Working together for wildlife: A forestry field day

A few days ago, I spent a day in the woods near Invermere with two of Canfor’s foresters, a local rancher, and the president of the local rod and gun club. The day’s objective? To make sure that Canfor’s logging plans would not negatively impact the mountain goats who travel through the area on their way to use the mineral licks along lower Toby Creek.

To minimize the impact on mountain goats, we couldn’t just have a look at some maps. We had to take a look on the ground to see where the goat trails are and how the proposed logging might impact the use of those trails. Would logging make it easier for the goats’ predators? Would human access increase?

Evidence shows that goat population levels in the East Kootenay are inversely related to human access. Goat populations in remote areas continue to thrive while those exposed to regular human interaction are declining at an alarming rate. So our challenge was to assess the impacts not just of the planned logging, but also of the associated roads and trails.

We bushwacked our way up the mountain, through windfallen trees and azalea bushes. The two dogs who accompanied our crew, Pema and Sable, were less than happy crawling over and through the windfall. From time to time, Sable let out a mournful moan of frustration before carrying on. When we rested at a mountain stream for a drink, a pair of martens appeared, romping through the cool riparian forest.

When we finally arrived at the proposed logging area, we quickly found the well-defined goat trail running down the mountain and started to work out how to make sure that the logging would not disturb this critical goat movement corridor. After much discussion, including with the company’s senior biologist on speakerphone, Canfor’s operations and planning foresters agreed not to log part of the planned block near the wildlife trail. Canfor will reclaim all the roads and remove their temporary bridge to reduce human access. Finally, they’ll replant fewer trees near goat habitat, as a more open forest makes it easier for goats to see and avoid predators.

Together, we descended in the heat of the day, sweaty, satisfied with our resolution and eager to reach that last stream crossing. The dogs luxuriated in the stream while we bathed our faces in the cold, fresh water.

Photo by Dave Quinn

At the end of the day, I thought about what had just happened—and how it has become ever more common. Several people with what are most often recognized as competing interests found common ground about how this piece of forest will be managed. Everyone cared deeply about the health of the goat population and got together to find solutions.

Canfor, who has the responsibility to manage logging for wildlife and ecosystem health, has chosen to work with our community and a reputable certification process, the Forest Stewardship Council. This certification requires that everyone’s concerns are taken into account in the planning process, so it has become the norm for the community to participate in forest management decisions with Canfor in the East Kootenay. Unfortunately, these kind of relationships are the exception rather than the rule in most of the province.

Wildsight, along with government biologists, consultants and occasionally other environmental organizations, has worked with Canfor staff on mapping High Conservation Value Areas that need special management or even full protection.

Still, logging continues to have a significant impact on the landscape and the outcome is rarely pretty. Wildsight and others have only a limited ability to evaluate and comment on all of the areas under consideration for logging. We need bigger changes than we can get by negotiating on individual blocks . Wildsight continues to push for more parks and protected areas, a reduction in the total annual allowable cut and other changes to forestry policy.

Canfor knows that people are paying attention and it makes a difference on a daily basis. Thanks to their own biologists there is an ever growing awareness within the company of crucial environmental values that must be protected. It’s not always easy for Wildsight, those in the forest industry, ranchers, hunters, recreationalists and government staff to work together, but we often manage to find solutions based on our common love for wildlife and wild places.