Residents of a rural neighbourhood near Wycliffe are concerned over restoration activities in an area known as Rouse pasture. The area lies between the airport and a subdivision off Sommerfeldt Road.
In a story in Wednesday's Daily Townsman, residents expressed concerns that the restoration work - being done by Canfor on behalf of the the Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Program (ER Program) - is more extensive than residents originally thought, and in an area which sees a high amount of recreational traffic.
The Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Program is a long-term undertaking by a coalition of stakeholders working together to restore fire-maintained grassland and open forest ecosystems in the East Kootenay. The society's purpose is to bring back the grasslands, for ranching and elk grazing, smaller species - many of which are rare and endangered, and increasingly rare native grasses. The treatment of overgrown forests is also key to preventing out of control fires that could threaten residences.
Randy Harris, with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operation (one of the partners in the ER program), has been meeting with residents of the area since 2008, and took part in a meeting with them Wednesday night to address their concerns. He explained in an interview with the Townsman that the area came up as a high priority for treatment for three main reasons:
? Its location between the airport and a subdivision off Sommerfeldt Road makes fire suppression very important. "You have a lot of recreational traffic and a high fuel material build-up, so it's something that has to be addressed," Harris said.
? By opening up the forest to allow more grassland, it makes the area more suitable for the large concentration of rare and endangered species that live in the area. These include badgers, Lewis woodpeckers, flammulated owls, Le Conte sparrow and bobolink (one of the few locations in B.C. for bobolink, Harris said).
? The forest is already fairly open, so there would be a rapid response to grasslands restoration efforts.
A ponderosa pine forest should naturally run about "20 stems per hectare, with a healthy grass understory." The area in question is becoming too dense, and the understory is converting to what Harris called "pine grass," which has no nutritional value for the species who live there.
As to the work being more extensive than residents thought, Harris explained how that came about. Tembec came on board in 2009, to do the logging. At first, it was the plan to stay out of Rouse Pasture altogether, coming down as a fence line roughly marking the north end of Rouse Pasture (the harvested timber was also taken back out the north end of the area). As it
turned out, however, in order to make their volume, Tembec (and now Canfor) had to come further south. Things were further complicated by a large concentration of badger dens, which had to be avoided in the original harvest area north of Rouse.
"It got to the point where the timber couldn't be taken to the landings, because of the badger dens," Harris said.
Thus Canfor had to move the timber southwards.
Residents' concerns centre on a ridge in the middle of Rouse Pasture, Harris said. Canfor tried to stay on the west side of the ridge, in part because there was a bigger network of trails on the east side of the ridge, and also to stay further away from the residences.
Residents espressed fears that the work was going to "wreck a really
beautiful place." But Harris said in the long-term the place will
actually be better off.
"A year after harvest, visually it's shocking," Harris said. "The roads are still raw, the stumps are visible. But in five years the stumps will be less visible and the grass will have filled in."
He added that Canfor is very supportive of the grassland restoration program, and invasive plant management. Indeed, stopping the spread of invasive plants into the treated areas of the ER program is a priority, Harris said.