The Little Slocan Watershed

Logging Animation—Background Information

click link to use the logging animation:

Little Slocan River Watershed

by Herb Hammond, Forest Ecologist, RPF (ret)

The Little Slocan logging animation shows the history of logging, sometimes characterized as “sustainable forestry,” from 1955 up to, and including, 2021. This logging, carried out by Interfor Corporation (Interfor) and its predecessors, has and continues to degrade the forests of the Little Slocan River watershed (Little Slocan). The myriad ecological benefits of intact forests are diminished and lost as logging continues. The logging animation shows the ongoing deforestation of the Little Slocan. Through clearcutting, natural, diverse forests are converted to tree plantations that are groups of trees, but are not forests. Thus, forests are continuing to be lost in the Little Slocan.

Until the logging in the Little Slocan shifts to forest protection and ecological restoration, the ecological benefits of natural forests, from carbon sequestration and storage, and water conservation to biological diversity and pure air will continue their downward slide. The logging animation for the Little Slocan is a wake-up call for governments at all levels to shift their focus in forest use from timber supplies to essential ecosystem benefits that buffer climate disruption, provide the pure air and water, and maintain the biodiversity we all need for survival. As you digest the logging animation, think of ways that you and society at large can work to restore the natural integrity, resilience, and ecological benefits once provided by the Little Slocan River watershed.

The Context

The watershed of the Little Slocan River is found within the Interior Wetbelt (IWB) landscape ecosystem that encompasses the Inland Temperate Rainforest (ITR). These are globally rare ecosystem types, with temperate rainforests (both coastal and interior) never occupying more than 0.3% of the land area of Earth. Now due to logging and other industrial developments these forests cover less than 0.1% of Earth. Under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria, the IWB is ranked as endangered and the ITR as critical. Due primarily to clearcut logging, core areas of these ecosystems could collapse within 9 to 18 years. (see: DellaSala, Dominick A. et al. 2020. Red-Listed Ecosystem Status of Interior Wetbelt and Inland Temperate Rainforest of British Columbia, Canada. Land. MPI)

Commenting on a recent study on carbon stocks in the Interior Wetbelt, one of the authors, Dr. Art Fredeen of UBC, stated: “The Interior Wetbelt contains some of the most carbon dense forests on the planet…Instead of increasing BC’s carbon debt by further logging old carbon-rich landscapes, we should be conserving them.” (see: DellaSala, Dominick A. et al. 2021. Estimating carbon stocks and stock changes in Interior Wetbelt forests of British Columbia, Canada. Ecosphere. Ecological Society of America)

The Interior Wetbelt forests provide habitat for up to 80% of the mammals that occupy these landscapes.

The Little Slocan River watershed comprises 78,928 hectares, which is approximately 24% of the total area of the Slocan River watershed. As such, the Little Slocan River comprises the main tributary watershed of the Slocan River. The majority of the other tributaries to the Slocan River flow into Slocan Lake, which serves as a large buffer that mediates any impacts, like logging, that may occur in these tributaries. When the buffering effect of Slocan Lake is taken into account, the contribution of the Little Slocan River watershed to the overall Slocan River watershed reaches approximately 55%. Thus, what occurs in the Little Slocan River watershed has a major influence on the aquatic habitat downstream from the confluence of the two rivers.

Persistent Landslide and Aggradation of River

The lower Little Slocan River delta, not far from the confluence with the Slocan River, has been negatively influenced by a persistent landslide on the south side of the river. The landslide is the result of a combination of factors.

The landslide originates in a naturally unstable landform, a kame terrace, which contains perched water tables amidst layers of silt, clay, and fine sand. When private land adjacent to, and now included in the slide area, was logged in the 1990s, the soil water levels increased due to the absence of large trees to pump out ground water and the absence of their roots to hold the soil together. This resulted in erosion and landslides.

At the same time and continuing to the present, private land owners on the north side of the Little Slocan filled in natural river channels, which pushed the main river channel to the south against the toe of the slide. With further erosion at the base of the slide, the landslide from the kame terrace continues and has expanded its area to the west of the first slide.

The high levels of clearcut logging and young tree plantations in TFL 3 capture 40%+ deeper snow packs in the winter that melt faster in the spring, compared to adjacent forests. This results in persistent higher than normal freshets or peak flows. These high flows erode the toe of the landslide, resulting in further mass movement of material into the Little Slocan River that raises the turbidity of the river, degrading aquatic habitat. Thus, the logging in TFL 3 has made, and continues to make a significant negative contribution to the landslide that not only degrades the water quality and aquatic habitat of the Little Slocan River, but also the water quality and aquatic habitat of the main Slocan River.

