‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

Let the forest management and glyphosate wars begin!  Go! ~ctm

From the CBC

Provincial rules require spraying of fire-resistant aspen trees to make way for valuable conifers

Bethany Lindsay · CBC News · Posted: Nov 17, 2018 8:00 AM PT | Last Updated: November 17

Aspen trees naturally flourish after a wildfire, but they’re also less vulnerable to flames than coniferous trees. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Last year, 12,812 hectares of B.C. forest was sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate. It’s an annual event — a mass extermination of broadleaf trees mandated by the province.

The eradication of trees like aspen and birch on regenerating forest stands is meant to make room for more commercially valuable conifer species like pine and Douglas fir.

But experts say it also removes one of the best natural defences we have against wildfire, at a time when our warming climate is helping make large, destructive fires more and more common.

“It blows my mind that nobody is talking about this,” said James Steidle, a member of the anti-glyphosate group Stop the Spray B.C.

“The experts know this stuff. They’ve known about this stuff for decades, but it’s just not being translated into reality.”

When aspen and other broadleaves are allowed to flourish, they form “natural fuel breaks” if their leaves are out, according to Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at the University of B.C. That’s why aspen stands are often referred to as “asbestos forests” in wildfire science circles.

A forests ministry spokesperson said the government recognizes that aspen and other deciduous trees can help reduce the wildfire threat to communities, and that in the future, more thought will be put into planting broadleaf trees near homes and businesses.

Nonetheless, the rules about aspen in managed forest stands remain largely unchanged.

The province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation states that when a block of forest is regrowing after a wildfire or logging, broadleaves can’t make up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever total is smaller. The concern is that trees like aspen will out-compete conifer species, which are the lifeblood of the timber industry.

If there’s too much aspen, the block must be sprayed with glyphosate, a chemical known more familiarly as the active ingredient in Roundup. Over the last three years, 42,531 hectares of B.C. forest have been treated with the herbicide.

‘That’s just nuts’

“At the end of the day, we have rules that make fire-resistant trees illegal in our forests. That’s just nuts,” Steidle said.

Aspen naturally thrives after a forest has been cleared by logging or wildfire. Their root systems can survive for thousands of years underground, and they’re capable of sprouting new clone trees as soon as there’s enough sunshine and moisture.

Glyphosate doesn’t just kill aspen trees — it can also destroy the root system.

“When you spray a forest, that’s going to last for the lifetime of the forest,” Steidle said.

The Shovel Lake wildfire burns through a coniferous forest in the summer of 2018. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

According to Daniels, that’s a major loss in a province that struggling with how to prepare for wildfires after two record-setting seasons in a row.

“When fire is burning through needle leaf forest, it tends to be very vigorous and very fast-moving,” Daniels said. “When fire comes into a forest that has broadleaf trees in it, the conditions change so the fire behaviour is less vigorous and the rate of spread slows down.”

Trees like aspen naturally have a higher water content and don’t usually contain the volatile chemical compounds that can make trees like pine so flammable. They also provide more shade, which creates a cooler, more humid environment in the understory, Daniels explained.

Often, a “candling” wildfire that’s engulfed the crowns of a conifer forest will fall back down to ground level when it hits a clump of aspen.

“If a fire is spreading toward a community and we know that there’s a band of aspen trees that it’s going to have to cross before it approaches that community, the firefighters can use that band of aspen trees to make a stand and try to stop the fire,” Daniels said.

Read the full story here:



66 thoughts on “‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

  1. I live in an extreme fire zone and decided to replace the Eucalypt trees around my home with fire retardant, deciduous trees and bonus is they produce fruit and nuts.
    They say the Mediterranean Cypresses won’t burn at all.

    • That little “matter of fact” nonsense is mandated scripting for most Commercial Television in the 21st. Just casually dropping it into the actors dialogue cements it subliminally for the gap mouthed Millennial’s. We are gradually evolving into Orwell’s dystopian nightmare.

      • I fear we are already there. That said, Disney did the same thing with organic food in their television shows aimed at tweens and teens. It was pervasive as my child was growing up over the last ten years. Hollywood loves pushing its subliminal agendas.

