What You Need To Know About Logging Issues in the Municipal Forest Reserve

maple mountain photos for sixmoountains

North Cowichan internal email raises fears of talk-and-log policy on forest management plan

An internal email from North Cowichan’s municipal forester is fuelling concerns that a public consultation process into an interim management plan for the Municipal Forest Reserve is actually a talk-and-log show, freedom-of-information documents reveal.

“The overall intent of the interim plan was to allow some low-impact harvesting while the review was taking place which can still be done but not under the label of ‘interim plan,’” municipal forester Shaun Mason writes in the July 20, 2020, email.

One wonders whether public consultations into the interim plan are dead in the water. 

Writes Mason: “I would suggest removing the interim plan altogether to save the confusion by the public about the interim plan that will be now condensed into a very narrow window compared to what it was originally supposed to be.”

The email was written three days after Mayor Al Siebring announced that public consultations on the interim plan would be suspended for 60 days, while separate consultations would continue with First Nations — behind closed doors, at the Mayor’s request.

Siebring’s announcement also said that due to the delay and the absence of an interim management plan, “Council may consider additional harvesting of blow-down salvage or removal of hazardous trees for fire prevention if doing so is aligned with the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and is recommended by the Forestry Advisory Committee and the UBC Partnership Group.” 

The 60 days is about to expire, with no public update from the Municipality and no Forestry Advisory Committee meeting announced. 

Council earlier suspended new logging in the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — also known as the Six Mountains — pending a two-phase engagement process for an interim forest management plan covering the period Sept. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021, and a long-term management plan beginning on Jan. 1, 2022.

If Mason’s comment holds — that logging was a fait accompli all along —  then what was the point in consulting citizens on an interim plan, except to give them the illusion that the Municipality was listening when, in fact, it was not? 

And why should the opinion of the UBC Partnership Group — part of the forestry department, after all — hold sway over the opinion of North Cowichan residents?

On Feb., 11, 2020, council passed the following motion: “That Council direct staff to harvest the 2018/2019 contract obligations, and that Council will consider additional harvesting in 2020 after receiving the fire smart study and recommendations from the UBC Partnership regarding an interim forest management plan.”

In my opinion, a motion to “consider” falls far short of a done deal. 

I sought out Councillor Rob Douglas, chair of the Forestry Advisory Committee, for clarification. “I agree with you — Council could decide to undertake more harvesting in 2020 or none at all,” he said.

The two-phase approach has been problematic from the start: virtual meetings due to the Covid-19 pandemic,  interim consultations criticized for being weighted in favour of logging interests and the meetings of a citizens’ Working Group being held in private — even though a majority of the Working Group voted in favour of openness. 

The appointment of a pro-logging municipal employee to the Working Group was revoked after a complaint from sixmountains.ca.

Even consultants Lees and Associates warned council that the two-phase approach could result in public “confusion” and “engagement fatigue.”

The freedom-of-information documents also include a July 16 email from UBC forestry professor Stephen Sheppard, who is working with North Cowichan on a management strategy for the forest reserve. He confirms there is “confusion about the interim plan” and that if the decision is to keep it “then a coordinated press release…could also clarify what the interim plan is or isn’t….”

Sheppard adds: “The timeline issue perhaps raises again the value of retaining the interim plan as a deliverable: the overall engagement plan would be simpler without it, using what the team had planned to do as an interim step….”

It's disconcerting to think that while the public dutifully waits for the deep, broad and transparent consultation they were promised, others are working in the background to make those forestry decisions for them.

— Larry Pynn, Sept. 12, 2020


Municipal documents expose shameful plan to keep citizens in the dark on public consultation on forest reserve

Freedom-of-information documents reveal that the Municipality of North Cowichan deliberately withheld important information on reasons for a 60-day pause in public consultation on the future of the Municipal Forest Reserve.

Documents obtained by sixmountains.ca include a July 15, 2020, email from Megan Jordan, the municipality’s communications and public engagement manager, to Megan Turnock of Vancouver-based consultants, Lees and Associates, explaining that council had voted unanimously for a 60-day pause on public engagement on the forest reserve. 

Jordan writes: “The reasons are two-fold: one, to allow for a meeting with the Cowichan Nation Alliance to better understand their interests; two, to accommodate public concern over the engagement process.

“There was a large increase in emails from the public asking Council to pause the engagement process due to concerns today.”

Jordan finishes her email to Turnock thus: “Public messaging about the pause will follow shortly, and will only speak to FN (First Nations) consultation as a cause at this time.”

In other words, the municipality preferred to bury citizens’ valid concerns about the public consultation process.

The email is copied to consultant Erik Lees, municipal forester Shaun Mason, and University of BC forestry professor Stephen Sheppard, who is working with the municipality on a management strategy for the forest reserve.

Indeed, a written public statement issued by Mayor Al Siebring two days later, on July 17, makes no mention of the 18 letters received from the public at the July 15 council meeting, no mention of a July 13 article (https://bit.ly/3bHRgsM) by the watchdog group Where Do We Stand urging suspension of the consultation, and no mention that public concerns factored into the 60-day pause.

Siebring’s statement, instead, said that Council had enacted the pause to facilitate a government-to-government consultation with local First Nations. 

“I feel it is important that we respect the Indigenous right to self-governance and consult local First Nations in a meaningful way,” he said. “Pausing public engagement will allow us to fully understand the issues and interests of local First Nations, which could potentially change the scope and scale of the public engagement process.”

There’s more.

The freedom-of-information documents also contain three pages of advice from Alan Dolan, a consultant and former communications director with the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, suggesting what North Cowichan’s “key messages” should be on the 60-day pause and offering a series of sample questions and answers on the issue.

One question he anticipates: “There has been a call to halt the public engagement process because it needs ‘fixing.’ Is that one of the reasons why you are pausing engagement?”

He suggests the following answer: “No, the reason for halting the public engagement process has to do with the concerns of First Nations related to the need for consultations to come early in the engagement process and the need for the North Cowichan to meet with the Chiefs of Cowichan Nation Alliance.”

Dolan goes on to say that while the meetings with First Nations are not public, “open, transparent public communication is also (a) very important part of the process.”

On July 17, Jordan sent a copy of Dolan’s suggestions to Chief Administrative Officer Ted Swabey for sign-off before sending to Siebring, according to the documents.

That’s not the end of it.

On July 20, three days after Siebring issued his statement, sixmountains.ca emailed the Mayor asking some basic questions about the separate consultation process involving First Nations — since the public had been kept in the dark.

The documents show that Siebring then sent an email to three municipal employees — Jordan, Swabey, and executive assistant Terri Brennan — saying: “Not even sure we want to respond. But if we do, I’d appreciate some suggestions.”

Jordan responds: “I have some draft speaking notes with Ted for review, we are working to get you some lines as soon as possible.”

Shortly thereafter, Jordan provides Siebring with a “draft reply,” noting that “Ted has reviewed and signed off on the key messages….”

