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Alberta Debates New Forest Policy

Summary: A new Forest Conservation Strategy paper strikes a compromise between industry, government and environmentalists.

By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Alberta’s forest industry is only a few short steps away from pulling off an astounding compromise. It addresses the ongoing debate of how to maintain a viable forest industry, while conserving the environment. It’s called the Alberta Forest Conservation Strategy, addressing the individual agendas of the forestry industry, environmental groups and the government.

The final draft is expected to reach the Environmental Protection Minister this spring. The steering committee has three co-ch a i rp e rsons rep resenting the Albert a Forest Products Association (AFPA), environmental groups and the government. Rep resenting the AFPA is Diashowa-Mirabeni General Manager of Woodlands, Wayne Thorp. Also representing industry is Canfor Woodlands Manager for Alberta operations, Jerry Bauer. “Its a compromise document, no doubt about that,” says Bauer. “Not everyone is going to be happy with what they see in it.”

Their recommendations are a decided departure from current forest management practices. They almost anticipate the scientific work being conducted by the newly established National Centre for Forest ry Excellence, located at the University of Alberta. A group of scientists from the Centre is studying boreal forests in Alberta and Quebec to discover how nature manages the forest, and whether industry can mimic nature with its harvesting practices.

The guiding principle of the Conservation Strategy is forest manage-ment from the standpoint of sustained ecosystems. The Steering Committee received input from 15 communities and 500 Albertans over three years. A breakthrough occurred when the group agreed that different levels of forest management can occur on differ-ent types of land.

Therefore, they have recommended three types of land use as it relates to forestry: existing traditional,extensive use, intensive use and protected. Under this new strategy, each company operating under the auspices of a current Forest Management Agreement (FMA) Plan will file a new Management Plan. Within each plan, companies will create a mosaic, designating specific land classifications, according to the three categories presented in the strategy.

According to Thorp, companies must prove that their activities are directed toward sustainable use with a conservation strategy. Their management plans will be open to public scrutiny prior to approval.

“We have a real chance to pull this off,” says Thorp. A similar forest management compromise, he says, would likely never occur in coastal BC. Management of the Alberta ecology is less advanced, and decidedly different. While BC coastal forests are long lived, Alberta forests require change.

“Ever since the Ice Age, we’ve had catastrophic disturbances,” he says. “These forests need disturbances in order to continue.” Its no fluke that most Alberta forest is just over 100 years old. If not harvested, it will naturally fall victim to fire, insects, floods or other catastrophes to naturally regenerate itself. Thorp says the proposed strategy tries to accomplish what the Forestry Centre is currently studying — human intervention in the forest in the context of anticipating nature, in a way that benefits society by creating forest products, and at the same maintaining the ecology.

Many Alberta companies have taken particular note of the reference to “intensive” use. According to senior vice president of West Fraser Timber Co., Russ Clinton, intensive silviculture is the key to a viable forestry industry in Alberta. Diashowa’s Bauer says companies would be allowed to conduct intensive silviculture in some areas in exchange for inventory lost to land designated as protected.

And, he says, industry welcomes this change in direction. Alberta’s natural forests offer low yield. He says by using intensive practices in designated areas, companies could realize double and triple yields. The notion of “intensive” has earned a bad rap, he adds.

“Just because an area is intensively managed doesn’t necessari l y mean that it isn’t good for anything else,” he says. But there could be two significant changes to government policy with regard to management of intensive areas. Bauer says while it is crown land, he expects the government to address the issue of unrestricted public access. He anticipates that within management plans, there may be limited access on intensively managed sites to motorized vehicles such as ATVs.

Not only is this a concern for intensively managed areas, but he says unrestricted access is also a concern with regard to sustaining many wildlife species.The second significant policy change with regard to intensive management is greater, yet controlled use of commercial herbicides to help manage these sites. While Alberta does not ban commercial herbicide use, permits are difficult to get without a significant research program offered by the forest company, and a demonstrated knowledge of its correct application. He anticipates more, but tightly controlled use.

Thorp says the study process has been a worthwhile endeavor — rocky at times — but everyone learned something from it. He expects that the most contentious issues will come from dealing with individual situations. What happens when one company becomes a target of the environmental lobby, with a demand to designate significant portions of its FMA as protected?

That could happen in some of the ecologi-cally sensitive areas located on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. What happens when local res-idents object to restricted ATV access to specific areas under intensive forest management? Thorp says that is something that companies themselves will have to deal with at ground level and in their management plans.

The steering committee has created a guideline for the entire province, he says, that obviously cannot address every individual concern. He expects the government to act quickly on some recom-mendations, and more slowly on others. “Hopefully, we’re developing a system where ecosystems are sustainable,” he concludes.

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