    • Warming global temps is not the lie, the lie is that is is harmful. The lies are lies of omissions. No alarmist will tell you that almost all of the warming has happened at the extreme latitudes during the winters, something that has everything to do with SSTs and atmospheric circulation and nothing to do with CO2.

      Wildfires a century ago claimed much more land, but impacted very few people, so the notion that warming since then has increased fires is nonsense.

      The biggest lie of omission is failure to recognise that natural interglacial warming better explains the (unadjusted) temperature record over the past century.

  2. Its a government decision…bureaucrats are known to be 97% insane (each, or as a total population, you pick). So yeah, this is predictable. Insane, stupid, wasteful, dangerous, unnecessary…but predictable.

    I personally love Aspen trees. I understand they want more valuable wood, but Aspen is just so gorgeous when left to grow.

    • Around me the Sassafras and soft Maples are first to appear where timber has burned. They give great color and shade also.

  3. If I remember it correctly, Aspen spread vegetatively by means of runners/the root system. As aspen do not have much commercial value, limiting an invasive tree is reasonable.
    It would appear that the writer envisions a forest that is not being actively managed, and really wants something “natural”.

    • They make great chipboard, something that very expensive right now. Since it the staple sheeting in housing today.

      • Wikipedia says

        Aspen wood is white and soft, but fairly strong, and has low flammability. It has a number of uses, notably for making matches and paper where its low flammability makes it safer to use than most other woods.[citation needed] Shredded aspen wood is used for packing and stuffing, sometimes called excelsior (wood wool). Aspen flakes are the most common species of wood used to make oriented strand boards.[5] It is also a popular animal bedding, since it lacks the phenols associated with pine and juniper, which are thought to cause respiratory system ailments in some animals. Heat-treated aspen is a popular material for the interiors of saunas. While standing trees sometimes tend to rot from the heart outward, the dry timber weathers very well, becoming silvery-grey and resistant to rotting and warping, and has traditionally been used for rural construction in the northwestern regions of Russia (especially for roofing, in the form of thin slats).

        Similarly, I recently sold some very large Sycamore trees out of my timber that were not worth logging out until the wood began to be used for interior blinds and shutters. Now they take a good enough price per board foot that big ones pay as much as an average Oak.

    • I know many, many places with many thousands of acres of Aspen. These are places where the conifers were all cut ~100 years ago. Aspen fill in the otherwise bald mountainsides. Conifers are now naturally growing among the Aspen and will eventually dominate (climax forest). Aspen don’t invade and drive out the conifers, they fill in clear-cuts and burned areas. So, I don’t think it’s accurate to describe Aspens as “invasive”.

        • You’re right about the cloning. Although they do produce seeds, Aspen produce new trees primarily by sending up “clones” from their roots. It is theorized that an Aspen clone could be immortal, at least until some natural event kills it.

          • I remember Steven Jay Gould speculating that an aspen grove could be the largest organism, depending on just how one defined organism.

    • dont you think a half mile span of a fire retarding tree between plantation pines would be a smart compromise to reduce burning of the “money trees”?
      as well as the fact theyd hold soils when the others are logged OR burnt.
      if calis going to cop 13 to 15cm rain on burnt bits then any rootmat variety trees or remnants might save a lot of erosion n slippage..those forests pictured look fairly steep too.
      the tonnages of roundup theyd be using…i shudder

    • Aspens are not considered invasive in their natural setting as a pioneer in the ecological succession process.

    • If deciduous trees break up the fire potential, why not plant some oak or maple? They take longer, but the ROI should be good, if you’re patient enough.

  4. Well obviously a bureaucrat in a concrete building somewhere has a much better idea of what trees are needed out in the wild than some old forest ranger. Duh! Slash sarc.

    I’m not really buying the blameshift to the logging industry, either. Like they don’t know that losing all their product is worse than ceding some of the land to protect their product.

    • The regulations apparently allow 5% broadleaves so it allows for the provision of firebreaks growing aspens.

      • “broadleaves can’t make up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever total is smaller.”

        The last four words are important.

  5. We have timberland property in Colorado & are systematically cutting out the conifers ( cutting and mulching then) & letting the Aspen naturally grow in the new openings with the goal of making the property more fire-resistant. It’s a long process but one that is highly recommend for fire mitigation. Our forester calls Aspen the cactus of the forest because they hold so much water. This also has the effect of raising the RH in the area of the grove, acting as a further retardant.

