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Canada's Pacific forests

R. G. MCKEE, Deputy Minister of Forests, British Columbia, Canada

As the year 1958 marked British Columbia's first century as a Province of Canada, so the completion of the first decade of sustained-yield forest policy in the Pacific Province also had a special, additional significance to professional foresters.

Although the two events may appear at first glance, to be separate and distinct they are, in fact, synonymous to a great degree. British Columbia's economic and social history is forest history. This is a forest land, the so-called forest province of a forest nation. Deeply integrated into the very sinews of the province and her people are their forests. With her forests, British Columbia ranks among the leading softwood-growing areas in the world. Without her forests, she would be a very poor area indeed.

The forests of British Columbia provide her people with a high standard of living as a result of the sale of forest products: but they mean much more than this. They mean recreation in all its outdoors aspects and they mean hydroelectric power sources with their variety of ramifications.

There is little argument that this is a forest land. Of the 366,000 square miles (94,794,000 hectares) comprising the total area of the province, 60 percent is forest land and, so far as we know today, best suited for the growing of a forest crop. According to the latest estimates, there are 184,375 square miles (47,753,125 hectares) of commercial forest stands at present day utilization standards.

Four percent of the Province is suitable for agriculture and the remainder is barren rock and water.

Over the past five years, the industrial forest harvest has averaged 982,000,000 cubic feet (27,800,000 cubic meters) per year with an average annual value to the Province of well over $500,000,000 (Table 1).


It is estimated that 70-80,000 persons are directly employed in the forest industries which makes it by far the greatest single employer of labor. Forty cents of every dollar earned within the Province originates in the forests.

During the last decade, some $1,000 million of new capital investment has gone into the expansion of existing forest manufacturing facilities and the creation of new plant.

The resource that supports this large and complex industry is a virile and multi-aged one. The sound wood volume estimate stands at 306 thousand million cubic feet (8.7 billion cubic meters); the net annual growth at 2.3 thousand million cubic feet (65,136,000 cubic meters); and the net annual depletion rate at 2.2 thousand million cubic feet (62,304,000 cubic meters).

From the standpoint of position in Canada's national forest industry picture, statistics bear out the statement, that, in production, British Columbia is the forest province. For example, 63.9 percent of Canada's dollar value of production of lumber comes from British Columbia; 63 percent of the national value of plywood production; and 36.7 percent of the national net value of logging. The pulp and paper industry of the Province accounts for 13 percent of the Canadian total (this has almost doubled in the last decade) (Table 2): 70 percent of Canada's total lumber exports comes from there as does 16 percent of Canadian pulp and paper shipments abroad (Table 3).

From an administration standpoint it is obvious that the very size of the resource would present some considerable problems. These problems are compounded, however, by such natural phenomena as the extreme ruggedness of much of the provincial topography, the great distances and lack of ready access to much of the forested area, the economic and biotic division of the Province into " coast " and " interior ". The traditional ownership pattern for forest land places 93 percent of all accessible mature forests under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Crown administered by the Forest Service. In addition, there are such factors as the complete dependence on export markets for our forest products and the consequent over-heavy concentration of large-scale industry on the lower coastal areas.

TABLE 2. - PAPER PRODUCTION, 1949-58 (in tons)












Ten-year average, 1949-58













Other papers












In addition to 759,493 tons to pulp manufactured Into paper in the Province, 663,727 tone were shipped out of the Province during the year.


Since the earliest days of the Forest Service, which was founded in 1912, there have always been those both within and outside its ranks who saw its function as something more than simply a fire-fighting agency. The road toward a more comprehensive approach to forest management was long and tortuous, however, and fraught with many pitfalls. The dramatic and shattering impact on the public mind of tremendous annual devastation by fire did have the result of drawing general attention to the forests as a provincial and national asset of inestimable value. The Service, however, was generally restricted to a prevention, suppression, and timber-selling role with the broader aspects of forest management receiving little attention from the public.

However, dedicated foresters persisted and by the mid 1930's had found powerful allies who were shocked to discover that the seemingly endless resource was not endless at all. They were horrified to learn that, through forest fires, disease and insect attacks, improvident and wasteful logging practices, their mighty coastal forests were beginning to recede at a noticeable rate. The second world war with its natural and voracious appetite for timber from British Columbia brought the matter of forest conservation to a head. The result was a Royal Commission on Forestry, with the late Gordon McG. Sloan, Chief Justice of British Columbia, as the sole commissioner.

In 1945, the first Sloan Commission reported and the magic words "sustained-yield forestry" and "forest management" were first widely heard throughout the Province. Thus was heralded the ending of an era as a new and revolutionary plan started to develop.

In 1947, the British Columbia Forest Act was significantly amended to provide for the establishment of supervised but privately-operated sustained-yield units. By the following year, the first of these forest management licenses, now called tree farm licences, was awarded to the Columbia Cellulose Company to operate in what was previously considered to be economically inaccessible stands in the Prince Rupert area, southeast of the Alaska Panhandle.

FIGURE 3. - Artificial reforestation has been a major program in British Columbia since the mid-1930's Four Forest Service nurseries supply planting stock to industry free of charge. Plantations are put in by both industrial and Forest Service crews Nearly 170,000 denuded acres (63,000 hectares) have been planted so far.

