BCTS refuses to release Terrain Stability Assessment for the Schmidt Watershed

BC Timber Sales (BCTS) has developed logging & roadbuilding plans for a northern Vancouver Island watershed that raises concerns for the loss of significant old-growth, wildlife habitat, impacts to waterflows and to downstream Orca rubbing beaches.

The watershed is the ‘Schmidt – Nanwakolas’ located next valley (south) from the Tsitka Valley – about a 1.5 hr drive from Campbell River. BCTS plan shows a string of 5 blocks to be advertised for sale 2018 Q3 amounting to 221Ha of old-growth logged.

The majority of the roadbuilding & logging is planned on slopes 33%+. This is considered logging on ‘steep slopes’ and thus requires BCTS to conduct an terrain stability assessment of the likelihood of the activity ‘causing a landslide’. When logging
and roadbuilding occur on steep slopes such as these the burden-of-proof rests on the licensees (BCTS) to ensure no landslides occur during or after their industrial development. A request was made of BCTS (by Ross Muirhead) in early Nov. to have the Terrain Stability Assessment (TSA) made public, however the BCTS Campbell River office refused thus making him go through a formal FOI request. This approach begs the question: what are they hiding?

An FOI will be made to have the TSA made public for the Schmidt, however that takes time, and in the meantime, it’s known that BCTS is paying for road to be constructed leading up to the cutblocks. Since its BCTS who hired the geo-technical company it’s expected that the TSA it will be a risk mitigation report, with the objective to ‘reduce the likelihood’ of landslides.

However, on the roadbuilding maps that Muirhead has examined there are warnings notices that raise immediate concern: such as ‘Worker Safety Concerns – STEEP ROAD GRADES’ to draw contractor’s attention that road bank undercutting could actually be fatal. Another notice reads” Reduced Rainfall Shutdown Area. This area has a moderate landslide initiation potential and is especially vulnerable during precipitation events.” “A moderate rockfall and rock dislodgment hazard exists in these areas. Workers should be made aware of this potential rockfall and rock dislodgement hazard prior to commencing
work in these areas. Workers are to use caution and remain alert while working in these locations.”

There is not one fully protected watershed on the Vancouver Island’s east coast. The Schmidt is adjacent to the Tsitka Valley Provincial Park, and on its lower reaches to the Michael Biggs Ecological Reserve, and would be an excellent candidate area to be added to increase the amount of old-growth on Vancouver Island. The estuary of the Schmidt contains 2 identified orca rubbing beaches, however were not included when the nearby Ecological Reserve was established. It appears that 20-30% of this watershed was previously logged, however with good portions of mid-upper elevation slopes left intact.

It’s our opinion, that the effects of logging on these steep slopes has not been fully examined as to potential downstream impacts to the sensitive Orca rubbing beaches.

“Given the nearly unique use of the beach by killer whales, management of the area should be cautious” from: “Schmidt Creek and the Johnstone Strait Killer Whale Rubbing Beaches” March 2003 Tech Report, Research Division, Vancouver Forest Region.

The Schmidt was subject to a logging moratorium from 1992-97 due to concerns of over-logging by Western Forest Products. Increased sediment delivery from logging was the concern and that these deposits to the 3 adjacent rubbing beaches were most likely affecting the condition of the gravels that the Orcas are drawn to. BCTS now claims that the watershed is ‘hydrologically-recovered’ and thus its safe to log without causing further downstream impacts.

The 2003 report can be found at: https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/rco/research/georeports/tr025.pdf

A Sept. 2017 Forest Practices Board report ‘Resource Road Construction in Steep Terrain’ (special investigation) was undertaken due to public concerns regarding past operational issues on steep slopes that lead to immediate and on-going erosion issues. The last Conclusions #4 stated: “Only 20 of the 26 road segments examined were constructed in a manner that ensured safety.”

This highlights that contractors are either taking shortcuts on road engineering plans, or the fact that cutting into steep slopes on Vancouver Island watersheds is inherently dangerous, causing instability of the roadbed leading to both immediate erosion issues, and to a long-term landslide potential.

The FSP report referenced a FPPR requirement that seems next to impossible to achieve on steep slope roads: “Section 33. When constructing a road the person must maintain natural surface drainage patterns on the area both during and after
construction.” These challenges and problems in Van Island watersheds should cause the current government to place a moratorium on all cutblocks planned on steep slopes.

The FPB report can be found at: https://www.bcfpb.ca/reports-publications/reports/resource-road-construction-steep-terrain/

Sierra Club