  6. This article may be a biased crusade against glyphosate.
    Aspen and other weeds are rapid colonisers of newly logged forest and hinder the establishment of pine seedlings, perhaps they just spray a new area once.
    They are trying to manage it as a sustainable industry that produces valuable timber and employs lots of people.
    Farmers have to spray the weeds to establish a crop, and this is similar.
    And are these forestry areas near populated places to pose an imminent fire risk anyway ?

    • It does sound as if the objector is more into opposing the use of glyphosate than he is promoting firebreaks. Perhaps a closer enquiry would that answer.

      It seems obvious to me that there is a place for both species with the Aspen taking up a position along all ridges.

    • Yes and no, Jeff.

      Farmers may spray crops, but farmers typically don’t have to worry about their entire crop bursting into flames and destroying their farm, their neighbour’s farm and the entire local township.

      They also typically harvest in a sort of all or nothing manner. Any weeds in the middle of their fields is something that gets mixed up in the overall harvest and reduces the whole. Forestry, as I understand it, is slightly different in harvesting methods. You can simply not cut down the ‘weed’ and pick the ‘crop’ trees you want.

      • Well, actually on my SW Wisconsin dairy farm, that is exactly what we do do. The timber plots are logged about every twenty- thirty years. The foresters mark three kinds of trees to be selectively cut down: wolf (no good wood, large shading crown and usually a deformed bole), crowded saplings (immature crowded regrowth), and finally mature hardwoods for harvest.
        After selective logging, my forest plots just explode with growth until the canopy recloses.

    • Glyphosate breaks down pretty quickly too, so I doubt that it does too much damage to the root systems of the Aspen stands which are pretty extensive. Glyphosate is popular with farmers for this very reason – you can knock down weeds and then plant a crop a few weeks later when the herbicide has broken down.

  7. I would think that a mix of both would be desirable. Use the fire resistant in lines as firee breaaks and the commercially valuble in between. But of course thats far too simple for the buracrats to understand.


  8. Kewl.
    They make a disaster with an absolutely insane policy. Then the forests are destroyed and people get killed.
    After the smoke clears, what is the cause of the disaster?
    ZOMG: Global Warming!
    Just like in California.

    As an aside:
    Blame the Forestry industry, or push blame off somewhere else, more valuable, or less valuable trees, whatever.
    B.C. has encoded this into law. Everybody *must* comply, whether they want to or not. Was this strictly necessary?

  9. Tell the families that have lost loved ones to a wildfire that burned coniferous trees that had the aspen trees of the forest sprayed. Now we know why forest fires seem so dangerous. Is this standard practice everywhere?

  10. Perhaps my math needs rechecking, but when first show this last week, I looked up some numbers and determined that 1 in 5,000 forested acres in BC is actually sprayed for aspen. As if stopping that would make one iota of difference.

  11. 12,800 hectares is about 130 square kilometers. BC is how many km2???
    Answer: 944,735

    So with sea level rise, it would take 7,267 years to spray all of BC.

  12. “Provincial rules require spraying of fire-resistant aspen trees to make way for valuable conifers”

    Really? Can anyone point to those rules? I suspect that the above statement is not a whole truth.

    They don’t say how much aspen there is or where it is. I suspect not that much.

    Red alder (in the birch family) is not specifically mentioned, but it has the positive feature of doing nitrogen fixation.


    “In addition to my long-term research program investigating climate change and disturbance regime impacts on in the forests of coastal British Columbia, I have research projects studying fire regimes and forest dynamics in the Canadian Cordillera – in the foothills of Alberta, Rocky Mountain National Parks, Kootenay, Okanagan and Cariboo regions of BC.”

  13. In one of my business interests, I practise forestry in British Columbia, both on my own 400 acre private lands which I can do pretty much what I want, but also on Crown land with a 1600 acre woodlot which I will speak to. If lands that are harvested were primarily Deciduous that you harvest (Aspen, Cottonwood, Birch etc) then there is no problem letting it re-establish itself to the native species, which it most certainly will. There is a reason why those soils are growing broadleaf trees to begin with, which usually are wet organics or peaty soils that don’t grow conifers well anyway. Or some other site index reason, north slopes, gully’s wetlands etc.

