Fire management plan for residual logging material. Minor adjustments to existing process could lead to a paradigm shift.
As noted in the information to follow, the main reason for burning residual logging material is the fear that the Wildfire Management Branch may try to lay the blame of a wild fire in a logging block on the tenure holder.
If the government does a post fire inspection and concludes logging waste contributed to the start and or spread of the fire, all or a portion of the firefighting costs will be charged to the tenure holder.
As a result tenure holders leave minimal amounts of logging debris on site.
In opposition to minimal fibre being left on site are concerns about soil depletion, ecological concerns, carbon dioxide release and loss of opportunities for alternate saw log uses.
An alternative is the retention of larger cull logs in piles that are left in a way that meets the criteria of a Fire Management Plan (FMP).
If a wild fire occurs on a block that has followed a fire management plan and the tenure holder ends up in court, the plan should help convince the judge that due diligence was followed in reducing the chance of a fire.
The key work is to reduce not eliminate.
On a dry year a wildfire could easily advance across a cut block containing only dry grass and shrubs with little if any logging residue.
The main tenet of the FMP is that large logs (with a minimum top size of 7.5 centimetres in diameter) stacked in piles represent a minimal fire risk in the field.
The cull logs would be located in such a way as to minimize igniting each other if one did start on fire and would also be surrounded by a fireguard i.e. free of small more combustible material.
The finer material branches, tops, small stems etc. would be stacked in piles that would facilitate burning if chipping is not feasible.
The ideal situation would be to use the logs as some form of bio-energy product (wood pellets, bio-oil or bio-char etc.) but in some cases the logs might not be used, but left on site to eventually contribute to soil organic matter as they decay.
Some other issues are the extra costs of processing the logs, loss of planting sites because of the potential long-term nature of the piles and policy concerns regarding the road access and safety concerns about using the cull material.
Woodlots and community forests or other area-based tenures would likely be the best tenures to initiate the log retention concept because there are many advantages to the locals associated with a change in harvesting practices.
The cull logs would provide the opportunity for fire wood and related products as well promoting job opportunities associated with the bio-energy businesses.
Reducing smoke pollution in the rural communities would also be a potential advantage.
The existing burning program is not perfect, the fire risk was reduced considerably but not eliminated.
In some cases cull piles are only partially burned or left unburned for years. Future articles should include input from the Wildfire Branch regarding the history of fire associated with residual logging material.
The government could change some policies that would encourage tenure holders to consider options other than burning but as we know government is not known for making quick changes.
I am proposing a voluntary adjustment of practices that are already taking place.
For example, a phasing in of the log retention process so government and industry could work out the most efficient methods for storing and using the cull logs and experiment with ways of dealing with concerns discussed previously.
If some of these minor changes reduced the burning by five to 10 per cent in the first year it could lead the way to a paradigm shift that could bring about a major change to our forest and employment picture.
These inconvenient log piles would force government, industry and potential biomass users to work on ways of using the residual material rather than turning it into polluting gases.