British Columbia

Unsafe bridges among multiple safety issues found on government-run forestry roads

A two-year audit by the Forest Practices Board focused on the Bulkley Timber Supply Area in northwestern B.C., which is managed by the government-run B.C. Timber Sales.

Poor road maintenance and legally required fire-hazard assessments not being filed in northwestern B.C.

A portion of the Bulkley Timber Supply Area in northwestern B.C. (B.C. Forest Practices Board)

Multiple safety concerns have been identified by B.C.'s Forest Practices Board on forestry roads and bridges in northwestern B.C., including unsafe river crossings and poor maintenance that caused a landslide.

Director of audits Chris Mosher said the findings were "concerning" and the number of issues identified was unusual, though not unheard of, in the history of the board's randomly selected audits of forest areas.

The two-year audit focused on the Bulkley Timber Supply Area, which is managed by the government-run B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS). BCTS is responsible for infrastructure in the area, which is used by private forestry companies.

The Bulkley Timber Supply Area covers approximately 736,000 hectares and includes the Town of Smithers. (B.C. Ministry of Forests)

Among the problems were six bridges with structural safety issues, poor culvert installation and road maintenance that "was not up to current standards."

A small landslide in the area was attributed to these poor standards.

Mosher said most of the problems were in areas not actively being used by forestry companies, but added that BCTS had not gone far enough in deactivating or blocking off the roads and bridges.

For example, one bridge was blocked by piles of dirt rather than boulders, allowing back-country users to continue to access it.

Additionally, signs indicating that roads and bridges should not be used were not well placed or had fallen down, Mosher said.

Fire hazard assessments not being filed

The audit also found companies operating in the region were not properly conducting fire hazard assessments after logging an area.

Mosher said while the work of abating fire hazards was being done, the relevant paperwork — required by law — was not regularly being filed.

"It's not as though meeting the legislation is like a ceiling that one strives to, it's a floor that everyone should be meeting," he said. "And so when we have multiple findings, that's always a concern."

In an emailed response to the audit, B.C. Timber Sales said it was working to fix all the issues, including permanently deactivating one of the unused forestry roads, conducting annual bridge inspections and restructuring to give staff more time to focus on safety issues in the area.