These mature Douglas Fir trees were part of an old growth management area (OGMA) above Lee Creek Heights, and will soon be logged and replaced with young seedlings of mixed species. A replacement OGMA will be designated in the stand of trees to the west that the fire did not destroy, photo by Jim Cooperman

Fed by extreme winds and extreme drought, the Shuswap Firestorm tore through thousands of hectares of forests leaving behind blackened sticks and fried soil, with nary a green leaf or stem where the fire was intense. The wildfire was indiscriminate, as it did not matter if the forests contained young trees, mature trees, old growth or had been “fire-proofed” by thinning and removal of lower limbs and dead stems, it all went up in smoke. Yet, somewhat miraculously, the fire did manage to skip around some plantations where the trees were large enough to achieve crown closure, which retained enough moisture on the ground to resist the flames.

Despite the intensity of the backburn, these young plantations above Scotch Creek survived because the trees were large enough for the crowns to provide shade that retained moisture.

There is now a rush to salvage log the burnt trees that are merchantable before the timber dries and splits, which renders the wood unusable for lumber and plywood. However, there is a growing amount of scientific literature and research that insists logging burnt forests is harmful to the ecosystem and it is far better to let natural processes bring the forests back as what happened after previous wildfires.

Grapple yarders are most often used to move the logs to the landings, photo by Jim Cooperman

One of the major concerns with salvage logging, is the site disturbance caused by the heavy equipment that both disturbs and compacts the soil, which inhibits natural regeneration and often results in erosion and damage to streams. Logging requires additional roads and skid trails to be built that permanently remove land for the forest landbase and pose threats to wildlife. As well, logging can encourage the growth of weeds and invasive species.

Burnt trees can perform a key role in the future forest by providing habitat to many bird species that help control forest pests. As burnt trees age they eventually fall to become coarse woody debris that decomposes to replenish the soil, provide food and shelter for beneficial insects and create nutrients that assist the regrowth of the forest ecosystem. Salvage logging also disturbs the natural successional cycle that begins with plants and shrubs, followed by deciduous trees and then conifers.

Some studies show that the slash left after logging increases fuel loads to encourage more severe fires in the future. However, many foresters claim that leaving the burnt trees will add even more fuel resulting in hotter wildfires.

Many of the private properties in the Shuswap that burned will be reforested by Cariboo Carbon Solutions. If you are interested, contact Andrew Steeves at

Despite the many ecological concerns, there are many benefits to salvage logging with the primary one being the time factor. All areas that are logged, will be planted with seedlings that get a boost from the nutrients in the ashes. Many of the roads and skid trails are rehabilitated and planted. Natural recovery can take many decades longer and where the fires were extreme, the seeds have been burnt and recovery will be delayed even more. Due to safety concerns, tree planting can only take place after logging.

There is also the issue of carbon sequestration. Without salvage logging, the burnt trees will slowly release carbon into the atmosphere for upwards of 100 years or more, whereas if the burnt timber is logged, much of the carbon is locked in as lumber and other building products. After salvage logging, as the young forest grows it becomes a carbon sink again helping to slow climate change instead of accelerating it.

Another key issue for the Shuswap is the aesthetic and recreational values that forests have for both residents and tourists. No one likes to look at burnt trees and the sooner these blackened sticks are replaced with a growing forest, the better. One can now see areas of the Shuswap that burned in 2003 that were not logged and replanted and today remain unproductive shrubland, whereas other areas that were replanted are now healthy, young forests.

Even though many hectares will be salvage logged, there will nonetheless be thousands of hectares that will remain untreated because they contained young forests that have no commercial value. Many of the burnt plantations that had not yet achieved “free-to-grow” status will be eventually replanted, but there could be significant delays due to the lack of available seedlings and funding considering the increased demand due to the massive number of hectares burned throughout the province in recent years.

The sad scene along the trail to the Adams River Gorge in Tsútswecw Provincial Park. Although the danger trees will be cut down, this park will likely remain “natural” and we will all be able to witness how it recovers and compare this area to other areas that have been salvaged logged and planted with a mix of tree species. photo by Jim Cooperman

Given the rapidly warming climate, the ongoing droughts, and the greater frequency of extreme weather events, ecosystem recovery will be a challenge regardless of whether salvage logging occurs, or it does not. We will all be witness to a massive experiment, as riparian areas, inaccessible slopes, and Tsútswecw Park, like all provincial parks, will likely remain “natural” burnt ecosystems that will serve as the control plot to compare with the crown and Skwlax lands that will be logged and replanted. We can all become citizen scientists by observing the regrowth of shrubs and trees in the logged areas and comparing it with the areas left “natural.”


Out of our 40 acres, approximately 36 burned intensively. We had thinned the forest the year before the wildfire and left many of the largest “mother trees.” this logging waved our home and the homes below us in Lee Creek Heights, as the wildfire went from a crown fire to a ground fire and stopped above our home. We had the burnt trees salvaged logged last fall including this one with a green top, but with severely burnt roots and scorched stem. Feller bunchers like this one are commonly used for logging, given these machines are far more efficient and cost effective than hand falling. photo by Jim Cooperman

The North Shuswap was needlessly devastated by a massive firestorm that could have been prevented, had the BC Wildfire Service done a better job of putting the fire out when it was small or had decided against lighting the massive 10 km long aerial ignition prior to a windstorm. We are now suffering the consequences, as our forests have been destroyed, wildlife habitat is lost, streams are damaged and 224 homes and structures were lost or damaged. Recovery will take an entire generation and it will be hampered by extreme weather, including intense heat, drought and storms that are predicted to be more frequent due to the climate chaos impacting the entire earth’s life support system. Nonetheless, we can celebrate each year as the burnt landscape slowly greens up. Every year we can witness new life coming out of the ashes and we can also record the names of the plants as they emerge. It will take many years before we see trees above our heads in the burn zone, but when these trees begin to grow taller, we can celebrate the renewal process of our glorious home place.

The burn severity map prepared by the BC Wildfire Service that was responsible for the damage. It is unlikely that all of the red zones will be salvaged logged and planted with seedlings, as the steep slopes and riparian areas will be left “natural” and the unmerchantable areas will be the last, if ever, to be treated due to lack of funding and seedlings.

Survey tape marks the boundary of this area to be salvaged logged above Lee Creek Heights, photo by Jim Cooperman

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The Shuswap Country

by Erskine Burnett

Treasures come in assorted shapes and sizes. They might be a grandmother’s beaded purse, or an old apple basket like one resting atop my bookshelf that transports me to the family farm, with voices shouting from treetops as we pluck Macs and Golden Delicious. A personal scrapbook can also be an unexpected treasure, and The Shuswap Country by Erskine Burnett is just that.

Everything Shuswap

by Jim Cooperman

Everything Shuswap explores the region’s rich eco-types and its interwoven historical record. It’s a textbook for understanding one of the most beautiful and least understood landscapes and it should be mandatory reading for anyone who lives in or visits the Shuswap.” – Mark Hume, author of Adam’s River and other books