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Skeena region timber businesses amiss on road and fire safety: watchdog

Forestry audit covers Terrace, Kitimat, Prince Rupert, New Aiyansh and Stewart
A logging road being built. (File poto)

An audit of B.C. timber sales and licence holders in the Skeena business area by the province’s forestry watchdog released July 29 found that while most forestry activities complied with legislation there were some notable exceptions.

The region was randomly selected for an audit covering forestry activities between June 1, 2019 and June 24, 2021, on the northwest coast of B.C., including Terrace, Kitimat, Prince Rupert, New Aiyansh and Stewart.

The Forest Practices Board audits forest and range practices on public lands. Gerry Grant, board member and chair of the panel that did the audit told The Terrace Standard in an interview that the biggest overall problem was road safety.

The audit also found that not all activities in the region were being reported to the government’s tracking system on time and most licence holders failed to document fire-hazard assessments after logging, a practice that “needs improvement.”

Poorly built industrial crossings can move when heavy traffic goes over them, potentially causing accidents, Grant said. For example, a culvert or bridge over a creek could shift if not securely fastened, causing a truck with a heavy load to tip over.

“A wooden box culvert can actually be like a small bridge… It’s a bridge that’s less than six meters long and it still has to be fastened down and secure,” Grant said.

Two bridges and three wooden culvert crossings in particular were found unsafe for industrial use and one contractor did not have a proper fire-suppression system on an active logging site.

The two unsafe bridges were south of Kitimat in the Kildala Arm of the Douglas Channel. Two of the unsafe culvert crossings were located northeast of Terrace near Hardscrabble Creek, which is tributary to the Skeena River.

Tianyuwen Trading, contracted by Pacifica Northwest Timber in Terrace, was responsible for two culvert crossings that didn’t meet engineering standards.

The report said Tianyuwen also did not properly monitor fire hazard conditions northeast of Terrace at Hardscrabble Creek.

Auditors found that a fire suppression hose was stored too far away from “high-risk activities” and that should a fire occur, “it is unlikely” that the company could react in time to control the fire.

Wang Yitian, marketing and inventory manager for Pacifica, said the unsafe culvert was removed.

“The only comment I’d like to make is we’ve been tracking the weather on the B.C. wildfire website and we’ve been sending that information to our contractor [Tianyuwen] that was operating there,” Yitian said.

Cascadia Timber in Terrace was responsible for the two unsafe bridges and did not respond to a request for comment. One bridge was missing a guardrail and neither were securely fastened to support structures.

The remaining unsafe crossing is located 70 kilometres north of Terrace, adjacent to the Cedar River. NorthPac Forestry in Terrace is responsible for a culvert within a stream channel that poses an industrial safety risk according to the audit.

NorthPac CEO Cathy Craig declined to comment and referred The Terrace Standard to director of operations Ryan Monsen, who did not respond.

Only companies that demonstrated “significant noncompliance” with legislation were named in the audit.

“The board found that the majority of their activities were in compliance with the legislation and generally they’re doing a good job. And they have an issue to sort out with respect to stream crossings, bridges and culverts,” Grant said.

He added that while the general public are not using these industrial crossings, they can pose a risk to workers.

Grant said forest professionals and the industry have made good progress in addressing road and bridge safety since the audit. Late reporting of industrial activity has also since been corrected.

“Companies need to know what the fire hazard is in the area where they’re operating, they need to have the appropriate fire tools and plans in place in the event that a fire does start, and their equipment needs to be in good working order,” he added.

Grant said consequences of their audits on companies are “quite limited” as the board cannot enforce or issue penalties.

“We audit forest practices and report out our findings to the public… There’s no direct action on the part of the board. Usually when things like this are pointed out the parties take appropriate action to remedy the situation.

“In these cases, the unsafe bridges and culverts either have been removed or will be removed.”

READ MORE: Forestry watchdog to audit Cariboo-Chilcotin BCTS program and timber-sale license holders

READ MORE: B.C. forests watchdog calls for further protection of fish-bearing streams


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