As the long work of rebuilding southern British Columbia begins, forestry professionals and activists are urging the Horgan government to connect the dots between the climate crisis, clearcut logging, and catastrophes like the landslide that killed five people on Highway 99 near Lillooet.
B.C. hydrologists and forest ecologists have been warning for decades that clearcutting severely compromises a forest’s ability to soak up water, but their red flags went unheeded, reports The Narwhal.
“Without question, the removal of forests both increases the frequency of landslides and frequency of flooding,” said watershed geoscientist and hydrologist Kim Green. She explained that as the remnant roots rot, they create conduits for water with nowhere else to go but down, undermining slope stability.
Plus, trees are fantastic sponges, soaking up water through their roots and releasing it as water vapour through their needles (or leaves), in a process known as transpiration, adds forester Peter Kuitenbrouwer, in a Globe and Mail op-ed where he, too, stresses the link between deforestation and devastating floods.
“Even the rainfall that gets caught up in the branches and a billion little needles is an incredible surface area that can just take the rain and moderate the rate at which the rain comes into the river systems,” said forest management expert Peter Wood.
In the wake of last week’s devastating rainstorm, which Premier John Horgan himself linked to the climate crisis, experts like forest ecologist Rachel Holt, a member of the province’s Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel, are urging that clearcutting itself be put on the chopping block.
Noting B.C. has spent 30 years “managing for timber at the expense of all the other values such as biodiversity and climate mitigation and climate adaptation,” Holt was emphatic about what needs to happen next:
“We radically lower the harvest level. Leave the forest standing on the ground to do its job. Then we stop clearcut harvesting and go to partial harvesting across the board,” she said. “This is not radical. We’ve known this for 30 years and started doing it, and then we stopped with the change in government.”
Holt was referring here to the B.C. Liberals’ 2001 decision to toss out the province’s prescriptive Forest Practices Code, leaving the industry to police itself, The Narwhal explains.
While Wood hesitated to lay full blame at the door of industry, he too urged the government to consider logging practices as one of several key and debilitating stressors on forests and their associated watersheds.
Sierra Club BC forest and climate campaigner Jens Wieting said time is running out:
“With the heat dome this summer and now the flooding, we really have a spectacularly unfortunate combination of shifting baselines and we are still continuing with business as usual,” he said. He added that business as usual isn’t going to work out well, with every degree of warming translating to roughly 7% more water in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, repair crews (with full squadrons of engineers) are working feverishly to rebuild and reinforce broken infrastructure across southern B.C. The dike system that protects Sumas Prairie is being reinforced, while the work to rebuild the shattered highways that connect the Lower Mainland to the Interior is just beginning. In news that will come as great relief to farmers and others who depend on the railway to get their harvest to export markets, CP Rail expected to have resumed freight service between Kamloops and Vancouver by Tuesday afternoon. And at least some of the 7,000 evacuees from Merritt, B.C. may soon be heading home.
If so, they will be more fortunate than nearly the 50 members of the Lytton First Nation, including several Elders, who had been staying in Merritt for the past five months after a wildfire incinerated their homes.
That they should find themselves once again without certain shelter, having been evacuated from Merritt on November 15, reveals yet again how Indigenous communities are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and without the resources that help other communities recover, writes the Globe.