A hiker walks past a patch of dead salal on a path at Rebecca Spit Provincial Park on Quadra Island in May. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Salal die-off on Vancouver Island a sign of climate stress, says forester

Others blame logging practices for declining health of coastal forest

  • Jun. 13, 2019 9:30 a.m.

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

Salal dieback seen across the Island this spring is caused by multiple factors, including a coastal forest ecosystem stressed by climate change, says the chief forester of Mosaic.

Domenico Iannidinardo, vice-president forest and sustainability with Mosaic Forest Management — which now oversees the operations of TimberWest and Island Timberlands — said the phenomenon is an indicator of forest health in general.

“It’s all the way up the Island as far north as Port Hardy on the east side,” Iannidinardo said, confirming that he’s also seen the dieback in Port Alberni. “Basically, you have freeze-dried salal.”

Salal dieback means more fuel on the forest floor as the province heads into its third consecutive wildfire season, having already weathered a prolonged drought. Dried-out debris left by last fall’s severe windstorm adds to the forest fuel load in some areas.

A common evergreen shrub, salal thrives in the forest understory. The dieback, more substantial than anyone can recall, is hard to miss along forest roads and trails. Reports started appearing on web posts earlier this spring. Some scientists theorize the trend is caused by weather and that it is quite possibly climate related.

From a forest health perspective, the dieback means ecosystems are stressed in their adaptation, “showing their perception of climate change,” Iannidinardo said.

“It was clearly the unusually cold temperature, low precipitation and humidity, a confluence of events in 2019,” he added.

In a sense, it was a perfect storm. Cold and dry in particular caused desiccation of parts of the common shrub at a time of year when it normally springs to life.

“It will come back. It will certainly recover, but it’s concerning.”

Iannidinardo said the salal dieback is instructive.

“From a forest health perspective, when we see something like this, it’s a reminder that we have to prepare in forest planning for more and drier periods. Planting has to take into account longer drought stretches … perhaps plant a little more Douglas fir and a little less cedar.”

Others feel the vine-like shrub — which has supported a boutique industry on the Island, supplying florists all over for 50 years — is telling a different story.

“We’ve had a few impacts on the industry,” said Albert Folster, owner of Ladysmith Evergreens. Folster has commercially harvested salal for 30 years, one of 30 or 40 contractors on the Island. He said the cause of dieback is varied and depends on location. Salal is reliant on moisture retention in the soil, affected by removal of the forest cover, he said.

“That could be due to deforestation as well,” Folster said, blaming some of the dieback on an accelerated pace of logging that leaves too little time for the forest ecosystem to recover.

Bob Brown of Port Alberni began harvesting salal more than 50 years ago. Dieback this spring is the result of successively dry seasons, not cold temperatures last winter, he believes. Last year was especially taxing.

“That salal was already brown last winter. The damage was done when the water got sucked out of the soil in spring and summer,” Brown said.

He also feels intensive logging on privately held lands — compounded by the impact of weather events and climate change — is to blame for the compromised state of forest health. A recent drive to Victoria was an eye opener, revealing extensive dieback among western red cedar.

“I’ve never seen it quite that bad,” Brown said.

Dieback presents another challenge for salal contractors on the south Island. They remain in a dispute with Mosaic, which has not renewed their contracts.

“The southern half of the Island has been locked up,” Folster said, explaining that they have to go north to harvest. While his business has doubled recently, some are struggling as a result.

Mosaic said the dispute is a matter of safety. Contractors need to have certification from the B.C. Forest Safety Council and comply with WorkSafe BC regulations, Iannidinardo said.

“We had four contractors four years ago and we have zero now, and it’s all for safety reasons,” he said. “We remain open to harvesting. We’ll look at qualified proposals,” he added.

Mary Ann Shievink of Flowers Unlimited, who uses salal for floral arrangements, said her local harvester couldn’t find any when he went looking the other day.

She agrees that climate change seems to be a culprit and notes that cedar boughs used in Christmas arrangements are showing more rust, a fungus.

 

Melodee Talbot, left, and Mary Anne Schievink of Flowers Unlimited in Port Alberni display some of the salal they use for floral arrangements. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Just Posted

Free firework safety courses coming to the West Shore right before Halloween

No permit? You could be fined anywhere between $100 and $10,000

Fairfield-Gonzales residents aim to establish senior care phone line

The Fairfield-Gonzales Village would allow seniors living alone to have a direct line to resources

Vendors open doors to new futures at Black Press Extreme Education & Career Fair

More tham two dozen employers, educators signed on for Victoria event

Persons Day to be marked with literary readings in Sidney

Peninsula authors to read from their new books relating to women and courageous journeys, Oct. 18

Antimatter 2019: The best in experimental media art comes to Victoria

22nd annual festival of film, performance art and more biggest ever – 120 artists, 30 countries

VIDEO: Greater Victoria, here’s the news you missed this weekend

Dog killed in alleged hit and run, Goodlife Marathon takes over city and more

‘Save the kids!’ Dorian survivor tells the harrowing story of his Canadian wife’s death

Family held a funeral and placed Alishia Liolli’s remains in a niche at a cemetery in Windsor, Ont.

Okanagan woman, 91, votes at advance polls despite broken hip, shoulder and wrist

Angela Maynard has voted in almost every election during her lifetime

Heiltsuk Nation open first Big House in 120 years in northern B.C.

Opening means the community now has an appropriate space for spiritual and ceremonial events

Singh says NDP would form coalition with the Liberals to stop Tories

Singh was in a Liberal-held riding Sunday afternoon in Surrey where he was pressed about his post-election intentions

‘My heart goes out to the mother’: B.C. dad reacts to stabbing death of Ontario boy

Carson Crimeni, who was also 14, was bullied relentlessly, his dad says

The one with the ‘Friends’ photoshoot: Kelowna group recreates TV show intro

A friend’s departure prompted them to create something that really says, “I’ll be there for you”

Canadian Snowbirds plane crashes before air show in Atlanta

Pilot lands safely after ejecting from jet

Share crash data, private insurers tell David Eby, ICBC

B.C. monopoly makes drivers retrieve their own records

Most Read