The response begins “Hello Mr. Pynn” and continues to reveal, in part, that consultations “are being guided by an experienced local consultant,” Alan Dolan and Associates, and that North Cowichan staff and consultants met with the Cowichan Nation Alliance on July 7.

“At that meeting, concerns were expressed around the need for consultations with First Nations to come early in the engagement process and a meeting was proposed between Mayor and Council….and the five chiefs of the Cowichan Nation Alliance.”

The draft reply adds that he “cannot speak for the Nations involved in the consultation process” and emphasized the sensitive nature of the government-to-government meetings.

“However, open and transparent communication are deeply important.”

The kicker? The draft reply was never sent to me. 

So much for transparency.

Note also that the documents show it is Siebring who urged that consultations with First Nations be private.

In a letter dated July 16, Siebring formally invited the Cowichan Nation Alliance to a consultation meeting at the earliest convenience, adding: “We ask that the meeting be closed to the public….”

The 60-day pause in the public consultation is about to expire. Council meets on Sept. 16. 

— Larry Pynn, Sept. 9, 2020

Mt Richards.JPG

North Cowichan logging puts BC’s most endangered landscape at further risk

(This article appeared in the Times Colonist newspaper on Aug. 14, 2020)

British Columbia’s most endangered landscape is at risk from logging. But don’t look to a heartless profit-driven private corporation as the culprit. The Municipality of North Cowichan is the one doing the damage.

North Cowichan is unique in Canada in that it possesses some 5,000 hectares of its own forest land – the Municipal Forest Reserve, also known as the Six Mountains – property it has been logging for profit, with an annual allowable cut set at 20,000 cubic metres per year.  Problem is, the Forest Reserve falls within the “coastal douglas-fir” biogeoclimatic zone, which is the rarest of 16 such zones in the province.

The range of this ecological zone is small and thin, but includes southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands and has been heavily impacted by private land ownership and logging. Higher elevations in the Forest Reserve merge into the “very dry maritime coastal western hemlock” zone, which is also at risk for the same reasons, says Andy MacKinnnon, co-author of the best-selling reference book, the Plants of Coastal British Columbia.

Coastal douglas-fir represents the “smallest and most at risk zone in B.C.,” confirms the Coastal Douglas-fir & Associated Ecosystems Conservation Partnership. It is “home to the highest number of species and ecosystems at risk in B.C.” and “less than one per cent” remains in old-growth forests,” says the Partnership, which is a vast coalition that includes the B.C. government, municipalities – but not North Cowichan – and conservation organizations.

The municipality has for months been promising a public consultation on the future of the Forest Reserve, one that is open, broad, deep, fair, robust and transparent process.
So far, nothing could be further from reality.

On July 17, the municipality announced it is pausing the public consultation for 60 days to allow a separate consultation with First Nations to proceed.

The public hasn’t a clue what government-to-government talks with First Nations are discussing. And public consultations to date have generated criticism of unnecessary secrecy and pro-logging bias.

The consultant, Lees and Associates, and the municipality have ordered that meetings of the citizens’ Working Group – appointed to guide the consultation process – remain closed, even after a clear majority of the Working Group voted in favour of openness.

To shed some much-need light on the issue, I posted a short video (through my sixmountains.ca blog), The Unseen Forest: youtube.com/watch?v=XqU6h2OZRos.

The video employs drone footage of municipal clearcutting atop iconic Mount Prevost, which is also a place of cultural significance to First Nations. I wanted to refute a statement the municipal administrator made to council: “We do not clear-cut as a harvesting practice.”

I also wanted residents who cannot make it to the top of Mount Prevost to see for themselves what’s happening.

The video has generated a lot of discussion, some of it unhealthy.

Pro-logging advocates have been ordered to stop their abusive on-line remarks against those seeking a conservation vision for the Six Mountains. The administrator of the Facebook Maple Bay Neighbour to Neighbour public group, posted the following warning: “As we are in a very small window of opportunity where we can have a say in the future of our … forests, I really would like this discussion to continue. However, I will not allow for bullying and personal attacks to continue.”

There is another way forward for the Six Mountains.

University of B.C. forestry experts recently appeared before council to not only encourage greater protection for the coastal Douglas-fir zone, but to report that the Municipality stands to earn as much or more from selling carbon credits and leaving our endangered forests standing.

The forestry program has earned an annual net profit of only $132,000 over the long term – a figure that has been padded in recent years by inclusion of $86,000 in cell-tower rentals.

The jobs argument also does not carry much weight, since as few as about 10 direct jobs – two of those municipal administration staff – are created by cutting these rare forests. The final kicker is that 63 per cent of the timber removed from the Forest Reserve was exported as raw logs last year.

The case for conservation is being made daily in the Forest Reserve. I only wish I could say that North Cowichan council is listening. 


Back to the Future: 1992 study reveals recreation, ecology, viewscapes trump logging in Municipal Forest Reserve

Almost three decades ago, North Cowichan’s Forest Advisory Committee retained a consultant to review municipal logging on Maple Mountain and to ask people and organizations to fill out a questionnaire on what they value in our forests.

Does this sound strangely familiar to today?

At that time, only “six to seven persons per day” used 980-hectare Maple Mountain, according to the Forest Advisory Committee’s March 1992 report: A Framework for Integrated Forest Resource Management — Maple Mountain block.

That’s a convoluted way of saying, ‘consideration of values other than logging.’

The questionnaire was sent to “government agencies responsible for resource management,” forest companies operating in the Municipality, resource groups using the area, water licensees, and individuals who expressed interest.

Given the weight put on forestry the results are all the more surprising.

Respondents to the questionnaire “identified the highest resource values as aesthetics, hiking and other recreational activities (and) indicated the Forest Reserve must be viewed as providing many resource values besides those associated with timber harvesting.”

A total of 43 responses were received, “a very good return considering the limited time available,” the report finds.

Alternative values ranked highest by far, including wildlife at 13.3 per cent, hiking 11.5 per cent, education 9.0 per cent, recreation 8.7 per cent, and aesthetics 7.4 per cent. 

Thirteen forest management categories such as timber and jobs ranked so low (at best, 6.0 to 7.0 per cent) that the Municipality had to lump them all together into one new category of “forest management” to produce a score of 21.9 per cent.

That’s right, the Municipality was even trying to stack the deck back then.

Among the key points made by those who filled out the questionnaire: “The public does not want revenue to drive a forest management program.”

The report goes on to say: “The practice of clear cut harvesting followed by reforestation is not acceptable unless aesthetics are considered in the planning process.”

The report’s comment on ecosystems, however, is downright cringe worthy: “A key goal in this process will be establishing a network of trails and signs to assist in public education on forestry.” 

All was not lost. The consultation process did create a “preservation zone” of 390 hectares on the eastern and southeastern side of Maple Mountain. This encompasses today’s scenic Blue and Yellow hiking trails overlooking Sansum Narrows.