FIGURE 4. - The forest development road program is a key instrument in bringing forest industry into balance and increasing accessible forest wealth for smaller operators. Standard of roads is demonstrated by such permanent, high-quality bridges as this one in the Chillwack Sustained - Yield Unit.

FIGURE 5. - Type group and age groups in forest areas of British Columbia. Based on commercial forests on productive sites regardless of accessibility Source: Continuous Forest Inventory - Initial Phase - 1967. Note that one acre = 0,4 hectare.

Today, there are 33 tree farm licences covering a total productive forest area of well over 5.5 million acres (2,226,000 hectares) with a total annual allowable cut of some 230,000,000 cubic feet (6,500,000 cubic meters) per year.

The basic philosophy behind the tree farm licences is to provide private industry with the opportunity to operate a long-term forestry tenure and benefit from long-term financing and integration, in return for the establishing of sustained-yield harvesting techniques under approved working plans over all the forest in the license - be it privately held or Crown property. The contract comes up for general review every 20 years. There is, however, a constant exchange of information between the licensee and the Forest Service about cutting budgets and general silvicultural practices. The licencee is entirely responsible for forest protection and the cut must average his sustained-yield capacity over each 10-year period of operation.

The tree farm licence is attractive to the larger, integrated operation that can accept the heavy, long-term financial and forestry implications. There is, however, a most important part of the industry, referred to as " the little man ". This term " little man " in the Coast sphere at least, is purely relative. It is not in any way unusual for the small, independent operator to have an investment of $500,000 or more in his business, and he plays a very important role in the forest economy. Something therefore, had to be done to give him an opportunity to continue operating.

With this in mind, Crown-operated sustained-yield units have been set up over the past decade. Under this form of tenure, the operator bids on timber put up for sale within a government-operated sustained-yield unit. The amount cut from any such unit is determined by the Forest Service as is the method of harvesting.

Sustained-yield units make it possible for the smaller operator and the dependent local economy to benefit from a sustained-yield operation without requiring heavy capital investment.

By the end of 1958, there were 61 sustained-yield units in operation throughout the Province, covering 32,389,900 acres (13,108,200 hectares) of productive forest land with an annual allowable cut of 380,000,000 cubic feet (10,750,000 cubic meters). In addition to these two major forms of sustained-yield tenure, there are the smaller certified tree farms and farm woodlot licences, the latter available to bona fide farmers only. The current annual sustained-yield capacity of tree farm licences and sustained-yield units amounts to some 600,000,000 cubic feet (17,000,000 cubic meters) or 66 percent of the total provincial cut for 1958 from all forms of forest tenures.

FIGURE 6. - Canada's Pacific province of British Columbia completed in 1957 the initial phase of its new forest inventory under the Canada Forestry Act, after seven years of field work. For the first time the province had a reasonably accurate inventory basis upon which to build its sustained yield program.

FIGURE 7. - Forest fires occurrence and lack of access continue as British Columbia's largest single problem. In 1958, 4,120 fires were reported. They burned over 2,000,000 acres (809,400 hectares). This was the worst fire year in British Columbia's history. Here a 858 Sikorsky carries fire-fighting supplies in to a 30,000 acre (12,141 hectares) blaze north of Prince George.

The administrator of the forests of British Columbia is concerned not only with the maintenance of the industry in a vigorous and healthy state but must also be keenly aware of the effect such a massive industry has had, is having, and is likely to have, on the welfare of the prime resource itself.

Forest management

The first and essential step towards the comprehensive planning of forest management is to obtain as accurate and complete an inventory as possible related to the utilization standards of the day. Since early in the history of the Forest Service, the work of forest inventory was carried on. Due to lack of funds and personnel, these early attempts, though worthwhile, did not provide sufficient information for a base for sustained-yield planning. In 1951, however the Service was able to benefit from the Canada Forestry Act and its federal-provincial agreement for forest inventory. Considerable federal financial aid became available to the Province if it would undertake to produce forest statistics to a rigid standard suitable for inclusion in national totals. The initial phase of the survey was completed two years ago and resulted in the publication of the report, Continuous Forest Inventory of British Columbia - Initial Phase, 1957. For the first time, British Columbia had an accurate assessment of her forest resource. The Surveys and Inventory Division still operating under an extension of the original federal agreement, is engaged in its second year of a 10-year maintenance cycle.


As the dimension of the resource was realistically determined, the next problem to overcome was the matter of accessibility. Accessibility has always been a tremendous problem in British Columbia because of its size, its rugged topography, and the limited funds available for forest development. In the matter of forest management, the key factor of accessibility is always present. Accessibility is not only related to topography and physical availability of markets, but also to market prices - in British Columbia's case, export prices - themselves.

In the case of the tree farm licence, the problem of accessibility is, to a large extent, shifted to the licensee once he accepts the design of his contract. In the case of the sustained-yield units, however, it was obvious that something had to be done to make these forests economically accessible to the smaller operator. Otherwise, he was no better off than before.

The forest development road program thus came into being. This road system through the sustained-yield units is designed to make available previously inaccessible stands. Roads are designed and located to various standards according to the volume of timber and the quality of the site in each part of the forest in conjunction with the most efficient utilization plan. Forest development roads are haul roads (adverse grades are designed on the basis of hauling cost and construction cost) for the use of experienced drivers. They are constructed as permanent roads for a definite traffic volume which will increase very little. The capital cost is amortized over an economic period comparable to that used by industry to determine the feasibility of each project. The amortization charge is computed on the unit of measurement of the forest products to be hauled.

Since 1950, the Engineering Services Division of the Forest Service has completed construction of well over 200 miles (320 kilometers) of forest development road, has located another 475 miles (764 kilometers) and carried out reconnaissance on 1,539 miles (2,476 kilometers) of possible routes.

Through this road program, vast previously inaccessible forest areas are being brought into the accessible sphere and the smaller independent operator can continue as a key member of the vast forest industries of British Columbia. In addition, the imbalance of the forest cut is, to a heartening degree, being corrected. Until only five years ago, almost 80 percent of the provincial cut originated from the lower coastal area where regional overcutting was prevalent. Today, 56 percent of the provincial cut originates here and the remainder comes from the previously undercut inferior regions.

Thus, in a general way, the first steps have been made towards putting every forested acre in British Columbia under some system of sustained-yield management, which is the ultimate aim of the Forest Service.

If this is the general picture, it is only a reflection of specific progress in many fields - research, reforestation, silvicultural treatment of stands and so forth.

Artificial reforestation has been a major policy of the Service since the mid-1930's. Four nurseries are in operation - three on the coast producing two-year-old Douglas fir planting stock, and one in the interior specializing in yellow pine. In addition, experimental nurseries have been set up in the spruce-balsam forests of north-central British Columbia. If these prove successful, artificial reforestion will play an important role in coping with the regeneration problem in the northern stands.


Planting stock from Forest Service nurseries is made available, on request, to industry at no charge. The tree farm licence holders are making good use of these facilities in order to keep their licences fully productive. Planting on industrial land is either done by company crews using Forest Service stock or, if requested, by Service crews. In the latter event, the costs of planting are charged back to the company concerned (Table 4).


Considerable work in genetics is being carried out by the Research and Reforestation Divisions of the Service and a special industrial committee in connection with the production of selected strains of Douglas fir to be planted in seed orchards. This if all part of a general seed-improvement program now in its initial stages.

Forest fire suppression

If there is one single problem of forest management that has always overshadowed the others in British Columbia it has been, and still is, forest fire suppression. Last year was the most devastating fire season on record. A total of 4,120 fires were reported. They burned over two million acres (809,400 hectares) and killed 1,472,882,000 board feet (3,476,000 cubic meters) of accessible, merchantable timber. Forest Service fire-fighting costs amounted to $4,500,000 and the industry spent one million dollars on fire suppression.

The heaviest costs of suppression were attributable to the lightning-caused fires. These cost 75 percent of the total expenditure although they accounted for only 28 percent of the total number. Here, again, is the old problem of accessibility underlined with a vengeance (Table 5).


Every available type of fire-fighting equipment was used during the season. Fixed wing aircraft and helicopters saw continuous action in carrying crews and equipment and both types were used in bombing fires with water and sodium calcium borate.

If it ever needed proving, the 1958 fire season proved conclusively that men on the fire-line are still the final answer to suppression. Lack of accessibility is the massive problem in the Province's fire suppression program. Over 200 miles (320 kilometers) of new forest protection roads were constructed last season, to add to the 850 miles (1,368 kilometers) being maintained, but it is still only a " drop in the bucket ".

FIGURE 8. - Such massive, well-integrated operation as this Columbia Cellulose Mill near Prince Rupert have become a reality for British Columbia as a result of the securing of log supplies through tree farm licence operations.

Every possible effort is being made, within the limits of funds and staff available, to improve fire suppression effectiveness. The forest industries have shown a high degree of co-operation and are of great assistance, particularly in the southern coastal areas. The sustained-yield program, insofar as tree farm licences are concerned, has done much to relieve the Forest Service of a part of its protection burden in this area. The continued development of Crown-operated sustained-yield units, with their growing network of good quality roads, will gradually increase accessibility for suppression purposes.

It is going to be a long haul, however, before this problem is even partially solved. But we are confident that, in due course, if steady progress is maintained, our suppression forces and facilities will be up to the task.

It is our hope that this protracted period may be greatly shortened by increased federal assistance for more forest protection and more forest access roads under the Canada Forestry Act. When this assistance is proportionate to that contributed to state forestry by the United States Government under the Clark McNary Act, we shall be a long way towards our goal.

It is true that no-one with any conception of the forest situation in British Columbia could possibly feel that the sustained-yield job is nearly finished. Far from it - we have only begun. And yet that beginning, no matter how small, is to us a tremendous land mark of achievement. We take heart in the fact that over the last seven years more has been done towards securing the forest future of the Province than in all its previous history.

FIGURE 9. - Considerable work in genetics is being carried out in British Columbia by both Government and industry directed towards the production of selected strains of Douglas fir.

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