79 old growth management areas gain protection from oil and gas activities

Trent Ernst, Editor

 

The Government of BC has extended protection for 79 old growth forests in the Peace Region.

Dale Morgan, Regional Executive Director, Northeast Region, North Area for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says that these 79 areas are a sub-group of the 240 Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs) in the Peace. “Under the Forest Range Practices Act, we initiated the consultation program a number of years back,” says Morgan. “We identified old growth values that we want to provide some protection for. We set 240 OGMAs across the South Peace in 2009, but they only applied to the forest sector. If a forest company wanted to log in these areas, they had to go through a very lengthy management plan.”

But other industries, says Morgan, weren’t bound by these regulations. Now, under Section 32 of the Oil and Gas Activities Act, they have set aside these 79 units to protect them from Oil and Gas development. “Now another industry has to follow the rules,” says

“It doesn’t mean that you can’t go in there and can’t do anything,” he says, “But for industry, it creates an opportunity for a pause, and gives us a chance to have a conversation with oil and gas industry and forestry.”

This group of old growth management areas covers 82,841 hectares in four Natural Disturbance Units within the Dawson Creek Timber Supply Area, mostly west and southwest of Dawson Creek. Many of them are located between Hudson’s Hope and Pine Le Moray Provincial Park, and in the Hart Ranges between Pine Le Moray Provincial Park and Kakwa Provincial Park and Protected Area.

About half the OGMAs are in the Tumbler Ridge area. These OGMAs are found south and west of town. Many are found in the upper Sukunka Valley, around Hook Lake, between Monkman and Wapiti Lake Provincial Parks, in the Belcourt Region and south into the Narroway River Region.

Finally, there is a trio of OGMAs just north of Gwillim Lake Provincial Park.

The remaining OGMAs are located north of Highway 97.

These areas, he says, are still open to development from other forms of industry, like mining. “It takes quite a while to develop a mine. If a mining company wants to put a mine there, we recognize the old growth value is going to be lost, so we’d amend it.”

Morgan says old growth forests in the Peace are not what you might picture if you are familiar with the old growth forests of the south coast, like Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island. He says the forests up here are generally boreal plain and boreal foothill forests, which means a lot of lodgepole pine, aspen and white and black spruce. “We don’t have the kind of ancient forests like they have down south. For the most part these old growth management are boreal forest mountain. Each of these has different characteristics for what old means. Generally in this area, old is 140 years old. They have disturbances that change the age class here, usually fire.”

Indeed, some of the areas that have been set aside are not old growth forests, but are being managed for their future potential. “In these old growth management forests, sometimes it will be about other things than just the trees. It’s about the whole of a forest. Sometimes it will include shrubs, wildlife. If you were to go and look at these areas, you’d find areas that are younger forests, but we’re trying to manage that area across time and space.”

Creating old growth management areas help protect the biological diversity of old-growth forests by ensuring that stands from different ecosystem types are protected and land use objectives are met. These areas are excluded from commercial timber harvesting, which helps preserve plant ecosystems, wildlife habitat and cultural values.

If a mine were to develop on one of these OGMAs, they would just set aside another section of forest. “An OGMA is not a park,” he says. “It is a flexible tool to manage old growth value.”

Besides, he says, the thing about the northeast is that the old growth and coal industry don’t usually overlap. “And the Government is integrated organization, so we would definitely talk to them about the old growth value, and see what could be done.”

Morgan says that part of being in a boreal region is it is a fire-dependant ecosystem. “There is a history of big fires,” he says. “That happens fairly regularly. Look at the Redwillow Fire this year. When you have those kinds of events, those epic type trees don’t grow. But even if it weren’t for the fires, they wouldn’t get much bigger than they do now. There’s some nice size trees out there, depending on your context. If you’re comparing it to a 500-year-old cedar, then no. But there’s some nice trees out there.”