But this preservation zone is by no means set in stone. The Municipality is working with University of B.C. forestry officials on a new management plan for the Six Mountains and “whether or not UBC will recommend that it remains, or parts of it, or perhaps use it as a guide/template is unknown at this time,” a municipal staffer informs me.

As evidenced by the 1992 report, there is a long-standing public interest in values such as recreation, ecology and aesthetics that far and way exceeds logging.

Yet the scars of logging continue in the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — even as recreational needs continue to grow. Potentially hundreds of mountain bikers and hikers use Maple Mountain alone on a busy day.

The Municipality has currently suspended public consultations on the future of the Forest Reserve for 60 days. 

It’s a good time for the public — and council — to reflect on what we really value in our Six Mountains and to put the lie to claims that continued logging is the highest and best use of our forests.

View the 1992 report at: https://bit.ly/31lnHIF

(Photo: municipal logging site on Maple Mountain)

— Larry Pynn, Aug. 5, 2020

Awesome  Trail.JPG

Public shut out of consultations on Municipal Forest Reserve

Council focus is now on First Nations

Citizens of North Cowichan — whatever their position on management of our Municipal Forest Reserve — should be concerned with Mayor Al Siebring’s written statement posted on the Municipal website on Friday, July 17.

The statement is only three paragraphs in length, but speaks volumes about the absence of so-called public consultation into an interim management plan for the 5,000-hectare Forest Reserve. It also shows that the Municipality’s priority is on consulting with First Nations, and confirms fears of a talk-and-log policy for the Forest Reserve. 

Siebring wrote that “Council has enacted a 60-day pause on the engagement process to facilitate a government-to-government consultation with local First Nations,” adding these consultations “could potentially change the scope and scale of the public engagement process.” 

The news release is deliberately silent on an important point. Where Do We Stand raised the alarm last week, presenting a slew of reasons why the public consultation process should be paused. Visit https://bit.ly/30tH69U. In response, Council received 18 letters from the public at its Wednesday, July 15, meeting. By not mentioning this, Siebring disrespects his constituents who took the time to participate in our democratic process.

What Siebring’s statement actually means is impossible to know, but it fits the Municipality’s modus operandi of keeping its citizens in the dark on First Nation issues.

Let’s be clear: this is not a criticism of First Nations, but of the Municipality’s lack of transparency and its citizens not having a say.

Note that Council months ago agreed to conduct consultations with First Nations that are separate from any public consultation. Siebring observes in his statement that the Forest Reserve is located on the traditional territories of seven local First Nations.

What has transpired to this point? Are all seven First Nations involved? How often have the parties met? Does the reference to “breadth and scale” of the engagement process mean that First Nations are raising issues greater than what the Municipality had bargained for?  Ask whatever you want and you’ll get the same empty answers.

One also wonders whether these consultations include recent revelations from University of BC forestry officials that North Cowichan stands to make as much or more from carbon credits by leaving our forests standing than cutting them down. Might there be an opportunity for First Nations’ lands to be included in such a win-win scenario?

The Mayor goes on to say in his statement that an interim forest management plan was to be implemented  this fall to guide forest management until December 31, 2021 — after which a long-term plan would kick in. 

Due to the 60-day pause and in the absence of an interim plan, he writes, “Council may consider additional harvesting of blow-down salvage or removal of hazardous trees for fire prevention if doing so is aligned with the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and is recommended by the Forestry Advisory Committee and the UBC Partnership Group.”

That sounds like talk and log, which is exactly what we feared the Municipality had in mind all along for the interim forest management plan. Removal of blow-down or hazardous trees may sound reasonable, but in the past has simply resulted in smaller clearcuts to generate cash — with most of the timber exported as raw logs. 

Appropriate thinning of the forests to reduce the urban fire risk can be a good thing, but could also simply be used as another excuse to keep logging the Forest Reserve — which is part of BC’s most endangered landscape, the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone.

That the public is being shut out of the engagement process, including First Nations consultations, is a real slap in the face to the people that Council is supposed to represent — and who are paying for the consultation process.

Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour has encouraged North Cowichan to keep its electorate informed. “I don’t have any objections to that,” Seymour said in an earlier interview with sixmountains.ca. “We’re community driven. We need their approval to move in a new direction so I have no issue with that.”

In a vacuum of information, one wonders when consultations become negotiations.

As Chief Seymour has said of the Forest Reserve: “Our first thought is, well, give it back to us and we’ll take care of it. But that’s a pipe dream.”

It’s important to note that Council has received no mandate from its citizens on this issue. Municipalities have no legal obligation to consult and accommodate First Nations; the courts have ruled that onus falls on the senior governments.

“Municipalities, unless it is specifically delegated to them, they are not considered the Crown,” Deborah Curran, associate law professor at the University of Victoria, has told sixmountains.ca. An exception, she noted, is the Local Government Act, which requires municipalities to consult with First Nations when developing official Official Community Plans, but these are considered policy documents with no specific requirements.

Who knows where this will all end? Certainly not the citizens of North Cowichan, whose interests continue to be marginalized at every step of the process.

— Larry Pynn July 21, 2020


The Unseen Forest

Clearcutting by North Cowichan municipality revealed

You won’t see the images from this video on the North Cowichan website.


In fact, the municipality’s senior administrator has told council: “We do not clear-cut as a harvesting practice.”

But if you drive up Mount Prevost, for example, you will see plenty of clearcuts.

Which begs the question: Do these unseen forests represent the past or the future for our Municipal Forest Reserve — the Six Mountains of Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Stoney, and Tzouhalem?

Until now, North Cowichan has taken a singular view of our forests — as a revenue source. 

But even its own figures show that on average the forestry program generates a net profit of just $132,000 per year — while leaving an unsightly and environmentally damaging legacy.

It gets worse — logging in the Six Mountains provides little direct employment, while 63 per cent of the municipality’s timber is exported as raw logs.

There is another way.

UBC experts have informed council that the municipality stands to make as much — or more — money by selling carbon credits and leaving our forests standing.

What a concept — being paid not to log.

But there are many other reasons to preserve our local forests — which even the municipality describes as plantations. 

The importance of recreation, tourism, residential viewscapes and biodiversity far outweigh logging. Our Six Mountains fall within the most endangered landscape in British Columbia — the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone. Do we not have a moral obligation to protect it?

The Six Mountains are at a crossroad. 

Council has embarked on a flawed public consultation process on the future of our forests. Everyone needs to learn the truth and become engaged.

With selflessness and foresight we can make a difference, so that one day future generations can walk not amongst clearcuts and biological deserts, but amongst towering ancient forests reaching for the sky.

Mount Prevost clearcut .jpg

Transparency fading to black on consultation process for Municipal Forest Reserve

The big lie just keeps getting bigger.

North Cowichan residents were promised an open and transparent consultation process into future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve. 

What we are getting is ever more secrecy.

