It stands out when visitors pull into the viewpoint to take in the Hope Slide, 170 km east of Vancouver on the old Crowsnest Highway on the way to Manning Park.

Within the mountain vista behind the stark, grey rock swath that marks the path of the massive 1965 landslide is a scraggly, rust-coloured bald spot that isn’t supposed to be there, or at least shouldn’t be as visible as it is.

The case, identified in a 2014 B.C. Forest Practices Board audit, illustrates the increasing challenges of forest management to balance timber and recreational values. But with the interests of two major B.C. industries — lumber and tourism — involved, the incentives are there to get it right.

“When we found this (visual-quality) problem in the Chilliwack audit, we were disappointed,” said Forest Practices Board chairman Tim Ryan.

The board had highlighted the importance of visual-quality objectives a year ago in a report into badly managed logging on Skidegate Channel in Haida Gwaii, which Ryan had hoped put the issue more into the forefront for the foresters doing planning work for forest licensees.

At the Hope Slide viewpoint, the crown agency B.C. Timber Sales was responsible for planning the visible 13-hectare block, and BCTS manager Kerry Grozier said they did draw up plans that included leaving a buffer strip of standing trees that should have shielded the view.

However, when the contractor that won the bid for the timber license got on the ground, that swath of trees posed a safety hazard for the logging methods they were using, Grozier said, and the trees wound up being cut down before the issue was communicated to BCTS.

The agency typically tries to mitigate and work around those kinds of problems that crop up, but in this case, “you can’t stand the trees back up.”

“In this particular case, we didn’t disagree with the (audit’s) findings,” Grozier said. “The visual condition that was expected as a result of that harvesting activity was not met.”

In his agency’s defence, Grozier said BCTS was “pushing the boundaries” of what was possible on the cutblock and didn’t leave enough “wiggle room” to accommodate changes. However, they are taking the audit findings seriously with a view to shoring up procedures to prevent future problems.

In terms of magnitude, Grozier said the visual incursion, which isn’t visible at all from the highway, is only about one per cent of the overall scene from the viewpoint, which is dominated by the extent of the massive rock slide.

“We need to look at what we can do better next time,” Grozier said, but believes BCTS and the major timber companies operating in the region have already “done a lot of good work” in preserving views.

“We do a lot of visual modifications, (visually sensitive) harvesting in the corridor that follows the Fraser Valley and Coquihalla (highway) and even the Hope Princeton (route),” Grozier said.

In the conservation sector, however, the sense is that timber harvesters are being given more latitude when it comes to regulating viewscapes.

“The provincial government, over the last 10 years, has weakened visual guidelines,” said Joe Foy, national campaign director and executive team member for the Wilderness Committee.
In B.C.’s interior, the mountain pine beetle infestation that ravaged millions of hectares of forests has forced timber companies to review forest reserves that were set aside, but that is on a landscape that has already been altered by the beetle damage.

However, in the southwest, Foy argues the forests have been “grossly over-logged,” making it more difficult for forest managers to find timber that is economically viable.

Foy, who grew up in the region around Chilliwack, said he has seen cutblocks creeping into view in areas where he argues the view should have been more protected, such as at Chilliwack Lake. And logging has been proposed in areas such as Echo Island in Harrison Lake, within view of the tourist waterfront at Harrison Hot Springs.

Grozier said foresters put considerable resources into the sophisticated computer modelling that goes into designing logging activity that is sensitive to views, either by retaining buffers or selectively harvesting trees, but it is getting difficult to meet those visual guidelines.

“What, in effect, happens is we push the envelope on (economic) viability, because we’re trying to do so many things and serve so many masters,” Grozier said.

Evan Loveless, executive director of the Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C., said people understand that tourism is coexisting with the forest industry and “I don’t think anyone would fool themselves to expect a totally pristine environment.”

However, Loveless points to coastal areas such as the Sunshine Coast and Discovery Islands near Campbell River, where visual values have lost out.

This is also an area where tourism operators and timber companies are finding ways to coexist through a working group to “strike a better balance,” Loveless said.

B.C.’s “results-based” forest regulations themselves, which leave room for differing opinions on whether objectives have been met, are another part of the problem, Loveless said.

“From an foresters perspective, they’re put in a tricky position with a results-based framework and professional reliance,” he said. “They make those judgments where the government once did that on behalf of everyone.”