Stoney Hill, Fields of Broom, Windfall - Not What we expected

photo credit: Allan Hotrczy - Warning photo of where we are headed—if we don’t act.  


WE DO ECOLOGICAL ASSESSMENTS OR PAY THE PRICE.

CLEARING THE FIELDS OF BROOM ON STONEY HILL:

By Icel Dobell

Stoney Hill is a unique configuration of cobble stone with relatively little soil, billions of dormant broom seeds and seedlings everywhere, and the Fields Of Broom—a threat to the ecology and public safety. The Municipality of North Cowichan has not made a plan to deal with the infestation brought in by municipal logging. The broom invasion is an expense not factored into the cost of logging. This needs to change.

What is the actual revenue from logging if we factor in the real cost of broom and other invasives? (Oregon spends $42 million USA/year on logging-caused broom expenses). We deal with the problem now or pay the price later.

Summer drought and winter winds are intensifying. When the going gets tough, the tough get growing, and there is nothing tougher than broom—except Gorse, which lurks on the perimeter.

Chemicals are not an option on Stoney Hill—residents’ wells are fed by ground water.

A conventional forestry method to deal with invasives after disturbing the soil is to seed non-native grass. Grass plus broom plus small trees, according to California fire experts, is a number one fire hazard. A recent fire in Victoria in grass, in mid-March, is a warning.

There are ways to mitigate conditions ripe for broom. At the top of the list: Keep the forest canopy and do not disturb the soil.

The harvesting of blow down on Stoney Hill will disturb the soil. In the process, we may create a greater long term broom fire hazard than by leaving the windfall trees. Especially if we consider the alternatives.

Smaller branches are a fire risk—there is no denying. But there is something we can do: Take the smaller branches: leave the trees.

Rotting trees are the life-line of the forests. Conventional forestry has been removing trees and “course woody debris” from our forests, (burning the latter), in BC for so long, the ecosystem is being robbed of essential nutrients.  The proliferation of root disease is evidence. If we were farmers of the forests, we would be malnourished.

Trees and forest floors need decomposing woody debris. Fallen trees are food. They create habitat for zillions of life forms, including salamanders, micro-organisms, fungi, moss, bugs, water. The other day, a biologist said he watched an excavator pulling trees, gripping with its teeth, “squeezing water out, though it hasn’t rained in weeks.”

In December, a councillor put forward a motion to consider not harvesting Stoney Hill. It was tabled. Ecologically minded forest experts have supported the motion. Does harvesting blow down on Stoney Hill trump the tabled motion? This motion could be revisited.

In our community, there is a growing concern about the balance between wildfire risk and ecological priorities. Conventional forestry sources, without sufficient science-based reasons, say there is no time for an ecological assessment of the fallen trees; we must race to drag them out. Experts of ecological processes say we must leave sufficient trees or we will, in the long run, upset the web of life in the forest and increase the fire hazard. The answer is likely more nuanced than some would lead us to believe and requires more thought and discussion.

The citizens of North Cowichan have proven their love of the forests: It took only eleven days of ticket sales to fill the Performing Arts Centre for the Where Do We Stand Community Forest Assembly; 1,500 people signed the petition to pause logging for public consultation; hundreds of people sent comments to Council; over the past months, multiple letters to the editor have been published in the Citizen. This is all clear evidence of public commitment and concern about our forests.

Our community is becoming increasingly aware of the power we have to come together to do something profound, to avoid creating increased, costly, long term consequences on Stoney Hill.

In the past, neighbours came together to raise barns, harvest crops, celebrate; there is no more powerful way to create community than working together toward a vision. What if hundreds of volunteers who love Stoney Hill formed as work parties, in lines, to pass branches out of the woods near the roads where the windfall harvests are slated? Would North Cowichan consider adjusting its patch cuts?

Imagine what is possible. If the municipality cut the flammable branches and had chipper trucks on site, the wood chips could be spread along the roadsides to cover existing broom seeds.

The Fields of Broom on Stoney Hill were created through logging—not a natural occurrence. They are a fire hazard and liability, especially to residents. There is one road in and out. Putting off the clean up only increases the fire risk and cost. The broom is 4’ tall on average; it will grow to 9’ or more.

It is time North Cowichan created a plan.

It’s not too late to get it under control, say Broombusters. They know how to deal with the broom patches and the Fields of Broom. To eradicate broom on Stoney Hill will require citizens lending a hand and letting our Municipal Government know that it is a public priority.

To ask the municipality how we are dealing with broom and the harvest of the windfall, email Council at council@northcowichan.ca

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Location

District of North Cowichan, Vancouver Island BC