This story begins with the first meeting, on March 11, of the citizens’ Working Group (WG) established to guide the consultation process.

Lees and Associates consultants “recommended that meetings remain private to avoid potential disruption and increase productivity” — which one could interpret as being easier to control the message.

The majority of the WG went along with the recommendation.

Fast forward to the WG’s third meeting — an on-line event, on Monday, July 6 — when the issue arose again as to whether meetings should be recorded for the public to hear for themselves what’s going on.

Despite Erik Lees providing a biased overview of the situation — referencing the need to work in a safe environment — WG members voted 58 per cent in favour of opening up their meetings. 

Good for them.

Unfortunately, the flicker of democracy was immediately extinguished.

Lees, as well as Megan Jordan, the municipality’s communications and public engagement manner, decided that pretty much 100-per-cent unanimity would be required to lift the veil of secrecy.

Tell me one level of governance in Canada that requires such a threshold.

Quebec would have broken up Canada had its 1995 independence referendum achieved a 50-per-cent-plus-one vote.

Clearly, there is no good reason for WG meetings to be conducted in secrecy. 

In the words of BC’s former Ombudsperson, Kim Carter: “One of the cornerstones of open and transparent government in British Columbia is the requirement for local governments to conduct meetings that are open and accessible to the public.”

Is North Cowichan council listening?

(Photo: municipal clearcut on Mt. Prevost)

— Larry Pynn July 7, 2020

Mt Prevost pano shot.JPG

Municipal logging program generates minimal profits, ships raw logs offshore

More than six out of 10 trees harvested in North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve last year were exported as raw logs, the 2019 Forestry Report reveals.

Raw-log exports totalled 63 per cent of the municipal harvest of 15,255 cubic metres in 2019, up from 58 per cent of 11,562 cubic metres in 2018.

That’s right, in the midst of a moratorium on new logging contracts pending a public consultation on the 5,000-hectare forest reserve, the Municipality found a way to increase harvesting through blowdown timber and fulfillment of outstanding logging contracts.

Raw-log exports have long been a controversial topic in B.C. Recently, Mosaic Forest Management, the province’s biggest private logger, has indicated it wants restrictions on raw-log exports further reduced. https://www.policynote.ca/raw-log-exports/

The fact that most of North Cowichan’s logs are exported further erodes the argument that logging of the forest reserve is needed to support the local economy.

As sixmountains.ca reported earlier, logging last year in the forest reserve created as few as an estimated 10 direct jobs — at least two of those municipal staffers. The two logging companies that operated in the reserve last year are from outside North Cowichan.

Truth is, there are far better ways for the municipality to earn income from our forests — namely, carbon-credit cash for leaving our trees standing.

A report for North Cowichan by 3GreenTree Ecosystem Services Ltd. states: “Initial estimates indicate that a carbon offset project on the MFR could provide an ongoing, stable revenue source to the MNC competitive with the current logging model….”

The report adds: “MNC should develop relationships among local entities (businesses, NGOs, government) interested in offsetting their carbon emissions, as purchasers of the MFR carbon credits. These over-the-counter transactions have better prospects for prices that reflect the high value of the credits generated from the project.”

You’ll be hearing a lot more about this win-win scenario in the coming days.

Meanwhile, logging in the Municipal Forest Reserve achieved gross revenues of $1.5 million last year — but don’t get excited.

When you subtract all the costs of getting that timber — logging, road building and maintenance, silviculture, tree pruning and protection, engineering, etc. — the forestry program winds up with a net profit of $275,255. Of that amount, 30 per cent went to general revenues, 50 per cent to forest reserve fund, and 20 per cent to forest legacy fund.

The net profit includes $86,066 for cell-tower rentals and $13,169 as “other revenue.” Deduct those items and the net profit drops to $176,020.

The cell-tower rental first shows up on the books in 2017, generating $86,658 in revenue. Now, subtract that amount along with $11,625 in other revenue from the forestry program’s stated net income of $130,167. 

That leaves just $31,884 in net logging profits — yet all North Cowichan citizens live with the ugly and environmentally damaging legacy of these clearcuts for decades. 

Since 1987, the forestry program has pocketed just $132,740 a year on average.

What the 2019 forestry report does not show — and what taxpayers deserve — is a detailed and independent estimate of what it would cost to manage our forests in the absence of logging.

Note that municipal administration costs sucked up $365,929 in 2019.

Bottom line: the numbers in support of continued logging just don’t add up.

(Photo: Municipal clearcut atop Mt. Prevost.)

— Larry Pynn June 30, 2020

Mt Sicker.JPG

Lack of information raises concerns about Working Group guiding forest consultation process

Vancouver consultant Erik Lees this week emphasized the importance of a “balanced” public consultation into the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve. But given the lack of transparency surrounding the citizens’ Working Group one wonders if that’s the case.

Lees has provided a list of 15 members of the Working Group, but has not posted on the municipal website who they represent — and that only fuels public suspicion about the whole process. 

On March 15, the Municipality issued a news release saying that Lees and Associates had selected the members of the Working Group after a “neutral and independent” vetting process designed to ensure a balanced membership.

The news release stated that four members of the Working Group had forestry “interests and/or backgrounds.” 

By my calculation, however, at least seven members of the current Working Group have links to forestry in one form or another.

It would have been eight members had sixmountains.ca not launched an official complaint June 19 over the appointment of a pro-logging employee of the Municipality of North Cowichan to the Working Group. She has since been removed — and, for the record, I do not fault her personally, just the process that allowed her membership.

It’s important to note that three neighbourhood associations — Chemainus, Sahtlam and Quamichan Lake — remain unrepresented on the Working Group.

I am not saying that the current Working Group cannot provide thoughtful and important input to a discussion on the interim and long-term management of the forest reserve and cannot consider the broad range of interests at play.

But I do object to the fact that the Municipality and Lees for no good reason continue to not release basic background information on the members. By the same questionable logic, these meetings are also closed to the public. 

The official minutes (https://bit.ly/31oQSMz) of the June 10 Working Group read: “All attendees introduced themselves and briefly described their interest/ involvement with the municipal forest.” 

But those same minutes are conveniently silent on what members said about themselves.

It’s just another example of a flawed consultation process rife with secrecy.

(Photo: Mount Sicker)

— Larry Pynn June 26, 2020


Secrecy undermines public consultation into the Municipal Forest Reserve

Transparency: "We encourage a high level of disclosure regarding the process and results, as well as clear communication regarding how those results are used.” (Source: Lees and Associates winning contract bid.)

The Secrecy Train came to town June 10, with a virtual stop in the Municipality of North Cowichan.

The 16-member citizens’ Working Group guiding the public consultation process into management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve held its second meeting, this time using the on-line conference platform, Zoom.

I consider the process secret because unlike meetings of Council, Forestry Advisory Committee and Official Community Plan volunteer committee meetings, the Working Group operates strictly behind closed doors — even as the Municipality and Lees and Associates consultants profess to be conducting an open and transparent engagement.