The high peak flows that result from logging in the Little Slocan River watershed have moved the entire bedload of the river downstream where it settles in the delta as the river gradient flattens out. This results in what is termed aggradation, which fills in the river bed with rocks and boulders, decreasing the depth of the channel and causing the river to widen in many places. Both effects cause floods to become more likely.

The increased siltation of the river, coupled with aggradation is evident in the loss of biological diversity in the lower Little Slocan River. Fish populations have declined to the point that kingfishers, herons, and osprey, once commonly seen birds, are nearly absent as their prey disappears. In addition, people living along the Little Slocan River below the landslide have observed the volume of water in their wells to decline as a result of fine sediments from the slide clogging the movement of ground water.

Deforestation, Irrecoverable Carbon, and Climate Change

Timber management in TFL 3 focuses on logging the intact, natural forests that remain in the watershed. This logging includes the removal of old/old growth forests. Natural, intact forests, particularly old forests, are our most important terrestrial carbon sink, manage water better than young forests and plantations, and contain the highest level of biological diversity, which not only is responsible for healthy human populations and the populations of other species, but also for providing the widest array of options for adapting to climate change.

When comparing the composition, structure, and function of natural intact forests with tree plantations or tree farms established following clearcutting, there are dramatic differences. Tree plantations are not forests. From the soil to the tree canopy, these tree farms are missing many levels of biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Thus, the “forest management” carried out by Interfor and its predecessors in TFL 3 is a form of deforestation, particularly when it comes to protection of water, maintaining biological diversity and natural ecosystem processes, and sequestration and storage of carbon. In other words, the logging of the Little Slocan River is an example of society’s failure to protect the public interest on public forest lands.

Tree plantations/tree farms represent what is termed irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems. Irrecoverable carbon is defined as carbon that is released during development activities, like logging, and is not recoverable on time scales relevant to avoiding dangerous climate impacts. (see: Goldstein, Allie et al. 2020. Protecting irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems. Nature Climate Change)

When clearcuts occur in the Little Slocan River, 40-60% of the carbon stored in the trees is lost during the logging process. Even more of the carbon is lost through the development of short-lived wood products, like paper and pallets, that put greenhouse gases back in the atmosphere within 5 years of when an area is logged. Very little carbon is stored in “long-lived” wood products, and those wood products seldom last more than 30-90 years. (see: Pojar, Jim. 2019. Forestry and Carbon in BC.Skeena Wild Conservation Trust, Terrace, BC)

If tree plantations/tree farms in the Little Slocan River survive the stress and changing environments wrought by climate change, they will need to reach at least 200 years of age to approach the carbon storage capacity of old-growth forests. (see: Harmon, Mark E and Jerry Franklin. 1990. Effects on Carbon Storage of Conversion of Old-Growth Forests to Young Forests.” Science, March, 1990). As to whether tree plantations will survive climate change, both observations and scientific research cast doubt on just how well plantations will do in the future.

Thus, in the climate change era the carbon lost from logging and wood products needs to be viewed as irrecoverable carbon, because it will not be sequestered in young trees until well beyond the danger zone for extreme climate impacts. The 2022 IPC Climate Change Mitigation Report is the most recent warning from scientists that if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to act immediately to reduce carbon emissions and to half these emissions by 2030. Given this information tree farms represent large volumes of irrecoverable carbon.

Like forests around the planet that have been degraded by industrial forestry activities, the remaining forests of the Little Slocan River watershed are critically important to protect and restore to mitigate the effects of climate change and provide essential ecosystem benefits, like water and biodiversity. The future of forests in the Little Slocan River needs to focus on protection and restoration, not extraction and degradation. This new focus will provide more employment than logging, and may be funded through a combination of corporate profits, realized from past extraction of timber, and government funds for mitigation and adaption to climate change, and the Water Security Fund. Currently, timber companies in BC receive about one million dollars per day or 365 million dollars per year in subsidies from government. (see:  Forestry doesn’t pay the bills, folks. David Broadland, Focus Magazine, July 3, 2020)   Diverting these subsidies from timber extraction and forest degradation to forest protection and restoration will help to heal our forests and provide lasting, sustainable forest-based jobs.

Looking west from the landslide. April 7, 2022
Looking east from the landslide. April 7, 2022
Looking down from the landslide. April 7, 2022

More photos and history of the landslide:

Photos of Little Slocan Watershed:

Maps of Little Slocan River Watershed: