The Need for Environmental Impact Assessment in Québec’s Salvage Logging Projects

The majority of Québec’s forests are boreal (Figure 1) [4]. Fires have been a major disturbance in Québec’s boreal forests for thousands of years [1,11]. The tree and animal species that live in the boreal forest are adapted to fires and some are even dependent on them to survive (See videos below for more general information on forest fires in Canada)[1]

Forest regions of Canada [4]

Forest regions of Canada [4]

Salvage logging is logging trees in forest areas that have been damaged by fire or other disturbances like wind or disease [3,11]. Studies have shown that salvage logging can have negative environmental impacts on the forest’s natural regeneration by seed, erosion/hydrology, biodiversity and fire-associated animal species [3,6,7,9,11,12]. The extent and significance of negative environmental impacts depends on the characteristics of the forest (slope, soil texture and composition), the severity of the burn, the equipment used for logging, the presence of building of roads and post-fire weather conditions [12].

Source: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bH1yAOhlmnE

According to Section 92 of the Canadian Constitution, forest management is the provinces’ responsibility; they have authority to manage and sell timber and wood [5]. The Québec Forest Act specifies that Forest Management activities are exempt from Environmental Impact Assessment; instead, a plan under the Forest Act will be completed for each project [2]. For salvage logging, the Forest Act stipulates in article 79 that “the Minister shall prepare and administer a special forest management plan” [10]. Special forest management plans are rushed through for approval to allow for quick harvest of usable timber before the insects, fungi and birds arrive and start to degrade the wood [8,12]. Regional managers responsible for drafting and approving these plans are focused on the allocation of financial assistance and are given very little guidance on how to include environmental considerations [8]. Unsurprisingly, data generated by the special management plans are often incomplete [8]. Furthermore, authors on this topic agree that there is an important need for more research on salvage logging; many effects have not been studied [1,3,6,7,8,9,11].

I argue that Environmental Impact Assessment’s strength is in situations like these. I am not proposing that all forest projects be subject to EIA. This would be a waste of resources and time because regular forest plans do consider environmental impacts and there is a great deal of knowledge on the environmental impacts of forest harvesting [2]. Requiring that an EIA be done for salvage logging projects would provide the need for quick access to data on the pre-fire forest characteristics. This information can be compiled on maps ahead of time and would be a good information reference. EIA is also the specialized tool for case-by-case analysis which is what is needed in evaluating how to minimize negative environmental impacts from salvage logging projects since impacts depend on the case (see paragraph 3). Nappi et al. (2011) specify that the minimum target for the maintenance of burned forests should be roughly 30% of the burn area. The decisions regarding which areas to conserve, which are the vulnerable areas, how much to conserve and how big the patches should be require a professional in order to consider all aspects, and larger-scale issues like landscape connectivity [8]. Additionally, monitoring will be useful in determining if the mitigation measures are effective and to learn more about the impacts of these projects. With salvage operations becoming increasingly common, an understanding on the impacts of this practice on forests is essential and EIA is a tool that can be used to assist in this process.

References:

[1] Bergeron, Y., Leduc, A., Harvey, B. D., & Gauthier, S. (2002). Natural Fire Regime: A Guide for Sustainable Management of the Canadian Boreal Forest, 36(January), 81–95.

[2] Bonnell, S. (2003). Environmental assessment of forestry in Canada Environmental Assessment in Canada, 79(6), 1067–1070.

[3] Bradbury, S. M. (2006). Response of the post-fire bryophyte community to salvage logging in boreal mixedwood forests of northeastern Alberta, Canada. Forest Ecology and Management, 234(1-3), 313–322. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2006.07.013

[4] Forest Products Association of Canada (2013) Forest regions of Canada: Interactive Map. Available from : http://www.fpac.ca/index.php/en/interactive-map/. Consulted january 20th 2012.

[5] Justice Laws Website (2012) Constitution Acts. Available from:  http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-4.html#h-19. Consulted january 20th 2012.

[6] Koivula, M. J., & Schmiegelow, F. K. a. (2007). Boreal woodpecker assemblages in recently burned forested landscapes in Alberta, Canada: Effects of post-fire harvesting and burn severity. Forest Ecology and Management, 242(2-3), 606–618. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2007.01.075

[7] Koivula, M., & Spence, J. R. (2006). Effects of post-fire salvage logging on boreal mixed-wood ground beetle assemblages (Coleoptera, Carabidae). Forest Ecology and Management, 236(1), 102–112. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2006.09.004

[8] Nappi, A., Déry, S., Bujold, F., Chabot, M., Dumont, M-C., Duval, J., Drapeau, P., Brais, S., Peltier, J. & Bergeron, I. (2011).  Harvesting in Burned Forests — Issues and Orientations for EcosystemBased Management, Québec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, Direction de l’environnement et de la protection des forêts, 47 p. Available from : http://www.mrn.gouv.qc.ca/english/publications/forest/harvesting-burned-forests.pdf. Consulted january 20th 2012.

[9] Purdon, M., Noël, J., Nappi, A., Drapeau, P., Harvey, B., Brais, S., Bergeron, Y., et al. (1999). The Impact of Salvage-logging after Wildfire in the Boreal Forest: Lessons from the Abitibi, 1–8.

[10] Québec (2012) Forest Act. Available from : http://www2.publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/dynamicSearch/telecharge.php?type=2&file=/F_4_1/F4_1_A.html . Consulted january 20th 2012.

[11] Saint-germain, M., Greene, D. F., & Greene, D. F. (2009). Salvage logging in the boreal and cordilleran forests of Canada:, 85.

[12] U.S. Department of Agriculture: Pacific Northwest Research Station (U.S.D.A) (2002) Post-fire logging: is it beneficial to a forest? Available from: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi47.pdf. Consulted january 20th 2012.

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