Rancher questions logging policies

The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association and the NDP forest critic have lined up behind one Big Creek rancher who believes the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations’ policies for logging in the area are extreme and damaging his livelihood.

The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association and the NDP forest critic have lined up behind one Big Creek rancher who believes the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations’ policies for logging in the area are extreme and damaging his livelihood.

Randy Saugstad says during the spring months run off due to nearby clearcuts wreaked havoc on his operation.

He blames forestry legislation, the pine beetle epidemic and a push to cut beetle-kill trees while they are still economically viable, and the economy for what he’s seen occur on nearby Crown land.

Saugstad says he’s witnessed the two extremes of run off throughout the spring that causes flooding and a drying up in the summer because all the water has left the land. He attributes both to nearby clearcuts.

“What’s left for wildlife is nothing,” he says. “In the first couple of warm days the snow melts off the cut blocks and we’re all flooding out here.

“There are no roots to take the water and no shade to extend the snow melt. In two days these cut blocks all melt and we’ve got a flood. When we need irrigation water it’s all gone.”

The fluctuating availability of water on his land — either too much or too little — isn’t his only concern. Saugstad thinks logging practices have created an even greater fire hazard leaving fuel such as dead foliage and underbrush behind after the trees are cleared.   “With all the dead grass those fires go 100 miles an hour across those cut blocks. You can’t stop them if there’s any wind.”  Saugstad, who purchased the property in 1990, began experiencing water challenges soon after. He says at the time it was a combination of legislation and poor stewardship practices that left his property unprotected. Through the years an agreement with some timber licensees and the support of a district forestry manager who had the ability to refuse the issuance of cutting permits assisted Saugstad in maintaining a functioning ranch.  He says neither protection exists currently.

Saugstad agrees that the cutting being done by timber companies in the woods is legal, but he says that doesn’t preclude the need for greater regulation in the face of the challenges being experienced by other stakeholders.

When contacted about the current situation, a ministry spokesperson said, “The logging currently occurring in the beetle-affected areas of the Cariboo follows the objectives set out in the Cariboo Chilcotin Land Use Plan.”

However, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations did not respond to interview requests regarding the status or content of that plan.

Kevin Boon, president of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, says Saugstad’s situation is not unusual; in fact, it’s occurring more frequently and not only in the Big Creek area. “It’s to do with logging practices and the hydrology and the effect that it does have on the ranching community,” he said.  In an attempt to help Saugstad and others have their complaints heard, Boon says he’s been in contact with the ministry but admits he’s not getting a lot of “satisfaction.”

“What we’re discussing with the ministry is how do we look out for these guys and if they’re going to put that value into the logging where they take it off to that extent then something has to be done to help the range holder through that too.”

Boon wonders whether a different approach to taking trees off the land might improve the situation.  “Are there ways of staggering these so there’s not a clear cut all in one area? Are there things that can be put in place like damming the water or slowing that down or tree planting or removing tress in more sections rather than a big clear cut?”  He further suspects the amount of beetle kill in the area and its proximity to the mills are reasons why companies have accessed timber in Big Creek.

Bill Routley, the NDP’s Forest critic and MLA for the Cowichan Valley, who visited the effected area recently, described the situation as, “All the way around is a huge clearcut that has clearly impacted their water supply.”

The ranchers, said Routley, are not anti-logging but rather see what’s occurring as a, “betrayal of the original plan (CCLUP).”   And he says across the province he’s heard similar complaints to Saugstad’s.

“All over B.C. I’ve been hearing from communities that feel powerless to deal with issues that are impacting their communities, whether it’s mayors or councillors or citizens. It’s a common theme that the interest of major timber industry is winning the day and that there’s not a lot of listening going on to the other voices that are out there.”

At a recent open house Saugstad and other Big Creek residents met with timber licensees and forest officials to discuss the situation. Saugstad also recently met with NDP Opposition leader Adrian Dix about his concerns. He has further requested funding from the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition to explore the possibility of establishing water reservoirs on affected properties.

“I don’t know where it’s going to end but we haven’t given up,” Saugstad says.

A non-partisan stakeholder group called Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities has been holding public sessions in communities throughout B.C. and was recently in Williams Lake. It has advised the B.C. government that communities want more influence in forest lands decisions, want to be more informed of the state of local forest lands, are concerned with the future of local forest lands, and want a viable and sustainable local forest industry that delivers on their needs.