Sustainable forestry for prospering watersheds
Gene Allen is a fifth-generation logger, born and raised in the Skeena Valley. From a lifetime of working in the cutblocks, Gene knows what current logging practices are doing to our watershed.
And for as long as he’s worked in the industry, Gene has been advocating to change the practices that are harming salmon-bearing creeks and rivers, and preventing local resource-based economies from growing.
As a logger, some might not peg Gene as an environmentalist.
“But I’ve worked in forestry,” he says, “and we need those jobs, and in order for us to have them, we need sustainable industry, and that’s not happening. Especially not in our forest industry.”
“I’m not trying to shut down anything,” he clarifies. “I just want it to be done in a way that is sustainable. My kids and grandkids — they’ll never see what I’ve seen of the watershed and wilderness, but we have to try to leave something.”
When Gene himself was younger, industrial logging activity started pushing ever closer to the headwaters of the Kispiox River, up into Swan and Stephens Lake.
“I’ve never seen those creeks dirty,” he says. “They are the best spawning habitat in the whole Skeena system, about 90% of sockeye salmon in the Skeena region spawn there and they were going to log it. It would have been a month and half of logging for one contractor, but it would have damaged that watershed and spawning habitat — forever. What they do to our creeks, if I did the same as a private individual I’d be in jail.”
Irresponsible logging practices have done more than just destroy habitat and stimulate siltation, Gene says it’s also causing localized climate change. Current forest management is creating the warming of streams by logging up into the alpine.
“Four or five years ago I could stand at the confluence of Date Creek — one of the mountain-fed streams here in the Skeena — and it would be 4 to 5 degrees colder than the river itself, but now it’s all the same.”
The combination of climate change and quick water release from now barren forest landscapes has begun to degrade salmon spawning habitat in local creeks. Without trees to lock rainfall and moisture into the landscape, water levels are becoming unpredictable and insufficient for salmon bearing creeks and rivers.
“When I was a kid, the creeks spawned every species of salmon and steelhead, every spring and fall," says Gene. "Now, the water comes in one big push and then the creek dries up because we're removing everything that keeps them running. So even if the steelhead spawn in the spring, the fry are dead by August.”
But despite all the destruction current logging practices are resulting in, Gene knows there is a way forward, and a more sustainable approach to industry to be had.
“My son has a woodlot that we work on,” he says. “It’s been operational since 1950. We log beautiful big cedar from that lot — all selectively done. You can’t even tell we’ve logged it! With that lot we employed four people last winter, and logged 47 truckloads of logs.”
But the woodlot managed by Gene’s family is in stark contrast to an industrially managed lot just a couple doors down. “Right up the road from where my son’s woodlot is, on a lot that is bigger than his, a big logging company came in and logged it in 3 weeks — just flattened it.”
Thus, Gene has it on good authority (or knows first hand) that selective logging practices will not only help to secure our forests and watersheds, but also create more long-term jobs for our communities. But in addition to community woodlots and locally managed forests, Gene wants to see more secondary industry take root.
“Canada is guilty of exporting all of our natural resources in raw form. For us, resource extraction is about selling or giving away our resources to other countries to create short-term jobs. I want to see a long-term profitable change in the way that we do things. I want to create jobs — not for me, I’ve had my day — but for my kids and my grandkids, and their grandkids.”
Wanting to secure local forests, watersheds, and jobs for future generations of his family, Gene is a proud champion of the CodeBlueBC Campaign, a plan to secure and sustain watersheds in B.C.Local knowledge holders, like Gene, need the power and resources to restore and manage their local water sources, and to make big industrial users pay to clean up the damage they've done, instead of letting communities suffer the consequences. Interested? Get involved and sign up at codebluebc.ca.