Timber harvest ‘too much too soon’

HAINES JUNCTION A plan to make one million cubic metres of spruce-beetle infested wood available for harvest in the southwest Yukon is “too…

HAINES JUNCTION

A plan to make one million cubic metres of spruce-beetle infested wood available for harvest in the southwest Yukon is “too much too soon,” according to one environmentalist.

There’s a lack of information coming out of the government about the area, said Dieter Gade, a retired activist who moved to the Junction three years ago from Calgary.

The community has not been informed, so when the government announced it would make about 25,000 logging trucks worth of timber available, “everybody was in a state of shock,” said Gade last week.

In 2004, after 10 years of research, the two governments released a detailed “strategic forest management plan,” which outlined parts of the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations traditional territory as potential harvest areas.

Then, in June, the Champagne/Aishihik and the Yukon government launched a campaign to tell companies about the forestry opportunities in the region and to solicit preliminary proposals on harvesting the area.

Under the plan, companies can apply for permits to harvest some portion of the one million cubic metres of affected white spruce on both settlement and Crown land over the next 10 years.

“One of our goals is to have a healthy, diverse forest and it would appear when you’re driving down the road now, that we don’t have that right now,” said Lawrence Joe, director of heritage land and resources with the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations.

Ten companies submitted proposals and three were selected for further discussion — Dimok Timber’s proposal to harvest 520,000 cubic metres for lumber, Renewgen Systems’ proposal to harvest 280,000 cubic metres for wood charcoal and Swedish-based Rindi Energy’s proposal to use logging and sawmill residue to pursue a Whitehorse district heating project.

All operations would require two to three years of development before full-scale harvesting could begin.

And all operations would undergo assessment and screening under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act, and there will be future opportunity for community input and review.

“Further planning is required although we’ve identified a number of areas as ‘go zones,’” said Joe.

The next step is to draft a “harvest-development plan” to outline where the actual harvesting will take place.

“We’ve had broad consultations over a long period of time,” said Joe.

But putting the timber out for harvesting proposals was premature — the governments should have consulted with the community first, said Gade.

Historically, spruce-beetle infestations last four years. But the southwest Yukon’s forest’s blight is rolling into its 14th.

It is by far the largest and most intensive spruce beetle outbreak ever recorded in Canada.

The total infected area is now more than 350,000 hectares of white spruce, and each year the footprint increases.

Warmer summers allowed the beetles to complete their life cycle in one year, rather than two, allowing the populations to increase exponentially. And mild winters have permitted the beetles are able to live through until spring.

Drier conditions means trees are less healthy, further reducing their ability to ward off the pests.

What to do with the infected trees has split the community.

Some say “Let ‘em rot,” others see an unique economic opportunity — “they’re dead anyway, so let’s do something with them.”

Some want to see more logging, said Haines Junction mayor John Farynowski.

“However, if you wanted to clear cut green timber you’d get protests in the streets.”

The spruce beetle infection is not an ecological disaster, said Gade.

Species, like woodpeckers, can make their homes in dead trees and, as the forest replenishes itself, younger healthier trees and plants will grow in the affected areas.

“The concern is not so much the logging itself, but the logging roads that would increase accessibility to the forest,” said Gade.

He wants the scope of the project scaled back to bring more benefits to the community over the long term.

“Compromise, overcome bad feelings, get all parties together and let the science tell us what is possible on the landscape.”

And he wants to see the foresight expanded — looking 10 years into the future isn’t long enough, he said.

Forests, like the ones in the southwest Yukon, run on a 200-year cycle, which means the trees take centuries to replenish themselves.

Currently, the Champagne/Aishihik and Yukon government are reviewing the harvest proposals.

It will be at least “a matter of months” until any trees are felled, said Joe.