Working Group meetings are also not live-streamed, and there are no posted verbatim recordings of proceedings. Moreover, group members are under strict orders from the Municipality and Lees not to share information with the public. 

I know there are good people on the Working Group.

But in a vacuum of information, how can the public be assured of a fair balance, especially since the membership continues to evolve?

I also wonder whether the Working Group is being asked to produce recommendations too quickly and with insufficient information.

Let’s hope we don’t miss a golden opportunity for a more progressive solution — one that could protect logging revenues as well as BC’s most endangered landscape, the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone.

Remember, the University of B.C. has informed the Municipality that carbon credits represent a way to safeguard our trees while earning income: “You can generate (carbon) revenues that are similar in range to what you’re generating from timber harvesting in this kind of approach.”

The culture of secrecy in North Cowichan doesn’t end with the Working Group.

In the midst of a public review of the forest reserve you’d think that the 2019 forestry report would contain highly relevant information — and would be released to the public at the earlier convenience. 

Not so, it turns out. The Municipality told me that the report is considered a draft until the Forestry Advisory Committee looks at it, then council.

That’s unreasonable, given that the report is basically a bunch of statistics on amounts of timber cut, revenues, costs etc. Nothing confidential there.

I filed a freedom-of-information request. 

Alyssa Meiner, Information Management Officer for the Municipality, responded that because the report is in “draft” form there are “currently no responsive record (final report) we are able to provide at this time.”

So I submitted a second FOI request for the “draft” report. Meiner replied that it could be 30 to 60 days before the report is released.

And so the game goes — and the public’s right to know suffers.

With these two, I have now filed six FOI requests with the Municipality.

Documents from the first request provided insight into Chief Administrative Officer Ted Swabey’s personal bias for continued logging in the reserve.

Next came the release of the minutes of the first Working Group meeting on March 11, 2020, then a tentative list of stakeholders to be interviewed by Lees. 

Finally, a request to see the winning bid from Lees for the consultation contract with the Municipality is still under consideration.

Note that many journalists go their entire careers and never file one FOI request.

Change must come from the top. I look to the Mayor and Council to establish a much-needed culture of openness at municipal hall.

Until then, don’t expect an “all aboard” announcement as the Secrecy Train leaves the station. The current passenger list — as evidenced by the closed Working Group — is a short and exclusive one.

— Larry Pynn, June 16, 2020

Chemainus River Provincial Park.JPG

Penelakut Tribe reveals woodlot-licence plan for Chemainus River watershed

The Penelakut Tribe has unveiled a draft 10-year plan for a 801.98-hectare woodlot on Crown land within the Chemainus River watershed.

The woodlot — four times the size of the City of Duncan — extends to the boundary of 119-hectare Chemainus River Provincial Park, on the back side of Mount Prevost.

A legal newspaper ad announced the plan for “two units located north of Duncan on lands between Mt. Sicker/Mt. Prevost and the Chemainus River.”

Chemainus River park features big trees and deep pools, is co-managed with Cowichan Valley Regional District, and can be accessed along a very rough logging road off Highway 18.

Cody Gold of Econ Consulting told sixmountains.ca that he does not expect significant visual-quality issues with the logging, adding he doubts people will see the clearcuts from Highway 18 or the Trans Canada Highway.

There are public concerns that increased logging in the upper watershed may increase the chance of flooding of communities and roads in the lower reaches.

Gold said there is no watershed assessment for the woodlot and no full inventory of all watercourses. While there may be “cumulative impacts to water flow,” he said, overall “it doesn’t strike me as a significant contributor” to flooding in the overall watershed.

The woodlot represents about eight square kilometers or about two per cent of the 355-square-kilometer Chemainus River watershed, Gold said, adding only about 35 hectares of the woodlot would be harvested every five years.

Riparian buffers would range from 20 to 50 meters depending on stream classification, and the terrain is relatively gentle, he said.

The draft woodlot plan does not specifically set out proposed harvest sites. 

But it says “there are no areas where timber harvesting will be avoided,” noting eight per cent of the area will be left for “wildlife tree retention” through patch logging.  Also, to the “greatest extent practicable,” efforts will be made to protect Indigenous cultural sites. 

Local First Nations will continue to have access to western red cedar. 

The draft adds: “There are community and/or domestic water supply intakes and/or related water supply infrastructure within the WLP area or nearby (i.e. within 100m) that could be affected by operations carried out under this plan.”

Gold noted that logging has occurred previously in the woodlot dating back decades, and that this draft plan is a preliminary document for future logging and would not kick in until 2022. 

The logging plan can be viewed at: https://ln2.sync.com/dl/f24f05e90/gwwm6ubh-wa6nnzzw-6kbkpfgp-ciafqd93/view/doc/8112170320000 

Send your comments this week to mail@econ.ca, after which the plan may be modified before it goes to the Ministry of Forests for approval.

The Tribe is mainly based on Penelakut Island (formerly Kuper Island) off Chemainus and has about 1,000 members; its reserve lands extend to Galiano Island, Tent Island and Tsussie, a small reserve south of Chemainus.

For more information: https://www.fnmhf.ca/english/participating_fn/participating_fn_075.html

(photo: Chemainus River Provincial Park)

— Larry Pynn, June 1, 2020


Public engagement on North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve under scrutiny

PlaceSpeak will continue to be used for the public consultation process into interim management of North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve despite several members of council raising concerns about the on-line platform.

However, Megan Jordan, the municipality’s communications and public engagement manager, told sixmountains.ca on May 21 that it won’t be necessary for the pubic to register for PlaceSpeak in order to fill out a questionnaire about the future of the forests.

“We will have the survey link on our webpage, as well as in PlaceSpeak to reduce barriers to access,” she said. “This means everyone does not have to register for PlaceSpeak to fill out the survey and provide feedback.”

Jordan further said that individual names won’t be included with a summary of the questionnaire results. “Instead, it will be more high level; for example, it would state 60% of residents feel it is important to be able to access recreational trails in the MFR….” she said

Jordan also said there will also be an opportunity for written submissions through Lees & Associates consultants, though it may limited.

“While Lees is ideally predicting 10 500-word email submissions, the fact is they have budgeted for collating 5,000 words of free-form submissions within the project cost. Anything above and beyond this threshold would cost extra for their time….

“This is so because PlaceSpeak has algorithms and software within the platform that make the process of collating free-form submissions quicker, easier, and less manual.”

Jordan’s response follows a request by sixmountains.ca to council on May 20 seeking further clarification of the public engagement on interim forest management.

At the previous council meeting, on May 6, Mayor Al Siebring, and councillors Rob Douglas, Tek Manhas and Christopher Justice, to varying degrees, expressed concerns either about PlaceSpeak as being a confusing platform or fears that a strictly on-line consultation process might exclude a portion of the citizenry.

