Op-ed: A case study of professional reliance

Op-ed: A case study of professional reliance

How reliance on industry-hired professionals has increased the risks of damage

The floods of spring 2017 in the Okanagan region had a severe impact on the community of Peachland’s drinking water. A State of Emergency was declared after forestry road washouts damaged Deep, Law and MacDonald Creeks. Flooding and mudslides caused hundreds of thousands of dollars damage to Peachland’s water treatment system and intake. Residents suffered boil water advisories for five months.

The Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance (PWPA) points to evidence that the cumulative effects of commercial activity in their watersheds added to the run-off, erosion, sedimentation and flooding issues.

PWPA representative Taryn Skalbania said, “We are concerned that outsourcing oversight of resource extraction in B.C., and especially within a fragile, steep community watershed, has opened the doors to conflict of interest and placed the non-commercial values of air, water, soil, wildlife, recreation and biodiversity behind the commercial values of timber. “

There are currently four Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) licensees with permits to log in the two Peachland watersheds. FRPA licensees are required to hire a professional to complete some type of watershed assessment prior to road construction or harvesting. But a 2014 Forest Practices Board investigation into how well forestry and range use provides for the protection of drinking water doesn’t offer Peachland residents much confidence in the ability of professionals hired by industry to manage the risks to their watersheds. “Of the 31 assessments in the Board’s sample: 11 did not follow the content for the assessment as described in the Forest Stewardship Plan; 26 considered, to varying degrees, the hydrological effects of FRPA and pre-FRPA forest activities over the entire watershed; and only 6 considered the potential effects of planned forest development on water quality, quantity or timing of flow in relation to the licensed waterworks—key elements of the community watershed objective.” Source: Forest Practices Board special investigation Community Watersheds: from objectives to results on the ground.

The PWPA are concerned that clear-cut logging, which is the majority of all logging in the Okanagan Valley, has contributed to flooding incidents in the region. Watershed data published in 2015 by Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) hydrologist Rita Winkler, PhD, notes, “Loss of forest cover typical of interior British Columbia forests results in 5 to 70 per cent and 30 to 100 percent increases in snow accumulation and ablation (melting) rates, respectively.”

Clear-cut logging can cause flooding, as snow can melt up to 42 per cent faster in open areas, depending on terrain, elevation and direction. Extreme run-off due to lack of canopy cover can wash out roads built on unstable slopes in a steep watershed like Peachland, causing unusually fast run-off, severe erosion and flooding. Winkler noted that specific conditions for logging in individual watersheds need to be determined by professional analysis and field assessment.

The Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance is concerned that the objectives set by the provincial government to protect water, habitat, biodiversity and ecosystems apply only to the extent that they do not ‘unduly reduce the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests’. The PWPA believes that this is a dangerous practice, especially in an era of climate change and is calling on all levels of government to reprioritize for this new reality. Skalbania said, “It is imperative that we protect forest ecosystems that are still intact, as they offer the greatest protection against extreme weather events.”

The BC Government is aware of problems that have developed due to an over-reliance on industry professionals and conducted a review at the beginning of 2018 to get feedback on how to improve how natural resources are managed. The Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance submitted their feedback to the engagement process, which can be found online at https://engage.gov.bc.ca/professionalreliance/

Submitted by the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance