Forest minister responds to logging protests

Pat Bell, B.C. Minister of Forests and Range

Much of the provincial government is in Whistler right now for the annual convention of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. I pulled Forest Minister Pat Bell aside yesterday morning for his take on the protests against the Cheakamus Community Forest. Here’s what he had to say.

Small note: Allan Crawford’s quotes at the foot of the story didn’t make it into the paper edition. When he called that page was already sent to the printers. He was made aware of this.

You log or someone else will, Forest Minister says

Pat Bell says community forest tenure could go to someone else if annual allowable cut is not met

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

September 30, 2010

Either the Cheakamus Community Forest logs the trees around Whistler, or someone else will, the man in charge of B.C.’s forests said on Wednesday.

Pat Bell, B.C.’s Minister of Forests and Range, told Pique in an interview that if the Cheakamus Community Forest doesn’t meet its annual allowable cut of 20,000 cubic metres after five years, then the tenure over forests surrounding Whistler will go back to the province and perhaps be handed off to another forester.

That could be anyone from a First Nation to a private logging company, but it’s also possible for the tenure to come back to the community forest.

“If at the end of a five-year cut control period they’ve not harvested any of the annual allowable cut volume that they’ve designated, then that volume is returned to the Crown and we have the opportunity to re-sell that volume if we choose to,” Bell said.

“We have a number of options in terms of how you would reallocate it. I don’t have a desire to put it out into anyone else’s hands.

“Conversely, the tenure was not provided to the community to not have any harvesting take place. Certainly we’re looking for them to achieve some level of harvesting.”

The Cheakamus Community Forest is a joint initiative by the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Squamish First Nation and the Lil’wat First Nation to collectively manage the forests surrounding Whistler.

Together they hold a tenure over 30,000 hectares of Crown forest land in areas such as the Callaghan and Cheakamus valleys, as well as Wedge Mountain and Brandywine.

Opponents of the community forests have seized on plans to log old growth trees – specifically, trees that have never been cut before. It began when Allan Crawford, co-owner of Canadian Snowmobile Adventures and co-owner of a tenure on Sproatt Mountain, where logging is to take place, wrote letters to the editor and took out ads opposing the logging plans.

The province defines old growth in the coastal region as 250 years old and protesters worry that trees aged anywhere from 300 to 500 years old could be cut in openings of up to five hectares.

The five hectare opening is actually a limit that the Cheakamus Community Forest has placed on itself – it’s a fraction of the maximum openings, 25 hectares, that are permitted under B.C.’s Forest Act.

Most of the trees in the community forest tenure are old growth. People working with the Cheakamus Community Forest claim that second growth trees aren’t yet mature enough to harvest.

Bell said the image logging opponents are promoting isn’t the one he’s been presented with when it comes to the community forest’s logging plans.

“The visual they’re creating is large clearcuts of old growth stems and that is not the information that I have,” he said. “The harvesting that is being proposed is very selective, very small clearcuts in the odd location. It’ll help open up the forest. Much of the timber that’s being harvested is what I would call mature, rather than old growth, it doesn’t get to the level of being an old growth stem.”

Crawford, reached Wednesday afternoon, wonders whether the Annual Allowable Cut of 20,000 cubic metres can be renegotiated.

“Given where we’re at right now, with their current plans, any change would be an improvement,” he said. “So if they would go from the clearings to selective logging, and go from 20,000 to 10,000, that wold be a way better situation for Whistler.

Crawford said he heard about another community forest where logging was slated for a watershed. Though he didn’t name the community, he said people were opposed to the logging and instead of carrying on with harvesting, the province issued a fine.

“That’s a wrong way to do things, but I’m just giving it as an example,” he said. “There’s always a way to renegotiate things.”

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About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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