A timber company has reached an 11th-hour, out-of-court settlement with a cattle rancher who claims that salvage logging of beetle-killed forests seriously altered the hydrology of his Chilcotin farmland.
Randy Saugstad said Thursday that he considers the settlement with Tolko Industries a victory that should pressure the B.C. government to take closer control over logging in the province.
“It’s been six years from start to finish,” he said of his struggle. “I did defeat them. It’s definitely making waves in government.”
Saugstad charged that the current provincial system of “professional reliance” gives forest companies and their foresters too much control over where and how to log.
“It should go back to where there’s government oversight,” he said. “There’s no compliance and enforcement anymore. It’s just a free-for-all.”
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says its compliance and enforcement branch consists of 134 resource officers in the field, 14 headquarters staff and eight regional managers. They enforce forest, range, water, land, wild fire, and off-road vehicle legislation and conducted a total of 6,743 inspections and patrols last year, said ministry spokesman Greig Bethel.
Saugstad, whose 145-hectare ranch is located near Big Creek, about 100 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, said Tolko made a settlement offer shortly before a three-week trial was to begin in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
Financial terms of the settlement cannot be disclosed, he said, adding Tolko did not accept responsibility for his water troubles. Tolko officials could not be reached for comment.
Saugstad claimed in his lawsuit that clearcut logging about five to 15 kilometres upstream from his property “dramatically altered the amount, timing and course of the water flowing” in Twinflower Creek. The effects included increased spring flooding, streamside erosion, lowering of the water table, reduced water later in the year, and freezing in winter. He said he lost about 35 hectares of land for pasture and hay production.
In response, Tolko said it obeyed all applicable laws and a provincial policy of harvesting the beetle-killed timber in a “timely fashion.” The company denied its logging in 2009 and 2010 “caused, or significantly contributed” to Saugstad’s water issues downstream and blamed any problems on the pine beetle infestation. Tolko clearcut about 300 hectares.
The Vancouver Sun profiled Saugstad during a 2011 series on the impact of aggressive salvage logging of lodgepole pine, including a decline in moose populations corresponding with vast clearcuts and increased access for human and wild hunters on logging roads.
Mike Morris, Liberal MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie, is conducting a review of provincial policies related to wildlife habitat, due in June.
A study by the province’s independent Forest Practices Board at Baker Creek, west of Quesnel, showed the mountain pine beetle increased the flood risk by 60 per cent, increasing to 92 per cent after salvage logging and representing a “major shift” in hydrology.
A report for the Canadian Forest Service — largely a synthesis of previous studies — concluded: “As the total area salvage logged increased, peak flows also increased and generated an associated increase in flood frequency.”