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Regulating the trees

With the cold starting to set in, many Yukon residents are gathering books and plan on settling down by the heat source and having a good read. If non-fiction grabs your fancy why not consider plowing through the proposed Yukon forestry regulations.

With the cold starting to set in, many Yukon residents are gathering books and plan on settling down by the heat source and having a good read.

If non-fiction grabs your fancy why not consider plowing through the proposed Yukon forestry regulations.

There is more than enough there to keep one immersed in reading material until spring.

That is actually a bit of a problem, because the deadline for public comments are due on October the 30th.

Consultation began back in the beginning of August but what with many people focused on hunting, gathering wood and just generally getting ready for winter it might not have been the best time to start the review.

Here is a very brief synopsis of what it is all about.

There are eight proposed regulations, and they are all under the Yukon Forest Resources Act.

If and when the regulations are approved by the Yukon cabinet the forest resources act will come into force.

The regulations are divided into planning, tenures, stumpage and timber marking, annual allowable cuts, annual limits on timber harvesting, forest resource roads, silviculture and fees.

The eight sets of regulations are meant to get the Yukon forestry industry up and running.

Now of all the pleasures in life nitpicking is one of this columnist’s favourites.

Here are a few things that leap out from the proposed regulations that might not be good from an environmental perspective.

There is no ecosystem-based planning process identified for the areas that are to be logged, just logging plans.

An ecosystem-based planning process would ensure there are connected networks of protected habitat within the area that is to be logged.

It would also determine the type of logging appropriate to the types of ecosystems.

For example, lowland forests that experience relatively infrequent fires should be logged using a cutting system that approximates the insect, disease and windthrow patterns than are prevalent.

This would mean that in many lowland forests selection logging or much smaller patch cuts would be used compared with the type of logging in forests that experience frequent fires.

The forest resources act allows the minister to unilaterally cancel or change a forest resources management plan.

The planning regulation should state under what conditions a forest resources management plan can be cancelled or changed by the Yukon government.

It would perhaps be wise to only do it with agreement of the affected First Nation(s) within whose traditional territory the logging area might be located.

And before a plan is canceled or amended public consultation should be done as well.

After all, sustainable logging could become quite a viable industry and a lot of Yukon residents could have an economic stake in it.

A comprehensive access management plan needs to be part of the forest resources management plan and it should include criteria for things like road use, location and identification of roadless areas.

It is bad enough with all the access mining and fossil fuel exploration provides.

Once logging roads are thrown into the mix the cumulative impacts on the Yukon ecosystems will be devastating.

The proposed harvest ceiling for the Whitehorse area of 10,000 cubic meters per year is based on the analysis of timber supply that was completed in 2000.

Since 2000, there has been much more research on the habitat needs of woodland caribou.

During this time there has also continued to be human related developments that have eliminated or marginalized caribou habitat in the Whitehorse area.

Let us not destroy the last bit of habitat for the Southern Lakes caribou herd.

It might be advisable to reduce the harvest ceiling in the Whitehorse area to 5,000 cubic meters per year.

Although the regulations specify the maximum annual volume of wood that can be logged in areas that do not have an approved plan, there is no guidance on where the logging will occur.

This means that the most productive forests, like those that grow close to streams and lakes, could be targeted first for logging.

In addition to having the biggest trees, valley bottom forested areas are the most critical for fish, wildlife habitat, wilderness tourism operators, water quality, furbearers etc.

In recognition that approved land use planning for most of the Yukon is a long way off, why not identify areas that cannot be logged through consultation with local First Nations, renewable resource councils and the public before any logging dispositions are given out.

Should land-use planning, once it finally happens, identify these areas as being suitable for logging we can always go back and harvest trees in these areas later.

Finally, the Yukon government intends to develop a stewardship manual to provide guidance on forestry practices.

These practices must be open to review by First Nation governments, industry and the public.

Then these practices must become part of the regulations, so they have legal force.

Otherwise the stewardship manual becomes nothing more than a best practices guide.

Given the experience in the oil and gas and mining sector best practices guides are often not worth more than the paper they are written on.

For more information on the proposed forestry regulations visit the Yukon government website.

Click on the consultations button in the left hand column and it should take a person to the appropriate pages.

The last day to submit comments is October 30th.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.