Second-pass – It’s about more than just cutting

It’s about more than just cutting

On a Wednesday evening last summer, several vehicles pulled up along one of Peace River Pulp’s logging roads. Out of one car stepped Joerg Goetsch, woodlands superintendent and Allan Robinson, planning supervisor at Peace River Pulp Division (PRPD). Out of others stepped members of the Peace River Public Advisory Committee (PAC). Joerg and Allan were meeting with PAC members who had expressed concern over a second round of harvesting – called “second-pass cutting” – scheduled to occur along the P2100 road in the year 2001.

Joerg wanted PAC members to be onsite to tour this section that, as he says, “causes people some anxiety because it seems to be right in their back yard.” The disposition lies just west of Peace River next to what local residents call Deer Hill. The visit enabled Joerg and Allan to demonstrate to PAC members how second-pass cutting is in fact integral to maintaining the sort of forest habitat that they are afraid of losing.

The second-pass cutting planned for this area in 2001 will mark the first time that PRPD returns to harvest reserve blocks in a previously harvested area. “In the first round of harvesting,” explains Joerg, “the company takes out only 50 per cent of the mature stands in its yearly allocations, and leaves what are called reserve blocks. Once new trees in the harvested stands are three metres high, or after a period of ten years (under current ground rules), you can return to take out the reserve blocks and 50 per cent of the newly-matured stands in that area.” DMI first harvested inside this area in 1989.

What Joerg wanted to show PAC members, was that not only can a company return to harvest reserve stands after ten or so years, but that from an ecological standpoint a company should return periodically to harvest a percentage of its mature reserves. “If you don’t go back and do second-pass cutting,” Joerg explains, “you’ll ultimately cause something called habitat fragmentation.”
Habitat fragmentation consists of lots of uneven patches which puts stress on species that require homogeneous stands for protection.” Birds such as the Western Tanager or the Black-throated Green Warbler, for example, like to be on the inside of a big forest where their nests will avoid predation.

Habitat fragmentation results in numerous small stands whose stand edges expose nests to danger, whereas carefully planned sequencing helps to maintain an even or homogeneous forest that many species depend upon. The best scenario would be to maintain “zero effect” (meaning no height differences) between stands. But, that could only be accomplished if we harvested all of the mature stands in one pass, which is not feasible.

“We actually operate on a multi-pass system,” Joerg continues, “rather than on just a second-pass system.” So long as trees are regenerating at a healthy rate, returning to harvest stands that reach maturation every ten to fifteen years becomes an ongoing process, and integral to sustainable forest management.

According to regeneration surveys, harvest areas in PRPD’s Forest Management Area, timber quotas and permits are well on their way to growing back up into mature stands. “Of the 218 blocks surveyed,” notes Joerg, “199 were rated as satisfactorily stocked and 14 blocks were found to be conditionally stocked, which means we’ll keep our eye on them and do a performance survey to see how they’re progressing in a couple of years. Only five of the 218 blocks surveyed were not sufficiently regenerated, due to moose browsing on the tips of the trees or grass crowding the seedlings out.”

The popular misconception that repeated harvesting in an area will destroy the forest does not stand up to close examination. The forest that community members worry about losing through second-pass cutting in P2100 is itself the result of past fires – a series of continuous renewals that DMI’s harvesting sequencing seeks to continue on the site.