Forest Practices and Planning
in the Sustut Valley North of Smithers, BC

Summary Report
Special Investigation 960023
FPB/SIR/05S
November 2000


Executive Summary

A group of First Nations people who use forested land 200 kilometres north of Smithers, in north-central BC, filed a series of complaints. They were concerned about the impacts of timber harvesting and road construction by two licensees on forest resources in the area.

The Board finds that the licensees' forest harvesting operations met Code (Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act and related regulations) requirements. There was no evidence of unauthorized damage to streamside habitats and no evidence that forest practices on cutblocks caused sediment transportation. However, one licensee's road construction and maintenance activities were inadequate for sensitive local soil conditions. Erosion and drainage from roads caused sediment transportation into the Sustut River, contravening the Forest Road Regulation. In response, the Ministry of Forests district issued a stopwork order and a remediation order. The Board finds that the licensee complied with both orders, although it took a full year to complete the remediation work. The Board also finds that government enforcement of the orders was appropriate and effective even though the district manager did not apply disciplinary penalties. Although the unusually fine-textured soils were difficult to detect, the Board finds that the licensee should have identified and avoided the situation before road construction caused environmental problems. Nevertheless, once the problems developed, the licensee had to put major efforts and expense into correcting them. The Board accepts that this had a disciplinary effect.

The Board finds significant deficiencies in both licensees' forest development plans over several years. The plans were incomplete and did not comply with the Code's content requirements. There was inadequate information about stream classifications and about mountain pine beetle management, a serious forest health concern in the area. The Code required licensees to describe management strategies to reduce forest health risks during the terms of the plans. The plans of one licensee in particular did not describe current beetle infestation levels, assess the potential risks or summarize a beetle management strategy, even though the Ministry of Forests had advised the company to do so. The Board finds that submission of that plan for approval did not comply with the Code. The Board also finds that the district manager failed to comply with section 41 of the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act (the Act) when he approved the licensees' forest development plans. The plans did not have adequate stream classification information and did not describe the extent of the beetle problem or provide a beetle control strategy.

There were also significant deficiencies in the material that the licensees put out for public review and comment. Much important information was either missing or illegible. The complainant considered the plans to be inadequate for public review and comment, and the Board agrees. The licensees acknowledged the brevity of their forest development plans but explained that the plans were never intended to be self-contained documents. The licensees directly contacted the individuals that might be affected by their plans and invited each to meet personally with company representatives to go over any specific concerns. The Board commends both licensees for trying to adapt the public review and comment process to local conditions. However, the licensee's process missed the larger public that needs at least a minimum level of information in a forest development plan in order to be able to comment effectively. For example, there are 70,000 people living in the communities where the licensees advertised the plans for public review and comment. The licensees' process was commendable as far as it went, but the Board finds that an incomplete and general plan supplemented by personal assistance is not enough. The public is entitled to an adequate opportunity to review and comment on forest development plans. Adequate plans must have enough information, in enough detail, for the public to understand what forest practices are proposed, what measures will be taken to minimize impacts on forest resources and what impacts will result from what is proposed. The Board finds that the licensees' plans for public and agency review were not adequate. Information was missing for forest cover, topography, water, fish, wildlife, forest health and biodiversity. The plans were poorly organized, incomplete and partly illegible. The Board finds that both licensees failed to comply with the Code's provisions for public review and comment.

In addition to findings specific to the complaint, the Board also finds a deficiency in the Code. The Code does not deal effectively with the environmental risks of damage from very fine soils that occur on relatively gentle slopes. Only in community watersheds must assessments be carried out for soil erosion hazard and risk of sediment delivery to streams. Elsewhere, there is no Code requirement to assess the risk of sediment delivery before beginning road construction.

The Board recommends that the licensees develop proactive and efficient long- and short-term strategies that will successfully manage bark beetles in their operating areas; and identify and deal with extraordinary conditions, such as presence of very fine soils, well before new areas are developed. The Board also recommends that the licensees produce well-organized and legible forest development plans that meet the full content requirements of the Code. These plans should include clear explanations that justify departures from standard forest practices.

The Board recommends that, before approving forest development plans, the forest district staff make sure that those plans include all information required by the Code. In approving forest development plans that propose departures from standard forest practices, the district manager should include reasons for approval, and those reasons should be available to the public upon request.

Finally, the Board recommends that the Ministry of Forests ensure that a wider range of problem soil situations (for example, fine-textured soils on gentle terrain) are identified and considered in operational planning, especially outside of community watersheds.

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