“I live on-line, I registered, I created an account with PlaceSpeak….” Siebring said. “I have never ever been into PlaceSpeak to do some consultation or to engage in something where I’ve completed the process because ever single time I walked away frustrated because the platform drives me crazy.”

He added: “My head just explodes. I look at that platform and I go, ‘no.’ We’ve got to find a better way to do it.”

Consultant Erik Lees countered: “On a good day, we get 10 per cent of the community that will attend in person” for a public-engagement meeting compared with perhaps 70 to 80 per cent who are on-line. “I actually think we can extend our reach.” 

Jordan commented that the benefits of PlaceSpeak are that it is Canadian and the data stored on Canadian servers, it is used by the other jurisdictions, including Cowichan Valley Regional District, and it verifies that comments are coming from citizens of North Cowichan.

Ultimately, council did not specifically vote to reject PlaceSpeak. That’s why I went to council to seek clarification on its future use.

B.C.’s Ministry of Forests told me it has conducted several recent public consultations on forest issues without using PlaceSpeak.

Everyone is waiting to see what Lees rolls out next on the public engagement.

The wording of a public on-line questionnaire will prove critical.

The first draft included four options for continued logging during the interim, but no option for “no logging.” A citizens' Working Group has asked that the question be removed.

Let’s hope this consultation meets the high public expectations for engagement on the critical forestry issue.

— Larry Pynn May 21, 2020


Freedom-of-information request provides insight into stakeholder involvement in the Municipal Forest Reserve consultation

For the second time, I've had to resort to a freedom-of-information request to the Municipality of North Cowichan to find out more about the consultation process for the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.

The municipality is — with reservations — pushing ahead with a virtual consultation process due to social-distancing requirements related to COVID-19, and that’s going to include an on-line questionnaire for residents to answer. 

A total of 20 “stakeholders” are also being interviewed by Lees & Associates consultants, but until now we’ve been kept in the dark on who that might be.

I received one FOI document — a table detailing a wide cross-section of stakeholders ranging from forestry to conservation groups. 

Seeking clarification from Megan Jordan, the municipality’s communications and public engagement manager, she explained that an X directly next to 16 of the stakeholders on the list meant that they have already been contacted by Lees. 

Another four will be added shortly, bringing the total to 20. Other stakeholders can ask to be added to the list but only for regular email updates on the process.

The 16 to make the cut are as follows (presented exactly as listed on the table): Chemainus Residential Association; Maple Bay Community Association; Quamichan Residential Association; Crofton Community Centre - residents association;  Chamber of Commerce - Duncan; Tourism Cowichan; Six Mountains Ecological Society; Cowichan Valley Naturalists/Mt Tzouhalem Ecological Reserve/Natures Trust BC/Cowichan Stewards; Cowichan Land Trust; Nature Conservancy of Canada; BC Community Forest Association; Catalyst Paper Mill; Mosaic Log Sort - Crofton and Chemainus; Local Forestry Union United Steelworkers?; Cowichan Works; Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society.

I am sure there will be some raised eyebrows at the list, including the inclusion of the Catalyst mill, the forest union, and Mosaic in helping to determine the future of our community forests — which, as I previously reported, employed as few as 10 direct full-time jobs last year, including two municipal staffers.

I realize that consultation is a delicate balancing act, especially during a deadly global pandemic that prohibits public meetings. For residents, it’s critical to become engaged, remain focused, and ensure a conservation vision prevails for our forests.

Avatar Grove.JPG

BC must act now to stop old-growth logging on Vancouver Island, says prominent forester

A prominent B.C. professional forester is asking the provincial government to immediately “stop all old-growth logging” on Vancouver Island.

“By every measure, and in every ecosystem, the situation is dire for old-growth on the Island,” Keith Moore writes in a submission to a two-member panel heading an Old Growth Strategic Review for the province.

Moore served as first chair of the Forest Practices Board and has been active in the Forest Stewardship Council. He has also been involved in several land-use planning exercises over the decades, from Clayoqout Sound to the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii. 

"I fundamentally support planning, and I would support engaging in new planning initiatives on Vancouver Island and in other parts of the province,” Moore said in his submission.

"But some decisive action — in terms of halts on all old-growth — has to be a prelude to that planning. Otherwise it is just the same old ‘talk and log’ and the same old perspectives on land-use. We do not have time for that.”

He added: “The situation is reasonably straight forward: we are down to the last few stands; the representation in protected areas is weak; we log about 10,000 hectares a year, most of it by BC Timber Sales, the government’s own corporation; there is virtually no private land logging of old-growth; the benefits of old-growth are diverse and huge.

“If we don’t act now, what remains at the moment will be gone for ever.”

While Moore prefers a “permanent and immediate halt” to old-growth logging, the government might also consider an immediate 10-year moratorium for more detailed study. “However, some kind of transitional phase-out would be a disaster. The pace of logging would increase in that interim transitional phase and the best sites would go.”

The panel delivered its report on April 30. Doug Donaldson, the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, says he will respond publicly to the findings within six months.

The panel members were Garry Merkel, a professional forester, natural resource expert, and member of the Tahltan Nation, and Al Gorley, a professional forester and also a former chair of the Forest Practices Board.

Here’s a link to the full list of submissions: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/oldgrowth/written-submissions/

(photo: Avatar Grove, Port Renfrew)

— Larry Pynn, May 4, 2020

mount prevost.JPG

Logging creates few jobs, leaves unsightly legacy in Municipal Forest Reserve

Logging in the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve created as few as 10 full-time jobs — two of those municipal staffers — last year, according to North Cowichan estimates provided to sixmountains.ca

And the two companies hired to do the logging— Millstone Contracting Ltd. of Nanaimo and Integrated Operations Group of Campbell River — are based outside of North Cowichan.

While the benefits of logging in the forest reserve — also known as Six Mountains — are small and short-term, the impacts are significant and long lasting. 

They extend to ugly visual scars that residents and tourists must endure for decades and a perpetual cycle of harvesting that precludes future generations from ever experiencing an old-growth forest and all its biodiversity in our municipality.

And yet the myth of forestry and jobs persists in the Six Mountains. 

As recently as the North Cowichan council meeting of April 15, councillor Tek Manhas proposed a motion — thankfully, defeated by the rest of council — that logging resume in the forest reserve in 2020 at 2019 levels despite the fact that a public consultation process on the logging issue has barely begun.

Council earlier put a hold on new logging pending the consultation process.

Manhas, who comes from a forestry family, argued logging is an essential service and that a resumption of logging would “create jobs” and represent a “benefit for everybody.”

Truth is, there are few direct forestry jobs in the Municipal Forest Reserve. And much of the wood cut from the forest reserve is exported as raw logs — a tragedy of its own.

North Cowichan’s municipal forester, Shaun Mason, said a rough estimate is that the equivalent of 10 to 12 full-time forestry jobs are generated directly by logging in the Municipal Forest Reserve. 

