caused substantial damage to public and private property in the Swansea Point residential area.

A Swansea Point resident felt that inadequate road and culvert maintenance by a forest licence holder in the area contributed to the damage. The complainant also felt that the Ministry of Forests had not enforced the licensee’s road permit requirements. Finally, the complainant said further harvesting should not occur because development restrictions had been placed on the residential area due to the risk of further debris flows.

The Forest Practices Board investigated the licensee’s road and culvert maintenance activities, as well as government’s enforcement of road and culvert maintenance obligations. The Board also looked at the plans for new cutblocks in the area. The road was built before the Code came into effect, so its construction was outside the Board’s jurisdiction.

The Board examined the licensee’s road and culvert inspection and maintenance records. The Board found no evidence of non-compliance with the Code. In looking at government’s enforcement of the road and culvert obligations, the Board found some inconsistent inspection procedures, which have since been addressed. However the Board found that overall, government enforcement was adequate.

Regarding future logging in the area, the Board found that currently approved cutblocks had been approved before the debris flow occurred. Code requirements for watershed assessments and terrain stability assessments were complied with. Additional review of the blocks had occurred after the debris flow. The assessments concluded that the risk of another debris flow from these cutblocks was low.

The Board agreed with a 1997 report on the debris flow prepared jointly by the ministries of environment, forestry, transportation and mines. That report recommended changes to the Code so that risk to persons and property would be included when assessing terrain stability. The report also recommended that the Code be changed to prohibit road drainage systems that direct run-off onto potentially unstable slopes.

Some of these changes have already been made or are being made in revisions to the Forest Road Regulation, the Forest Road Engineering Guidebook and the Mapping and Assessing Terrain Stability Guidebook. There is now guidance on how to deal with runoff from potentially unstable slopes in the Community Watershed Guidebook. The Ministry of Forests also has a new training module on road development above potentially unstable slopes. Overall, the Board found these measures adequate to address the complainant’s concerns.

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