Monday, July 16, 2007

Wildcrafting Strawberries

For a few years now I've been giving a little help (occasional watering and weeding) to a patch of especially large wild strawberries. Each year they reward me with a special harvest - not large but very sweet. This year's gift was substantially greater than last year's:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Foxes in the Cariboo and London

This is an image of a fox, fairly common around here (the South Cariboo):

For contrasting lifestyle and season, here's a picture, from a friend, of a fox making itself at home in a London garden. Apparently this is not uncommon, especially around Hampstead Heath:

Monday, July 09, 2007

Chris Czajkowski's Chilcotin Photo-journal

Chris Czajkowski, author of Wildfire in the Wilderness, The Cabin at Singing River and other books, is back home at Nuk Tessli, hiking and paddling "her" piece of Chilcotin wilderness. Join Chris, as the early summer sun begins to melt last winter's heavy snows and she records in words and pictures the spectacular scenery and fascinating plant and animal life of this beautiful corner of British Columbia.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The pine beetle aftermath requires a fundamental culture change

Dave Neads writes from knowledge and experience about the forestry industry in BC. After hoping it would go away or some miracle cure would appear, the reality of the pine beetle aftermath is beginning to set in. This is going to require a deep, cultural change from those of us in affected areas, whether we are involved with forestry or not. Dave's article provides a welcome perspective. (The photo is mine - taken today in my backyard).


"Why can't they just fix it, spray the trees or something?" This question came from a European traveler visiting the Chilcotin Cariboo, but it may have just as easily been posed by someone from the lower mainland or even from Williams Lake.

Even though this person had driven from Williams Lake to Anahim Lake, had done a flightsee over the West Chilcotin, had spent a lot of time on back roads, and had seen the size and extent of the beetle kill, the scale of the problem was still incomprehensible. The question still came "Why can't they fix it?"

At the same time, for many, nothing appears to need fixing right now. Times are good. Everyone is working, the economy is robust, investors and speculators are buying properties, building big box stores and playing the real estate market, looking for future gain.

The problem is that these seeming good times hide the reality that we are facing two radically different visions of the future: one built on the dream of a continuing working class community, closely knit and vibrant, and the other built on land speculation and expected demographic shifts.

One future is driven by the aging baby-boomer population which is selling up in the south and moving farther north. They have income, they don't need forestry jobs, they are retired or semi-retired and looking for a more rural, small town lifestyle. It is this future that the land speculators and the big box store owners are betting on, the new economy driven by investment, retirees and land price increases. For example, recently, a helicopter load of speculators from the western US dropped out of the sky in the Tatla area, just checking to see what was for sale, what the country looked like. Lakefront property is at an all time high, house prices are rising, and speculation is rampant.

On the other hand, the future based on traditional forest economy is in trouble and faces two possible outcomes. To give you an idea of the scale of the forestry problem consider the Chilcotin, an area the size of Switzerland, predominantly forested with lodgepole pine. By 2010 it is estimated that the MPB will have killed roughly half a billion trees in the Chilcotin. Half a billion. That would represent 25 years of logging at current rates. All gone in the next few years.

Even if it were possible to harvest these trees while they are still useful for the industry, say in the next five years, you would need five times as many mills, five times as many logging roads, five times as many logging contractors, five times as many rail cars, five times as much market space in the U.S, five times as many mill workers and on and on. And even if that were possible, what happens at the end of the five years? The trees are gone, and a crash much bigger than the one we face implodes the local economy.

We can't fix the tree supply problem. There will be a drastic reduction in harvest levels in the near future. There is nothing we do can about this. If we don't accept these facts and adopt a new strategy the working class economy in the forest industry as we know it will come to the end of an era.

That is the more negative outcome, but there is an alternative. In the past we have logged more and more to maintain jobs. That option is no longer possible. The cut levels will be reduced drastically in the next few years. The only way to compensate for this is to increase the number of jobs for the trees cut. In other words, we need to reverse our thinking and get more jobs from fewer trees.

We all know log home builders achieve several times more jobs per tree than dimension lumber mills. But we can't stop there. For example, there is a small business in the West Kootenay that restores vintage bi-planes. They employ only four people year round, but they use just a few spruce trees. That is true value-added - and there are probably many more possibilities out there for those who are willing to think about things in a new and different way.

To achieve a new economy for forest workers we really need to spend a lot of time and energy thinking of new products, processes, markets and ideas. Not biofuels, not pellets; these still depend on a huge supply of saw logs, the very commodity that will shortly disappear. No, we need truly innovative and sustainable ideas to carry us forward. We also need things like government policy shifts and tenure re-arrangements to make more wood available for non-traditional products and services.

So don't be fooled. If you are in the forest resource sector, your future is very different than if you are in the service, retail or land business. How well the working-class families that depend upon these jobs will fare in the next decade will depend on a lot of things like innovation, new products and markets but, in the end, there will be a sharp change in the community and lifestyle of the Chilcotin Cariboo as we have come to know and understand it.

Like the European tourist who doesn't understand that we can't fix it, those who think that traditional forest employment will still be the backbone of the region just don't understand the scope, scale and size of the inevitable change we are facing. They need to face the facts and prepare for a future that is filled with new and unfamiliar experiences.

-Dave Neads-

Dave Neads is coordinating the regional conservation campaign in response to the Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic. In this capacity he is a director on the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition and is a member of the Premier's Mountain Pine Beetle Provincial Task Force.