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British Columbia Ancient Forests News


Posted July 13, 2010

Endangered forest turns into Island battleground

Fate of Nanoose Bay old-growth forest pits residents against native band.

Judith Lavoie - Times Colonist, July 11, 2010

Endangered forest turns into Island battleground
Click for larger image

Nanoose Bay resident Helga Schmitt walks through the endangered old-growth coastal Douglas fir forest which the province has approved for logging by the Snaw-naw-as First Nation despite pleas by local governments and community groups to save the area.
Photo by TJ Watt

The fate of a small patch of endangered Vancouver Island forest has put local residents and politicians at odds with the province and a First Nations band.

The Snaw-naw-as First Nation has been issued a one-time forest licence by the province to cut 15,000 cubic metres of wood west of Nanoose Bay to raise much-needed cash -- even though the rare remnant of endangered coastal Douglas fir forest contains endangered plants and animals.

The licence was issued despite a provincial commitment not to approve logging in coastal Douglas fir forests until a protection strategy is in place.

Pleas to save District Lot 33 from the chainsaw are coming from politicians and community groups, fuelled by expert opinions that the 64-hectare block of Crown land should not be cut. But the province and Snaw-naw-as First Nation are not budging.

Snaw-naw-as administrator Brent Edwards said the economic development project is urgently needed by the 231-member band.

The cutting permit has not yet been approved, but logging will start as soon as the paperwork is in place, said Edwards, who expects the band to net about $750,000.

"We are not trying to polarize people or anything, but we have an agreement with the province," said Edwards, pointing out 80 per cent of the remaining coastal Douglas fir ecosystem is in private hands.

Those who want the ecosystem protected should be looking at private land instead of the sparse areas of Crown land available for treaty settlement or agreements with First Nations, he said.

On eastern Vancouver Island, the majority of land claimed by First Nations falls within the E&N land grant and private land is not on the treaty negotiation table.

But the First Nation is meeting growing resistance from the community and local governments, said Annette Tanner of Western Canada Wilderness Committee. "They want to see this diverse ecosystem, home to many red and blue listed species, including a herd of elk, protected and preserved," she said.

Qualicum Beach council, the Regional District of Nanaimo and the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities have all passed resolutions asking the province to take another look at the issue.

"This is a very sensitive piece of property," said Barry Avis, Qualicum Beach councillor and association vice-president.

"For myself, there's a level of frustration. Does the voice of the people mean nothing?"

The Forest Practices Board has also upheld a complaint by Nanoose Bay resident Kathy McMaster, saying the province did not abide by its commitment to defer issuing new forest tenures until its stewardship strategy was in place.

Board chairman Al Gorley said the bigger problem is the potential extinction of coastal Douglas fir forests.

Adding to the controversy is a biologist's report to the company contracted by Snaw-naw-as to lay out cutblocks, which lists globally and provincially imperilled species in the forest. In the leaked memo, the biologist recommends against harvesting stands within the licence.

The province is working toward protecting about 1,600 hectares of Crown-owned coastal Douglas fir forest, most of it on Vancouver Island, with the ultimate goal of protecting 20 per cent of the remaining ecosystem.

But Forests Minister Pat Bell, who could not be reached for comment, has said reports show District Lot 33 is not prime land and does not meet criteria for protection, although he has agreed to review the Forest Practices Board report.

Scott Fraser, Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA, said a 2006 consultant's report to the government says the forest is in good condition and should not be cut, so Bell is "either misinformed or misinforming the public."

It is the government's duty to protect species at risk, Fraser said.

"You can't get more endangered than this, but there's no Environment Ministry oversight, even though the decision goes completely against the strategy of protecting critical habitat."

Environment Ministry spokesman Suntanu Dalal said Environment Minister Barry Penner would not comment, saying the Forests Ministry is taking the lead on the file.

Edwards said the Snaw-naw-as will try to mitigate harm to endangered species and will obey all provincial regulations.

"You can't log without having impacts, but if there are fingers to be pointed, it's not at us," he said.

Berni Pearce of Arrowsmith Parks and Land-Use Council, a community-based conservation group, said the First Nation is being presented with a terrible choice. "[They can] benefit from an economic opportunity while contributing to the destruction of the [coastal Douglas fir] -- their forest home over ages past -- or forego this opportunity, conserve the CDF forest and end up with nothing for their people. This is an unacceptable situation," she said.

The parks and land-use council is recommending that the province protect District Lot 33 and ask the federal government for help in paying compensation or providing suitable economic opportunities.

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