The timber company that owns 600 hectares of forest at Mountain Station above Nelson will soon be logging on the property, but not this year.
Anderson Creek Timber will be spending the next few months burning slash and planning a future cut, perhaps for next year, says Mark Tallman of Monticola Forest Ltd., a consulting company that manages the property for Anderson Creek.
This message is contrary to an anonymous poster that appeared around Nelson and online in September announcing imminent logging.
Even though the Anderson Creek property is outside the city limits and privately owned, what happens on it has deep implications for the city, in terms of wildfire risk and water quality.
And the property is Nelson’s backdrop – it’s our view of the city from almost any vantage point in or around Nelson.
It also has recreational value. The Nelson Cycling Club, over the past couple of decades, has built an 11.5-kilometre network of mountain biking trails used by both cyclists and hikers. The trails have been built with the permission and co-operation of Anderson Creek Timber.
Tallman says that in addition to the slash burning and road upgrades the company is working on a new management plan, and will be inviting comment from local governments and the public, in a process that will start this winter or next spring.
The plan will list objectives, mission statement, and values for the forest, “and then things like how you would manage the forest for fire activity, or the watershed, or slope stability, or wildlife. We would look at spatially what you might do, what kind of silviculture systems you’d use.”
He said no “large-scale logging” at its Mountain Station property will happen until the management plan is in place.
Anderson Creek Timber also owns a separate 16-hectare forested property in the Svoboda Road area on which logging might take place before the management plan for the larger Mountain Station property is complete.
Tallman said the planned road upgrades mostly involve new culverts to improve drainage, which in turn will reduce sediment entering streams and improve slope stability.
Asked why they are upgrading roads before deciding about the timber cut, Tallman said it’s to prevent degradation of the roads.
“The drainage on the current main road will cause further degradation (erosion) if left unfixed. Imagine it as a leaky roof — you can put off fixing it but the damage will be more severe the longer it goes.”
He said the roads also need upgrading to improve access in the event of a wildfire.
When the company burns slash piles this fall, Tallman says, the company will notify the public, and it will have firefighting equipment and personnel on hand for safety.
This fall the company will also be cutting away undergrowth in areas where seedlings are growing, and applying fertilizer.
The Anderson Creek Timber properties are on private land and governed by B.C.’s Private Managed Forest Land Act, which provides even less regulation than for Crown land forestry in such areas as biodiversity, wildlife protections, sustainable harvest, allowable cut, and public disclosure.
The province is currently conducting a review of this legislation, largely because of concerns expressed by municipalities about private land logging.
City of Nelson’s involvement
The City of Nelson has no direct influence over that happens on private land outside the city limits. But Mayor John Dooley of Nelson says the city is in close communication with Anderson Creek Timber.
“We talked over our concerns around the watershed, around the viewscape,” Dooley said. “And we talked about how we would like to see a project happening there that would be a win-win situation for everybody involved.”
The only influence the city can have is through dialogue and the promotion of common community interests, Dooley said. He cited the positive influence he says the city has had on the logging and wildfire mitigation that was done in the Selous Creek area last year as a collaboration between Kalesnikoff Lumber, the Regional District of Central Kootenay, BC Wildfire Service and the city.
Dooley says two successive Nelson fire chiefs have told him that the expanse of forest from West Arm Park through Blewett is particularly at risk of wildfire, because of the concentration of dry woody debris near the ground.
Other experts have called Nelson one of the B.C. communities most at risk of wildfire, for similar reasons.
Both Tallman and Dooley call fire safety a priority that the company and the city have in common.
The Nelson Star suggested to Tallman that the city’s and the company’s goals eventually diverge because the ultimate priority of a timber company is to harvest. Tallman responded that it is not just about cutting timber.
“It’s about the long-term future of the forest in the face of climate change — drought, severe weather events, and fire. In short, the current state of the forest contains dense hemlock components, which are susceptible to windstorms, root disease, drought, and fire. With climate change this does not suit anyone.”
To remove wildfire fuel on Crown land, governments and companies can receive funding from the provincial government to create shaded fuel breaks — remove debris and undergrowth, and thin the trees. But private landowners like Anderson Creek Timber don’t qualify for that money.
Tallman said the cost of such work is about $15,000 per hectare, “so the cost is pretty prohibitive for us to do it ourselves.”
The company is still working on the problem of how to fund this work, he said.
Tallman recently invited and hosted a group of Nelson municipal election candidates on a tour of the property “to talk about what’s going on up there from an operations perspective, but also a forest health perspective and a values perspective.”
Timber production and cycling trails are only compatible up to a point.
When the company logged parts of its property last year following a storm that blew parts of the forest down, the cycling club had to go in later and rebuild some of its trails – trails that are hotter and drier now that they run through open cuts rather than under a forest canopy.
Deb MacKillop of the Nelson Cycling Club says the group respects the reality that their trails run through private land with the blessing of the owner.
“We’ve always had a respectful relationship with the company, and we want to maintain that respectful relationship,” she says. “But we also want to, at the same time, address our concerns.”
So the club and the company have been talking.
“We’re concerned that the trails will be damaged and degraded and even lost,” when the property is logged, she says. “We can bring the trails back, but they’re never the same. [Last year after the logging] we fully lost several trails, one that had been there since 1987.”
MacKillop says that as a condition of the club’s activities on the property, the company requires it to buy liability insurance, and she estimates that the club has spent about $60,000 for insurance over the past 20 years.
She adds that the club has spent about $150,000, all of it from donations or membership fees, to build the trails.
“If you compare our investment, and the community use and enjoyment out of that investment, it is a pretty good return, and it is very much a community investment,” she said.
“When there’s change, we’re concerned, and we do appreciate that Anderson Creek is open to community engagement and community discussion.”