    Even if it is a mixed stand, which it usually is to some degree in the wider central interior, if your Silviculture Plan is submitted and approved as the correct prescription by a Registered Professional Forester, you can convert that entire area to the deciduous species of your choice. If you have pre-identified that in the Management Plan, then it is acceptable. Since the RPF is a professional, it is usually rubber stamped, since that is sort of the whole process in partially self managing/governing your own leased woodlot. I am involved in such a process with a mixed stand on 160 acres and have done just that, which is allowing the deciduous that was there to just sucker out, and underplant Spruce/Fir where the micro site allows. So far, everything is working out great, and no need for spraying glyphosate. That’s expensive anyway.

    The principal weeds are Alder and Willow, which has no commercial value, unless you weave a lot of baskets or make speciality furniture but you can find that anywhere. Lol. That, and many species of small brush and fireweed is mostly what is being sprayed for, which is almost always what grows first and chokes out the conifers, especially if you don’t plant immediately or are relying on natural regeneration conifers. But may as well save that cost and just plant conifers early the next year after a harvest and beat the weeds. It most certainly isn’t like the article was written that a beautiful forest of Aspens were cremated with chemical round-up agent orange. Good Grief! I hope nobody bought that whale of a lie.

    I am also doing R&D with some fast growing Hybrid Poplar, but it doesn’t take well to being planting in a mineral soil. Or even in a high organic soil, it just grows like crazy the first year or two, and then every stick literally dies off in year 2 or 3. If you could grow commercial hybrid poplars, then it might make sense economically, but very tricky to get it to grow in the cold interior. Not much profit in deciduous, but it will keep all your equipment and trucks working.

    P.S. I have had enough of Marxism in BC/Canada and want out. Great place for the end of the world, if you are into being a proper pickled prepper. Everything is going to be for sale soon and I am going to go sit on a beach in Thailand and Costa Rica at least for winter, starting in 2-3 weeks. Fairly nice place..two lakefront properties, Fraser River riverfront in another location…did I mention lots of trees? 100 Kw small hydro, now with no grid contract in 2 weeks…Efffing Gov’t!!! This is what happens in the end to all the renewable guys, which maybe is the solution. Wish I would have discovered this site 30 years ago.

    • Recommend Phuket Thailand – the west coast beaches are perfect, great cheap food, nice people. Get a place inland but near the beaches – for example Nai Yang beach near the airport, or Nai Thon beach a bit further south. Just returned from there 18Nov. Avoid mopeds – get a car.

      • That’s where I am headed mid Dec…after Krabi and Railey Beach and long tail boating it around them thar parts. That is a real special place. Spent a month there last year and the only thing I kept saying to myself the whole time I was there, was what in the world is anyone doing living in bloody ice age for 6 months every year? I mean really, it is frozen solid and people are literally living in an ice age, and they want us to pay a carbon tax for keeping warm. The south of Thailand is certainly an exotic place. Evidence of the Holocene Highstand is etched into every rock face 1-2M above sea level everywhere. Sea kayak is a nice way to go too, but yes, those scooters will kill you.

        • Earthling2

          I envy you mate, not for selling up and escaping to warmer climes, I don’t really enjoy the heat any more, but for having the ability to take your choice.

          Having said that, I’ll be escaping back to Scotland in a few years when my wife and I retire. Extraordinarily mild climate but boy, can it rain!

          And your comment about paying a carbon tax for staying warm is so true, what an effing con game. Money for old rope for government officials to spend our money as they see fit.

  14. The disastrous wildfires here in BC the last two summers had nothing to do with spraying. Those fires ripped mostly through untouched forests with all the natural aspen intact. Our aspen is interspersed in the much more numerous conifer stands, and when a major fire occurs, it just burns around them. There may be good reason to allow the aspen to flourish, but firebreak isn’t one of them.

  15. “Over the last three years, 42,531 hectares of B.C. forest have been treated with the herbicide.”

    BC is 95 million hectares (235 million acres) in size (about double the size of California). Almost 64% of the province – about 60.3 million hectares (149 million acres) – is forested. Less than one-third of one percent of BC’s forest land is harvested annually.


