Government policy changes can be a very slow process

Columnist Jim Hilton continues his discussion on the reduction of slash pile burning in B.C.'s forests.

As pointed out by Adam Kamp in his master’s thesis (in Political Science) it took government 50 years to make regeneration (tree planting) a contractual obligation of tenure holders even though the science showed it was necessary decades before.

Mr. Kamp’s 2012 paper entitled “Policies for the reduction of slash pile burning in BC forests” provides some timely and useful information on the cull pile discussion.

The executive summary in this 68-page document included the following introduction.

“In B.C. it is common practice for forest companies to burn unwanted fibre after harvesting activities. While this was an efficient disposal mechanism, it poses numerous problems for society including CO2 emissions, fibre utilization issues with declining timber supply and air pollution that could affect human health.”

He then states his study will examine options that will reduce the amount of fibre burned in B.C.

The primary method of research was in-depth interviews with industry, government and ENGO stakeholders.

He described four policy alternatives designed to reduce the amount of material burned.

• Attach a fee for all fibre burned.

• Increasing the use of cruise based billing.

• Introduce a fibre based annual allowable cut determination.

• Eliminate waste benchmarks and increase penalties for waste.

After evaluating the four policy alternatives looking at effectiveness, equity, stakeholder’s acceptability and negative externalities he recommended two alternatives as being the most effective. i.e. Fee for fibre burned and an increase in cruise based billing.

He provides some details on how the fee could be applied fairly to cull material located considerable distances from potential processing facilities.

He mentions the application of these policy alternatives will require significant stakeholder engagement and additional analysis will be required to determine a specific level of the fee and how it will be charged.

The paper also provides some useful information on the history of government policy and various commissions that led up to today’s policy of burning forest residual material.

A variety of views within the government are also presented. “Today there are many values when it comes to logging residuals that the forest service must balance, including different views within the B.C. government. For instance fire protection officers are concerned with fuel loading, forest ecosystem specialists are concerned with biodiversity, silviculture foresters are concerned with planting spots, harvesting foresters are concerned with logging costs, and scaling foresters are concerned with utilization standards’ (Arsenault 2002).”

It is the fire abatement issue that seems to be the controlling factor in cull pile burning. The BC Wildfire Act 2004 requires that companies reduce the amount of fuel left on site after harvesting. The act does not require burning but the debris must be removed in some way.

Companies must ensure that their logging activities do not increase the risk of starting a fire on the site, increase fire behavior or suppression associated with a fire. Government will not provide any detailed guidance that could relieve the liability of the companies and put the liability on government through official induced error.

The wild fire branch does not visit sites to ensure fuel hazard has been abated but investigates wildfires to access compliance to see if companies are to be held liable. Companies are therefore very conservative in their abatement measures and burn most culls material leaving as little as possible fuel behind.

It is also stated that the Wild Fire Management Branch would prefer to see the debris taken off the site and used for more useful purposes rather than being burned. As stated before, other uses are not presently economical with existing policy and cull piles are burned as a result.

In future articles we will discuss some ways that fire hazard may be reduced with some modification of the way the cull material is handled during processing. We will also look at the impact burning has on silviculture issues.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.