Forestry practices in Alberta

August 30, 1991, Lubicon mail-out on Reforestation

Enclosed for your information is a letter to the editor of the Edmonton Journal regarding forestry practices in Alberta. The letter was written by an internationally recognized ecology professor at the University of Alberta.

Re-printed from THE EDMONTON JOURNAL, Saturday, August 24, 1991

Letter to the Editor from D.W. Schindler, Killam professor of ecology, University of Alberta


Many of minister's claims unsupported by fact

LeRoy Fjordbotten, minister of Forestry, Lands and Wildlife, appears to have answered many public concerns about his department's "free to grow" reforestation practices (Reforestation, Letters, Aug. 17), but many of his assurances are unsupported by fact.

While the "free to grow" concept is admirable, there are no data to support his statement that following clear-cutting, "new northern boreal forests are a healthy mix of several tree species and a variety of understorey shrubs, herbaceous plants and grasses."

The only ecosystem-scale study in Alberta was in the Tri-Creeks area west of Jasper National Park, and results on forest management from it have not been released. The site is not a northern boreal forest, in any case.

The Alberta-Pacific review board called for Alberta Forestry to provide information to guide its deliberations with respect to the board's mandate to assess the impact of forestry practices on Indian lands; the department did not respond.

In May 1990, the province's expert panel on forest management, chaired by Prof. Bruce Danzig, reported to Fjordbotten that Alberta's forest management plan was severely deficient.

The panel made 133 recommendations for improvement, including in the area of reforestation, and noted that the department did not have the necessary professional and technical staff to carry out its mandate.

In the early 1970s I participated in a study of clear-cutting in the boreal forests of northwestern Ontario by the Canadian Forestry Service co-operating with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Results showed that hardwoods were favored over conifers after clear-cutting. Water quality was compromised, with high turbidity and increased concentrations of nitrate and several other chemical elements. Logging machinery destroyed ground cover and soils, increasing the exposure of bedrock by several percentage points. Roadbuilding caused severe erosion.

Globally, in the few areas where biological diversity following reforestation has been studied, regrowing forests are not as diverse as the original ones, and many of the original species are rare or absent.

The famous ecologist, Luna Leopold, has reported that reforested areas of Germany were "an ecological desert devoid of birds and insects and with no soil development."

A "free to grow", or any other, forest policy must be based on sound scientific studies, whose cost is small compared to the large grants given to large companies to extract pulp from our northern forests.

I have no reason to believe that our forests are being managed in a sustainable manner. Albertans demand answers, not rhetoric!