Visual quality objectives key to tourism industry



I am responding to a recent article titled “Forestry officials request help” dated 25 Jan 2011 in the Fort St. James Caledonia Courier.  I was most shocked to read that one individual (Murray) had gone so far as to say “The visual quality objectives do not make much sense and visual quality objectives certainly don’t make any sense at all when you have dead stands.”  There has been a recent spate of attacks by the lumber industry against tourism by attacking the validity of Visual Quality Objectives (I will call them Visuals).  The reporting of the issue appears to be primarily focused on the lumber side of the issue, so I thought it would be beneficial to your readers to hear the tourism point of view.  There are many points of attacks made by the lumber industry, but I would like to focus on the two primary ones: Economics and Fire Hazard.  Using economics or fire hazard to remove Visuals just doesn’t make sense.

Visuals are broken down into 5 levels; Preservation, Retention, Partial Retention, Modification, and Maximum Modification.  Harvesting is allowed in Visuals at every level.  If it isn’t visible, it can be logged.  If it is visible, each Visual level has a percentage of the viewscape that can be altered by logging.

Economically, Visuals are the resource backbone of the tourism industry.  We aren’t called Supernatural BC because of our cutblocks! Removing Visuals would be a devastating blow to tourism that would take decades, even generations to recover.  Visuals are key to attracting tourists.  When doing an economic assessment, actual dollar figures tourism receives as a result of Visuals are hard to quantify.  However, it is important to realize that within each level of Visuals, there is an associated group of tourists who find visible levels of logging acceptable.  Once the Visual drops below the tourist’s acceptable level, the tourist no longer visits the area and the tourism revenue is lost.  In other words,  if you do not have Preservation Visual levels, you will not have tourists who seek an experience at the Preservation level.  If you do not have Retention Visual levels, you will not have tourists who seek an experience at the Retention level.  And so forth.  Ultimately, if you eliminate all visuals, you eliminate all tourists who plan their vacations based on the viewscapes available to them.  This is the entire purpose behind Visuals, to balance the needs of Tourism with the needs of Forestry.  The pine beetle hasn’t changed that.  Logging cutblocks are not better than grey trees to the tourist.  On the contrary, tourists see the pine beetle killed trees as part of a natural process which they accept quite readily.  In many cases the secondary understory growth is already rapidly swallowing up the grey trees.  Now with the dire predictions in the forest industry, what we really need to be doing for our local economy is not removing Visuals, but strengthening our tourism economy by increasing Visuals.  That’s what we need to diversify our economy.  

The forest industry is facing difficult times, we all acknowledge that, but removing Visuals to accommodate logging is extremely shortsighted.  The value of those trees to lumber companies is marginal at best.    At the recent meeting at the Ministry of Forest regarding Visuals, the licensees stated that reducing Visuals will provide only one third of one year towards the Annual Allowable Cut.  Only four months of timber supply, but tourism will be irreparably damaged for 30 years!  How is this logical?  Tourism is far more important to our economies than the salvage value of four months worth of dead pine trees to a mill.  They aren’t even close to logging the Annual Allowable Cut(AAC) now, and until they have harvested the dead pine trees outside Visual areas, why start logging in Visuals?  The answer is simple, they want bigger and better trees for bigger and better profit margins.  This isn’t about timber supply, it’s about profit margins.   It takes decades for a forest to recover sufficiently from logging to return a viewscape to its natural beauty.  Again, look at the economic benefits to the licensees, and the damage to tourism.  Licensees marginally improve production for four months because they claim the wood is better than wood found elsewhere.  They don’t gain or lose jobs since they have plenty of wood available in the AAC, whereas tourism businesses will now lose revenue for 30 years because they lost clients who found the viewscape offensive and planned their vacation elsewhere.  Sacrificing the long term viability of tourism for short term forestry gains is neither reasonable nor desirable for the long term benefits to our economy.

Forest fires are on the minds of all of us in the north these days, especially for those of us who, like myself, were evacuated because of the Binta Lake Fire.  Now forest licensees claim that they need to log Visuals to reduce fire hazard and fuel loading.  Visuals have nothing whatsoever to do with fire.  There already exists logging inside visuals, you just can’t see it as easily.  Visuals are not more or less susceptible to fire, there is no increase or decrease of fire hazard.  It is total nonsense to suggest that forest fires are a result of Visuals, or that harvesting in Visuals will reduce fire hazard.  The Binta Lake fire swept right over logged and Visual areas without prejudice.  

It should be taken into consideration that logging is quantitative.  In other words, if you log in Visuals you aren’t logging somewhere else.  I would suggest you should have the same fire hazard and fuel loading concerns in those areas forest companies will not be logging while they are focused on logging Visuals.  In other words, if fire hazard is the reason, then what about those areas you aren’t logging while you log inside a Visually sensitive area?  Even if I believed Visuals presented a greater risk for fire, which I don’t, forest licensees would just be shifting the problem around from Visual areas to non-Visual ones.  They will never solve fire hazard or fuel loading by harvesting Visuals.  Do they have a specific fire protection plan that provides evidence that they need harvesting in Visuals?  No they do not. If they aren’t going to plan for fire protection, it is ridiculous to use fire protection as rationale for logging.  This claim of fire protection is just a vague generalization without any reality on the ground.  Using fire as rationale is simply fear mongering and suggesting that not harvesting Visuals increases fire hazard just isn’t true.

I hope your readers can make sense of why Visuals are so important to Tourism economically.  Visuals do make sense, they make a lot of sense for tourism, they make a lot of sense for our economy, they make a lot of sense for our communities.

Daniel Brooks

Chair – Upper Nechako Wilderness Council