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16th March 2019
...continued from Part 1

And they learned of a sprawling network of roads in the watersheds that outside of the clear-cuts themselves totalled 13,000 kilometres, the equivalent of driving a car from Victoria to St. John’s Newfoundland and then back across the country again as far as Winnipeg. The ditches alongside those roads filled with snowmelt during the spring, channeling water toward Grand Forks just as surely as the watershed’s creeks and streams did.

The cumulative effect of all that disturbance was the loss of older forests on fully one quarter of the land base. An undetermined amount more forest was also lost to insect attacks and disease outbreaks.

Chapman says that once the total area of older forest lost to disturbances reaches about 30 per cent, there will be “measurable” signs of that in water flows.

If the forests in and around Grand Forks are not yet at that tipping point, they are perilously close to it.

The new era of deregulation

Shortly after Gordon Campbell led the BC Liberals to their first of four successive electoral victories in 2001, a new era of deregulation was ushered in. The government scrapped B.C.’s highly prescriptive Forest Practices Code, which spelled out in detail what logging companies must do, and replaced it with the Forest and Range Practices Act. The new regime was grounded in a philosophy that government should not tell companies precisely what to do but set broad objectives instead and let professionals working for the companies decide how to meet them.

The era of “professional reliance” was born.

Prior to that, Chapman said, foresters were required to do hydrological assessments and “cumulative impacts assessments” in community watersheds and watersheds with higher fisheries values. Those requirements are now largely gone.

The result, Chapman said, is that “there’s probably nothing going on in B.C. that highlights the cumulative effects on hydrology of land-use activities.” This at a time when climate scientists predict more droughts and more floods.

Britneff says he is very concerned about the size of some clear-cuts in the Grand Forks region and their impacts on water flows. The long-time civil servant and professional forester notes that some logged areas above Grand Forks are up to 11 times larger than what the province’s chief forester recommends. Ironically, many of those larger clear-cuts were approved by BC Timber Sales, a Crown agency that promotes the “safe, sustainable development and auction” of publicly owned forests.

Fred Marshall shares Britneff’s concerns. He says BC Timber Sales’ current plans call for more than half of all new clear-cuts to be 40 hectares or more in size. Yet BC Timber Sales is only supposed to allow such clear-cuts if there is a compelling “forest health” reason to do so.

In an emailed response to questions from The Narwhal, Britneff said that a moratorium on logging higher elevation forests in the Grand Forks region is warranted and should remain in effect “until the Ministry has obtained independent, third-party assessments for the Kettle watershed for cumulative effects.”

Britneff added that the ministry’s cumulative effects analysis must include an assessment of how logging and other forest losses may impact peak water flows and increase flood risks.

The damage done: cumulative effects

While a moratorium does not appear imminent, Houghton’s efforts and those of others in the community have been noticed. Cumulative effects finally appears to be on the government’s radar.

Cassidy van Rensen, an ecosystems biologist with the ministry of forests’ regional offices in Kootenay-Boundary, confirms that the ministry is now committed to doing a cumulative effects analysis of the Kettle and Granby watersheds. The analysis “will involve a number of different policy-makers, experts, industry and public at different stages,” van Rensen said.

In a conversation with The Narwhal, van Rensen said that the analysis, which could result in recommendations as early as this summer, came at the request of BC Timber Sales. The Crown timber auctioneer is ultimately responsible for approximately 40 per cent of all the logging in the timber supply area or TSA outside Grand Forks.

Marshall says he believes the devastation unleashed by last spring’s floods “stimulated” the government to act. He hopes that van Rensen and others will “heavily focus on the clear-cuts at higher elevations” as they do their work.

‘I don’t think people realize the danger we’re in’

Meanwhile, residents of Grand Forks continue to grapple with harsh realities nine months after the flood.

Donovan Harris, his wife Dayna, their 10-year-old son Julien and infant son Harlon lost pretty much everything in the flood, which destroyed their double-wide mobile home and adjacent log cabin.

There was still $70,000 outstanding on the mortgage when the waters came. Their house insurance did not cover flood damage claims. The couple eventually purchased a house on higher ground for $215,000.

The new mortgage payments are an additional $1050 a month.

“It’s straight up paycheque-to-paycheque now,” says Harris, who works as a kitchen manager at Silver Kettle Village, a retirement home. “If I get sick one day we’re not paying the bills.”

In late January, the City of Grand Forks through its Boundary Flood Recovery Team applied to the federal government’s Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund for nearly $50 million in funds to protect local homes and businesses from future floods.

“The local Boundary flood team is working really hard to get money for berms, buyouts and changing infrastructure. But that’s not going to happen in time for this year,” Houghton says.

Until the money comes and until the work is done, Houghton says the provincial government and BC Timber Sales in particular need to look at the “social and economic wellbeing” not just of the logging industry, but the communities downstream. And they need to do so quickly.

“Every single day I wake up and I see my destroyed home. Every day I see the walls that were wrecked,” Houghton says. “I don’t think people realize the danger we’re in. I don’t think they understand the gravity of the situation we’re in.”

Update March 14, 2018 8:26am pst. This article previously stated the BC Liberals won the first of four successive victories in the year 1991. The year was in fact, 2001. An update has been made to reflect this fact.