  16. Such a tiny proportion of the harvested forest is herbicided that it is inconsequential to provincial fire levels. The big problems are mismanaging lodgepole pine to create a massive swath of mature pine that is prone to beetle attack disease and fire; virtually complete abandonment of previously cut, low elevation Douglas-fir so that it is overstocked and prone to fire, disease and insect attack, inadequate management of fire maintained grasslands so that they are filling with trees, restructuring of Provincial fire suppression so that initial attack is de-emphasized without a compensating landscape level fire management strategy, vast areas (millions ha) of overstocked regenerating pine from mountain pine beetle attack that is fire prone with no strategy to fragment that uniform cohort of trees by age, species or fire susceptibility. These are just the big problems. There are many more. Basically every natural resource managed by the government in BC is in a state of disaster. These include moose, caribou, mule deer, grizzly bear, socckeye salmon, Chinook salmon, steelhead, fisher, badger, wolverine etc. Part of the problem is that the population of BC is almost entirely urban and has little interest in resource management. Rural areas are bled to finance urban infrastructure and almost nothing is reinvested into resource management. Now we get to why politicians love global warming. It is the perfect cover for neglect and incompetence. Whether it is the flooding of New Orleans or the forest fires of the west coast, AGW is there to obscure the real causes.

  17. “at a time when our warming climate is helping make large, destructive fires more and more common.”

    Blah, blah, blah…lost me right there – credibility, zero. Point in continuing reading – none.

  18. Spraying clearcuts with defoliant is common practice across much of the boreal forest in Canada. In Ontario, there are usually three steps involved:
    1: spray with defoliant to kill the poplar (aspen) and birch as well and other deciduous species
    2: scarify the area
    3: plant jackpine seedlings
    Jackpine being the fastest growing conifer in this forest type, hence the most profitable to harvest for the paper or lumber markets. I’ve seen a very few areas where white spruce was planted (the best lumber, when you can get it, which is almost never, and super long fibres for paper making) but it does grow very slowly.

    Those monoculture jackpine forests aren’t much of a habitat for wild life. However, the majority of clearcuts (two-thirds in Ontario) and almost all burnt areas are left to regenerate naturally, where the new growth is a treat for large ungulates (moose, deer, caribou).

    Quebec banned the use of herbicide in forestry operations, and doesn’t seem to have suffered much as a result.

    Now that glyphosate has replaced the rather unpleasant defoliants that were used 25 or more years ago, herbicide spraying in Canada is a non-issue, except to the anti-everything environmental groups and the native communities they have suckered into fronting for them.


  19. The challenge still stands.

    “The province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation states that when a block of forest is regrowing after a wildfire or logging, broadleaves can’t make up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever total is smaller.”

    Show me the regulation. I can’t find it. Nothing even close.

    It should be here:

    Forest and Range Practices Act

    Forest & Range Practices Act (FRPA)

  20. I have it on good authority that the claims made in that article are false or misleading.

    Aspen don’t burn as fast, true.

    mass extermination of broadleaf trees mandated by the province, false.

    Provincial rules require spraying of fire-resistant aspen trees, false.

    If there’s too much aspen, the block must be sprayed with glyphosate, false.

    The province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation states that when a block of forest is regrowing after a wildfire or logging, broadleaves can’t make up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever total is smaller. false.

    conifer species, which are the lifeblood of the timber industry. true.

    The Forest and Range Practices Act does not say which trees you can or cannot grow.
    You can grow almost whatever you want except weeds. It has to be appropriate for the growing conditions.
    You can grow aspen if you want too, but it is much less valuable. You can make chipboard from it.
    The forester decides what he wants to grow and submits his plan, what species or mix of species he will grow.

    The thing is, whatever he says he will do, he has to do it. That means if things grow that he did not want, he has to get rid of them. He can brush them manually if he wants, but it’s cheaper to use Roundup. It is not required that he use any herbicide. It’s not required that he use Roundup.

    For the answer to the question of where Aspen grows in BC, here are two links.

    “The Ecozones of British Columbia, with special reference to Lepidoptera”
    You can scan this document for ‘aspen’ to find the regions where it grows.

    “About BEC and BGC units”
    This document is more interesting. It shows a map of 14 biogeoclimatic zones in BC, with links to a page for each of them off to the side. On those individual pages, there is a pie chart of species composition in that zone. You will note that the aspen and douglas fir regions don’t overlap all that much.

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