Cowboys vs. Loggers, and the valuable role of EIA in central regions of British Columbia, Canada

Horseback riding in the Caribou-Chilcotin region, British Columbia

Disputes often arise when industries and local populations utilise the same natural resource. People who subsist from a land have often fought desperate battles with logging companies operating in their ‘backyard’. Such conflicts may sound familiar in developing nations with less stringent or non-existent environmental standards. Yet, I was recently introduced to this situation happening in our own ‘backyard’.

Returning from a job in the Caribou-Chilcotin region, a dry and harsh land in central British Columbia, I caught a ride with a local cowgirl who, over our three hour car ride on dirt roads, sparely populated by mostly cattle ranchers, told me a story of her land, environmental degradation occurring there and the helplessness of its inhabitants. She told me about the mills harvesting trees up to landowners fence posts, about her neighbouring ranchers who are having trouble supporting their cattle with water shortages, and about the mills plans to harvest another 90% of the area. She and her husband make a living by bringing tourists on horse back trips into their beautiful back country, which is increasing fragmented by clearcuts. They pack only what the horses can carry and sleep in remote cabins or tents. In order to operate their business the couple have to submit reports indicating how they will minimize their impact on the environment. They also have to pay hefty taxes to access the land. Yet, the forestry companies, who through their logging practises are transforming the landscape, are held less accountable. This community was furious, and nobody was paying attention to their pleas.

This begs the question; how sustainable are some forestry practises? And should special steps be taken in areas where timber harvesting operations and residents who dependent on the land cross paths?

Cattle ranging on Crown Land in the Caribou-Chilcotin region, British Columbia

The Caribou-Chilcotin region lies on the lee side of the Coast Mountains in central British Columbia. It is characterised by a drier climate and extremes of temperature. Forestry is the dominant industry there, followed by ranching, agriculture and mining. Tourism also plays a major part, and is becoming more important as more tourists are drawn to the picturesque scenery and recreational opportunities. At the same time, the continuous dependence on single industries, as well as devastation from the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) epidemic constitute the regions major sustainability issues (FraserBasin Council, n.d.). These issues are putting some businesses at adds.

In the recent years the province has undergone a massive MPB salvage operation, harvesting stands with trees dead and alive (Uunila et al. 2006). According to Uunila et al. (2006) these practises could have large effects on the watershed’s hydrologic regimes. Deforestation may also effect the quality of drinking water, the health of aquatic habitats, soil moisture and flood and drought controls (INECE, n.d., Scherer & Pike, 2003 ). Providing such essential services, forest health should be a priority for a community’s well-being.

In British Columbia, forestry operations, as well as ranchers and recreational users have equal excess to Crown Lands, as dictated by the Forests and Range Practices Act (FRPA) (Fraser, 2009). Considering that cattle ranching can cause water contamination, Ministry of Forests and Range developed a program so that “[r]ange users can do their part to ensure a safe and constant supply of water” (Fraser, 2009, p. 8). The ministry also recognizes that “[w]ater is perhaps the most important product of rangelands” (Fraser, 2009, p. 8). However, with emerging concerns over hydrological regime changes in MPB salved lands, the province should also ensure water sustainability for all (Uunila et al. 2006). Unfortunately, in British Columbia forestry is exempt from conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies (Haddock, 2010). Nevertheless, in regions where multi-stakeholders utilize the land, which faces unprecedented challenges through current forestry practises, MPB devastation and climate change, EIA would prove a pertinent tool. EIA studies at the water-shed level could ensure that the needs of industry and the community are taken into account, and environmental challenges are addressed more comprehensively.

Mountain Pine Beetle devastated forest in the Caribou-Chilcotin region, British Columbia.

References:

Fraser Basin Council. (n.d.) Cariboo-Chilcotin Region. Retrieved from http://www.fraserbasin.bc.ca/programs/ccr.html

Fraser, D.A. (2009). Water quality and livestock grazing on Crown rangeland in British Columbia. B.C. Min. For. Range, Range Br., Kamloops, B.C. Rangeland Health Brochure 12. Retrived from: http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hra/Practices/index.htm

Haddock, M. (2010). Environmental Assessment in British Columbia. Environmental Law Centre University of Victoria. Faculty of Law. Retrieved from http://www.elc.uvic.ca/publications/…/ELC_EA-IN-BC_Nov2010.pdf

INECE (International Network for Environment Compliance and Enforcement). (n.d.). Deforestation technical support package. Retrieved from http://www.inece.org/PDFDocs/defor.pdf

Scherer, R. & R. Pike. (2003). Effects of forest management activities on streamflow in the Okanagan Basin, British Columbia: Outcomes of a literature review and a workshop. FORREX, Kamloops, B.C. FORREX Series 9. Retrived from http://www.forrex.org/publications/forrexseries/fs9.pdf

Uunila L., Guy B., & Pike R. (2006). Hydrologic effects of mountain pine beetle in the interior pine forests of British Columbia: Key questions and current knowledge. BC Journal of Ecosystem and Management, 7 (2). Retrieved from http://jem.forrex.org/index.php/jem

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