What’s a rough equivalent, one Tim Hortons outlet?

The forestry estimate includes timber cutting, road building, road maintenance, silviculture and municipal staff — Mason and a forestry technician — but not “spin-off jobs and/or dollars spent for mechanics and fuel/oil purchases etc,” he said.

Mason doesn’t have the figures, but suspects at least 50 per cent of the workers in the forest reserve are local despite the fact that the companies hired to do the work are based outside North Cowichan. 

One could debate the employment estimates.

For example, in 2017 — when the municipality kept more detailed stats on direct employment in the forest reserve —  just 8.44 full-time jobs were created, and 2.76 of those involved municipal employees (two full-time staff, 40 per cent of a secretary’s time, and a summer student). Close to half the normal volume of wood was cut that year.

The bottom line is that the number of workers is low and cannot justify continued logging in the Municipal Forest Reserve.

Also appreciate that those fighting for a new future for the Six Mountains — myself, included — are not opposed to logging. Far from it. My father worked for a time in the forest industry, as did my older brother. So did I.

We need logging. Just know that the case against logging in the Municipal Forest Reserve — a postage stamp in the clearcut landscape of Vancouver Island — grows by the day.

— Larry Pynn, Apri 20, 2020


North Cowichan rejects Manhas proposal to resume logging in forest reserve in response to coronavirus

North Cowichan council on April 15 rejected a dubious motion by councillor Tek Manhas that would have resumed logging in the Municipal Forest Reserve despite the fact that a public consultation process on the logging issue has barely begun.

During budget discussions, Manhas showed he is no visionary on the forest file and is out of touch with the rest of council and the citizens of North Cowichan. Clearly, he sees the forest reserve as a potential revenue source with little or no consideration of the greater diversity of values, including viewscapes, recreation and ecology.

Manhas comes from a forestry background. During the last election, he told me that he “grew up in a home that prospered from the forest industry as my grandfather began working in the industry back in 1921 in the Cowichan Valley and my father worked for Mayo Lumber Company and Doman’s.”

At the April 15 council meeting, Manhas argued that the COVID-19 pandemic also represented an economic crisis and that a renewal of logging for 2020 would provide jobs “as a benefit for everybody.” 

What short-sighted nonsense. Manhas would do better to visit the reserve for himself and witness the legions of citizens currently drawn to a living forest for their physical and mental well being. The few full-time logging jobs pale in comparison. 

Ultimately, his logging proposal represented an insult to every resident of North Cowichan who has faith in the public consultation process into the interim and long-term management of the forest reserve — management that must include the option of not logging at all as the highest and best use of our forests.

Full marks to the rest of council for shooting down Manhas’ ill-conceived motion. 

But the comments of Chief Administrative Officer Ted Swabey proved to be the most surprising. Swabey has expressed support for continued logging in the past, but on Wednesday clearly came out against logging while the consultation process into the “highly charged” forestry issue remains outstanding.

“In my opinion, considering logging is not a good idea now,” he said.

That really left Manhas in his own special zone of self-isolation.

On March 18, North Cowichan announced that public consultation into future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — also known as the Six Mountains — had been suspended for 90 days due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Led by councillor Rob Douglas, council April 15 passed a motion urging staff to go back to consultants Lees and Associates to see whether it is possible to resume some form of consultation, including virtual options. 

Swabey warned against asking Lees, saying: “Remember, if you ask a barber if you need a haircut, he’s going to tell you you need a haircut.” 

He added there is a risk the public will conclude that the consultations are not meaningful. “We’re sort of in a holding pattern on this sort of thing….

“Logging doesn’t make sense and doing the engagement doesn’t make sense on such a complicated topic. My recommendation is we stay the course and don’t do either.”

Icel Dobell of the grassroots watchdog group, wheredowestand.ca, also cautioned against a virtual consultation, saying younger people especially in North Cowichan are still not fully aware of the forest issues. “It would be wrong to carry on before people know,” she said. “Let’s have an open conversation.”

Council has promised residents a “deep and meaningful public engagement on the highest and best use of the forest” with “many different opportunities to engage.”

Council earlier stopped new logging of the forest reserve pending a two-phase engagement process for an interim forest management plan covering the period Sept. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021, and a long-term management plan beginning on Jan. 1, 2022.

How the coronavirus may change those deadlines remains to be seen.

— Larry Pynn, April 16, 2020


Public shut out of Working Group meetings ‘to avoid potential disruption and increase productivity,’ minutes reveal


It took a freedom-of-information request to North Cowichan, but sixmountains.ca has finally obtained the official minutes of the first meeting of the citizens’ Working Group that is helping to guide public consultation on the Municipal Forest Reserve.

The minutes of the three-hour meeting on March 11 reveal that the Working Group — with nudging from consultant Lees and Associates— decided that their meetings shall be conducted in private.

That is plain wrong. 

Regular council meetings are open to the public. So are meetings of the Forestry Advisory Committee. So why should the Working Group be so secretive? 

According to the minutes, Lees and Associates “recommended that meetings remain private to avoid potential disruption and increase productivity” but that it looked to members of the Working Group for their opinion.

“Many members agreed that a closed meeting would encourage productivity (particularly at the first few meetings), while other members voiced concern that public should be allowed to sit in and not directly participate in the discussion.”

Ultimately, the decision was to shut the public out. “The group decided to keep the meetings private for now and revisit the issue after a few meetings.”

On the issue of photos being taken at the meetings, the minutes read: “No consensus was reached on the subject but general agreement that ‘wide shots’ of the group at work would be good documentation.”

The minutes also state: “Concern was raised that if working group members names are published, then media will contact individual members.”

It’s unfortunate that the terms of reference for anyone applying to the Working Group did not state up front that meetings shall be conducted in public. 

The Municipality did, in fact, release the names: Bruce Coates, Dan Williams, Roger Wiles, Sharon Horsburgh, Marilyn Palmer, Robert Fullerton, Paul Tataryn, Margaret Symon, Rhonda Hittinger, Rick Martinson, Deb Wright, Larry MacIntosh, Sally Leigh-Spencer, Michael Petereit and Susan Derby.

Palmer, who represents the Quamichan Lake Neighbourhood Association, told sixmountains.ca that she supports the meetings being open: “I view transparency as fundamental to public engagement.”

The minutes can now be viewed at https://bit.ly/2R58pDH.

The Working Group is not the only part of the public consultation being conducted behind closed doors. Select stakeholders are also being interviewed — but their names remain secret.

The minutes note that Erik Lees “mentioned that of the six or so interviews to date, none of the participants had been asked or given their permission to publish the interview. 

“A summary of the stakeholder interviews will be published in the final Interim and Long-Term Forest Managements Plans.”

On March 18, North Cowichan announced that the public consultation process into future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — also known as the Six Mountains — has been suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The municipality stated: “Public engagement, including engagement on the future of Municipal Forest Reserve and the Official Community Plan, will be paused for 90 days.

