The 200 hectare Mabel Creek wildfire continues to burn approximately 6 kilometres from Mabel Lake on the Lumby side. While an evacuation alert has been issued for approximately 50 cabins and the Cottonwood Beach recreation site, no structures are currently threatened. (Jennifer Smith/Morning Star)

Vernon logging company ‘could have done more’ to prevent landslides, watchdog says

Tolko met all legal requirements, but four landslides followed company’s harvesting in Silver Hills area

An investigation of a timber harvesting complaint has found that a Vernon-based forestry company “could have done more” to assess the impacts of its activities, despite meeting all legal requirements.

The complaint by Silver Hills Watershed Watch charged that harvesting by Tolko Forest Industries contributed to four landslides, increased water flows and introduced sediment into streams that supply drinking water.

The Forest Practices Board, an independent watchdog, conducted the investigation of Tolko’s activities between Lumby and Cherryville over the last few years.

“The investigation found that Tolko’s activities met all legal requirements,” said Kevin Kriese, Forest Practices Board chair. “Tolko completed terrain stability assessments for its harvest blocks. However, it did not complete a watershed assessment, which we believe would have provided a better picture of the risks created by harvesting and might have led to different practices.

“Watershed assessments are not legally required, but are a good practice where forestry activities pose a risk to resource values,” Kriese added.

Tolko harvested one cutblock in 2015 and salvage-harvested a second cutblock following a wildfire in 2018. In May 2020, four landslides occurred below the harvested areas, affecting McPherson Creek, which supplies drinking water for residents.

A number of factors contributing to the landslides were identified by the investigation. However, the Forest Practices Board says it was not able to determine how much the harvesting was a factor or whether the slides would have occurred anyway. Other factors were the natural geology of an area that is prone to landslides, high precipitation and snow pack levels and wildfire impacts to vegetation and soils.

The Forest Practices Board investigates public complaints about forest and range practices on public lands and can make recommendations for improvements to practices and legislation.

READ MORE: Tolko walks back plans for cutblock above Greater Vernon water source

READ MORE: Water Worries: Calls to protect water with lead agency mounting in Okanagan


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