For the last couple of months, environmental organizations have campaigned hard against B.C. Timber Sales’ (BCTS) proposed cutblocks in Argonaut Creek drainage.
The activists claim the area is an important caribou habitat based on GPS collar information.
On Dec. 9, a BCTS representative confirmed that they have halted 276 hectares of proposed logging and more than 10 kilometres of new road in the drainage, until the provincial mountain caribou herd planning process is complete, said Wildsight conservation specialist Eddie Petryshen.
Also in another Dec. 9 statement, the Ministry of Forests issued a statement, saying harvesting operations in the Argonaut drainage had been suspended.
“We are aware of concerns around planned timber harvesting in the Argonaut drainage,” the statement read. “In response to these concerns, in early October, the ministry suspended planned harvesting operations in the Argonaut drainage to allow for further assessments around how harvesting activities might impact caribou in this area. This assessment is ongoing and no further timber harvest activities will occur in the area while the assessment is underway.”
The statement added the forests ministry would continue to monitor the caribou population near the Argonaut drainage “as part of our commitment to the caribou recovery efforts.”
Three cutblocks still proposed for logging
Petryshen points out that three of the previously 13 proposed cutblocks, 63 hectares, are still slated for logging. These blocks are not technically right in the drainage, but they are very close, he said. The conservation specialist is also concerned about the sold cutblocks in nearby Big Mouth, which contains old growth as well.
Wildsight hopes the caribou herd planning will put an end to all logging in the drainage, and that the already built five kilometre logging road will be fully rehabilitated.
“Halting logging is a good step, but it’s not protection. We need this pressure to continue if we want to protect this area,” Petryshen said.
Lack of transparency around herd planning
“We don’t know much about the heard planning process so far. It would be really great if the province released more details for transparency, so that stakeholders can feel like they are fully engaged in the process,” Petryshen says.
However, conservation specialist is positive.“People are very passionate about their backyard, caribou and old growth,” he says.
The above story is an update on a feature that appeared in the winter 2020 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine, which which was distributed in early December. Read the feature starting here:
Activists say caribou threatened by proposed cutblocks in Argonaut Creek
The strongest remaining herd
Argonaut Creek is a forested valley located north of Revelstoke, accessed via the Big Mouth Creek forestry road off Highway 23 North. The old-growth forest and high mountain range is the home of the strongest remaining Southern Mountain caribou in the area, a herd of 150 animals.
To protect this Northern Columbia herd, the nearby logging road in Upper Big Mouth Valley was recently rehabilitated.
Environmental organizations reacted when B.C. Timber Sales proposed new cutblocks in the drainage. Environmentalists claim the area is critical caribou habitat.
Wildsight’s conservation specialist Eddie Petryshen and the general manager of Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation (RCFC) Mike Copperthwaite explain their sides of the story.
Wildsight Conservation Specialist Eddie Petryshen
Eddie Petryshen swapped from studying law to geography after a dramatic hiking accident in the Southern Rockies, making him realize he wanted to protect the world’s only Inland Temperate Rainforest.
Today, Petryshen works with land-use issues and caribou recovery as a conservation specialist for the environmental organization Wildsight. After seeing the caribou herds in the Southern Selkirks become fully lost over the last few years, Petryshen fears that the same will happen in Argonaut Creek.
Only 40 per cent of the caribou’s habitat around Revelstoke is protected under Government Actions Regulation (GAR), the specialist explained.
“The challenge with caribou recovery is that you can’t make these big compromises, where you’re logging on one side of the valley while protecting the other. That doesn’t really work for caribou,” Petryshen said.
Logging old growth puts caribou at risk
Petryshen explained that unlike other woodland caribou, the southern mountain species migrate up and down the mountains depending on season.
In winter, the caribou’s main food supply is lichen found on old-growth forests, when other vegetation is covered by snow. The definition of old growth in the B.C. Interior is forests more than 140 years old.
Old growth logging takes away the caribou’s food source, and clearcuts attract moose, elk, and deer, resulting in more wolves, cougars, and other predators. Logging roads make it easy for these predators to travel up high, making caribou easy prey, Petryshen said.
B.C. Timber Sales proposed nine cutblocks in core caribou habitat
B.C. Timber Sales plans on auctioning off 13 cutblocks in Argonaut Creek. Based on new data, Wildsight claims that nine of these cutblocks are located in critical caribou habitat. Petryshen himself spotted fresh caribou tracks when camping in the drainage.
Wildsight launches social media campaign
After seeing the destruction of the caribou habitat up close, the Wildsight specialist started a social media and email campaign trying to stop the logging plans of Argonaut Creek drainage.
Several other environmental organizations, such as Echo Conservation Society, Wilderness Committee, BC Wildlife Federation, and Protect Our Winters (POW) joined in and have sent over 1200 letters to BCTS and provincial and federal officials.
“I think there is still a bit of an internal fight, within the provincial government and B.C. Timber Sales, which way to go on these cutblocks. That’s why people’s input is very valuable,” Petryshen said.
Government’s critical caribou habitat map remains a draft for six years
After facing lawsuits from environmental groups and some public pressure, the federal government made a critical caribou habitat map in 2014, as a part of the recovery strategy for mountain caribou. However, the map remains an unofficial draft. The plan was to make a more detailed map in collaboration with the province, but this has yet to happen, Petryshen said.
The conservation specialist believes the government is using a “delay tactic.”
“It should not take six years to refine mapping on a species that is amongst the most studied mammals in North America,” he said.
The woodland caribou is listed as a threatened species in the federal Species at Risk Act. “The problem is that the act does not automatically protect species at risk, unless they are on federal land, making it possible for the province to prioritize economical interest on private land,” Petryshen said.
Now the environmental organization is “pushing hard” for B.C. to follow through with their promise from the last election to make a provincial species at risk act.
A Canary in the coal mine
“The Inland Temperate Rainforest is one of the rarest ecosystems we have. There are not many places in the world where scientists are still discovering new species,” Petryshen said.
The complications of losing southern caribou for the wider ecosystem is unknown, however, the conservation specialist explained that everything is interconnected. “Everything down to certain species of mushroom which rely on caribou dump to reproduce will be affected,” he said.
“The caribou is the canary in the coal mine. It is not just caribou populations that are declining, but screech-owls, flying squirrels, fishers, wolverines, as well as lichen and moss that exists nowhere else,” the specialist said.
Petryshen’s viewpoint is clear: it’s not only about saving the caribou, but the Inland temperate rainforest as a whole.
Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation Michael Copperthwaite
General manager of Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation (RCFC), Michael Copperthwaite, has worked as a forester in B.C. for over thirty years.
RCFC was founded in 1993 after a local referendum to ensure economical gain from logging around Revelstoke went back into the local community. Today, jobs related directly and indirectly to logging is the largest employer in Revelstoke, Copperthwaite said.
The experienced forester has lived through a “huge change” in the forest industry, from not having many rules at all, to working hard doing the best environmental job they can under the Forest and Range Practises Act (FRPA).
RCFC has worked with provincial biologists to set aside the most critical caribou habitat within their tree farming license, adding up to 20 000 hectares of old growth, half of which impacted the corporation’s logging plans, Copperthwaite said.
Minimizing impact: partial cutting, penning, and herd planning
Where RCFC is permitted to log is under constant assessment.
Partial cutting and heli-cutting are some of the many techniques used to minimize impact, the forester said. In easier terrain, partial cutting is preferable to minimize scrub layer and leave lichen behind. Heli-cutting is not used frequently due to cost; however, it’s beneficial for caribou as no roads are needed, he said.
RCFC also removes diseased and damaged trees to make up more room for healthier trees to grow faster, speeding up the forest’s regeneration.
From 2014–19 the forestry corporation was a part of the maternity penning project Revelstoke Rearing Caribou in the Wild Society (RCRW), which had the goal of increasing calf survival. The results weren’t as good as Copperthwaite had hoped for, potentially due to the pen’s elevation being too low and hot, he said. A new penning project up higher is in the works, led by First Nations.
RCFC is also working on caribou herd planning with the province re-evaluating previously set aside areas and new information from biologists to protect areas caribou needs the most. “We are all still learning,” Copperthwaite said.
As much as the forester wishes to speed up the herd planning process, the provincial election and COVID-19 pandemic has naturally slowed down the progress.
The process behind a cutblock
Before filing a cutblock application, RCFC sends out their plans to First Nations for feedback, followed by an evaluation assessment of the area that is later announced to the public for comments, the forester explained.
Argonaut Creek cutblock map explained
On the government’s online database, the overview map of Argonaut Creek does not show the drainage as a critical caribou habitat area.
The environmental organization Wilderness Committee (WC) has made a map layer based on new information from caribou GPS collars identifying caribou activity in the drainage.
WC’s map shows the already built five-kilometre logging road to the five first cutblocks, where three of them are in what they define as critical caribou habitat.
These three cutblocks (BK7FP, BK765, and BK7F9) are the also the only ones in the drainage where BCTS have not halted their logging, Petryshen said.
Copperthwaite explained that at the time when the government determined what areas needed to be set aside, they didn’t think Argonaut Creek had enough caribou activity to be protected.
“But that can have changed in the last ten years, and now with better information, they might be looking at this again, but in the meantime BCTS is continuing with their plans, I guess,” Copperthwaite said.
Another problem is the lack of detail in the federal government’s maps. “Big areas are marked as critical caribou habitat, but it encompasses a lot of smaller areas where we have better data showing no caribou is using that area,” Copperthwaite said.
Call for government to produce updated caribou habitat maps
What both environmental organizations and RCFC agree upon, is that we need more detailed and updated governmental mapping of critical caribou habitats. This tool would help to balance the protection of caribou with a sustainable logging industry.
No responses from government on the story
The Revelstoke Mountaineer contacted BC Timber Sales and BC Ministry of Forests in a timely manner; however, neither responded by our deadline. We contacted a government scientist who was happy to talk, but needed permission from Victoria-based government communications overseers. The communications department did not allow access to government scientists or respond to our questions by deadline, which unfortunately leaves our readers in the dark about the latest government policies and actions on the mountain caribou file.