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Logging the Mission Creek Watershed draws landslide concerns

Gorman Bros. Lumber officials address concerns at forum

How much is enough?

That was one of many questions posed by Joe Rich residents who attended a public forum to hear from Gorman Bros. Lumber representatives about the West Kelowna company’s timber harvest plans for the Mission Creek watershed.

While Gorman’s logging plans for the watershed have not changed since 2021, a renewed influx of questions about those planned activities in recent weeks gave pause for the company, with the support of the Joe Rich Society, to organize the forum, which was also broadcast via Zoom.

“Of late there have been some major concerns expressed to us,” confirmed Gorman Bros. forester Luke Gubbels.

Those concerns have largely centred around logging on the watershed slopes and what impact that might have on the watershed, most notably potential landslides that affect Joe Rich residents and Mission Creek.

While there has been a renewed grassroots focus on restricting timber harvesting in watersheds, residents along Mission Creek are worried about soil instability not being able to sustain logging and necessary road building to access cutblocks.

The memory of the Highway 33 washout in the spring of 2018 also serves as an ongoing wake-up call for many area residents about water retention issues along the watershed slopes.

Elsewhere across the Okanagan, the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance has been advocating to suspend logging in that community’s watershed, while the Interior Watershed Task Force is developing a campaign to press the provincial government to restrict clear-cut logging in community-dependent watersheds.

They cite the environmental harm coupled with the declining economic impact logging has on the overall provincial economy.

At the forum, Gorman Bros. forester Matt Scott acknowledged some of the company’s initial cut block harvest plans for some lower slopes below Highway 33 have faced technical feasibility pushback from hydrology and geotechnical experts.

“They’ve told us we can’t do what we plan to do so we are reviewing those plans after which they will be reassessed again,” Scott told the forum audience.

“So for now we’ve had to put our plans for some of our cutblocks on hold.”

Both Scott and Gubbels, joined by another company forester Bryan Darroch for the forum presentation, talked about the company’s move away from clear-cut logging due to environmental impact concerns, although acknowledging it remains the most economically viable method to harvest trees.

They said selective logging, the harvest of 50 to 70 per cent of trees in a given cutblock, is evident now in the watershed with its ‘checkerboard’ appearance.

They explained while clear-cut logging means regrowth for an entire logging site starts from point zero, selective logging does offer a more age-diverse post-logging site renewal.

“While there is no hard and fast rule on that, it is generally considered that less than 75 per cent removal of timber is considered selective rather than clear-cut logging,” said Scott, in response to some in the audience questioning the result difference between selective and clear-cut logging.

Scott also stressed companies have up to seven years to replant in logged areas, but Gorman’s tends to start that process within two years.

He noted the company relies on technical expertise in devising harvest plans, and the provincial ministry of forests for timber harvest allocation.

That caused one resident to say while she appreciated the company representatives speaking at the forum, “It sounds like we may be talking to the wrong people. Who we should really be talking to is the ministry of forests.”

Another resident voiced that beyond a landslide into Mission Creek, part of a key domestic water source servicing the Black Mountain Irrigation District, there is also potential damage for tributary streams feeding into Mission Creek that flow across many people’s watershed rural properties.

In response, Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield, who attended the forum, stated she was willing to take any concerns Joe Rich residents have regarding logging in the watershed to ministry officials.

“I am willing to champion any local concerns,” she said.

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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