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North Cowichan could learn from Metro Vancouver’s no-logging policy in its watersheds

While North Cowichan debates whether or how much it should log within the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, it could learn some lessons from Metro Vancouver’s management of its own North Shore watersheds.

Metro Vancouver has had a no-logging policy in its watersheds since 1994, the result of a public backlash against timber harvesting — and the forests have not burned to the ground since then.

“A good, fateful group of people were very persistent in wanting logging stopped, and the politicians agreed with that,” confirms Mike Mayers,  division manager of watershed operations and protection for Metro Vancouver.

Has that decision increased the fire risk? “I don’t think so. The current ecosystem is pretty healthy. Hopefully, things will eventually return to that old-growth balance.”

Mayers said in an interview that Metro Vancouver is looking at the potential impact of climate change on its forests, and how certain species may be affected more than others. The region has also done limited amounts of fuel reduction along some urban interfaces such as West Vancouver and Coquitlam. “Where we have boundaries with residential homes, we’ve done a little bit of thinning and reducing ladder fuels on the trees,” he said, noting the urban interface is where human-caused fires are most likely to occur.

Widespread removal of grounds fuels to reduce fire risk throughout the watersheds would be difficult given the area’s steep and rocky terrain and sometimes thick duff layer, he noted.

“Historically, the biggest fires in the watersheds were caused by activity like logging,” he added, noting an especially large fire occurred in 1910. More recently, lightning strikes have been the main fire source in the watersheds. 

“We fall back on having very prepared staff — two three-person initial attack crews, a big stash of fire-fighting equipment, over 30 staff trained in fire-fighting, and a memorandum of understanding with the province. We send crews their way when they’re in jeopardy, and they then reciprocate, understanding that the watersheds are extremely important to the residents of the Lower Mainland for their drinking water.

“So, we’d have a massive response if we had a fire. Our real goal is to be able to get on any fire report extremely quickly with our crews, and then call in the resources needed very fast.”

Metro Vancouver draws its water from a vast area stretching from Cypress Bowl to Coquitlam, including parklands and forested areas off-limits to the public.


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