“Staff and Council will re-evaluate resuming engagement before the end of the 90-day period if it can proceed in a safe, fulsome, and inclusive way.”

— Larry Pynn April 5, 2020

Mt Prevost....JPG

Cowichan Tribes has ‘no objection’ to keeping public informed on Municipal Forest Reserve consultations

Chief William Seymour: “Our first thought is, well, give it back to us….”

Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour says he supports The Municipality of North Cowichan keeping its citizens generally informed on government-to-government consultations on future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.

“I don’t have any objections to that,” Seymour said in an interview with sixmountains.ca 

Until just over year ago, the municipality logged the forest reserve without input from the general public. Grassroots protests led to a moratorium on new logging pending a consultation process. “I think it’s important that North Cowichan is going in that direction,” Seymour said. “They’re starting to listen now. I like that idea.

“We’re the same way. We’re community driven. We need their approval to move in a new direction, so I have no issue with that.”

Seymour appreciates that North Cowichan citizens are concerned about clearcutting in the Municipal Forest Reserve — also known as the Six Mountains.

“I think we have the same concerns,” he said, adding he’d be more inclined to support sustainable harvesting that is friendlier to the environment.

Cowichan Tribes also wants to ensure protection of middens and other Indigenous sites in the forest reserve, he said.

“Our first thought is, well, give it back to us and we’ll take care of it,” Seymour said. “But that’s a pipe dream.”

Despite Seymour’s support for North Cowichan keeping its electorate generally informed on consultations, that doesn’t mean it will happen.

“We're potentially dealing with a much broader swath of FN interests than just Cowichan Tribes,” North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring responded.

“We'd want some formal dialogue with him (Seymour and his council) before going to any kind of public disclosure on these issues. There are protocols and processes that need to be followed….”

Municipalities have no legal obligation to consult with First Nations on projects; the courts have ruled that onus falls on the senior governments. 

“Municipalities, unless it is specifically delegated to them, they are not considered the Crown,” says Deborah Curran, associate law professor at the University of Victoria. 

An exception, she noted, is the Local Government Act, which requires municipalities to consult with First Nations when developing official Official Community Plans, but these are considered policy documents with no specific requirements.

That doesn’t mean consultations should not take place.

“While there is not a legal requirement for municipalities to consult with First Nations, engaging together on matters of mutual importance is key to reconciliation,” says Stephen Binder, spokesman for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations & Reconciliation. “Legal requirements for consultation are always considered the minimum standard of what is necessary and advisable.”

Last month Metro Vancouver announced a “milestone” cooperation agreement for Belcarra Regional Park, “recognizing both Tsleil-Waututh’s ancestral ties to the land and the present use by its members as well as a Metro Vancouver regional park.” The First Nation has no veto, but disputes can go to mediation.

Said Siebring: “We will be working with a consultant to help guide us as we engage on a government-to-government level and set out to build a strong relationship with our Indigenous partners in essence because we believe it's the right thing to do.”

He further notes that the B.C. government recently adopted Bill 41, (https://bit.ly/2v4udrh) enabling legislation that aligns with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As such, North Cowichan’s actions are consistent.

The municipality announced March 18 that consultations on the forest reserve have been postponed for 90 days due to spread of the coronavirus.

There are two separate consultations — one with the public, the other with First Nations.

The following First Nations have been invited to participate: Lake Cowichan, Cowichan Tribes, Halalt, Penelakut, Stz’uminus, Lyackson and Snuneymuxw. Of these, only Lake Cowichan has so far declined to engage.

Indigenuity Consulting Group, based in Duncan, is handling the First Nations consultation. The president is Cheryl Brooks, a Sto:lo from the upper Fraser Valley and former associate deputy minister in the provincial energy and mines ministry.

No meeting were held before postponement of the consultations.

More information on the Six Mountains — Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Tzouhalem, and Stoney Hill —  can also be found at wheredowestand.ca.

Larry Pynn, March 25, 2020


Cowichan Valley officials seek widespread government action to protect old growth


The Cowichan Watershed Board is urging the provincial government to legislate protection of old growth on privately managed forest lands in the Cowichan Valley.
A joint submission by board co-chairs Chief William Seymour of Cowichan Tribes and Aaron Stone of Cowichan Valley Regional District states that with ownership of private forest lands comes a “high degree of responsibility” to the greater community.
They add: “A significant proportion of old growth forests in B.C. have been used to support economic initiatives and in… the Cowichan Valley nearly all the old forests are gone.” 
Logging, agriculture, and urban and rural development have all taken their toll. 
The board submission notes that summer water flows are 50-per-cent less in younger stands compared with old forests and emphasizes that “protection of and recruitment for old forests” in both the Koksilah and Cowichan rivers is required.
The board also urges the province to:
• Revise current targets for old-growth retention with the help of experts, including those with academic and Indigenous knowledge.
• Suspend old-growth logging in the coastal Douglas-fir eco zone. (The 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve falls within this endangered landscape and has no old growth).
• Suspend logging of old-growth cedar.
• Provide regular reporting on old-growth protection in B.C.
The board submission goes to the province’s Old Growth Strategic Review panel, created in July to allow the public, organizations and professionals to comment on old-growth issues.
The two panel members are Garry Merkel, a professional forester, natural resource expert, and member of the Tahltan Nation, and Al Gorley, a professional forester and former chair of the Forest Practices Board.
The panel is expected to present its recommendations later this year.
— Larry Pynn, March 24, 2020 (photo from San Juan River)


The Municipal Forest Reserve, Mount Prevost.


There is a permanent ban on campfires in the Municipal Forest Reserve — obey it

I drove to the top of Mount Prevost this past sunny weekend. The place bustled with sightseers, mountain bikers, hikers, and motorcycle/ATV enthusiasts.

I took a spur logging road and drove through a grim clearcut — part of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — until I reached a considerable collection of pickup trucks and young people drinking around a campfire. 

“Want a beer?” one offered. “We don’t have coronavirus.”

There was a lot wrong with this picture, including the fact that people can have the virus without knowing it and that they should maintain a distance of two metres from each other. 

The campfire also bothered me. The clearcut was littered with so-called surface fuels, wood waste left behind from logging that could help fuel a wildfire.

When I returned home, I did a google search for “campfires and municipal forest reserve” and found a link, https://bit.ly/3adc4Hf, to the municipal website stating: 

“Campfires/Recreational Fire Pits: Under North Cowichan's Fire Protection Bylaw … campfires less than 24 inches in diameter are permitted anywhere in the Municipality as long as a fire ban is not in effect for the Coastal Fire Zone.”

That seemed so wrong — so I went to municipal forester Shaun Mason for clarification.

“Campfires are not permitted within the MFR,” he assured sixmountains.ca. 

Mason noted that the public might not realize that the campfire ban in the Municipal Forest Reserve is covered under the Forest Use Bylaw. “I do agree that it is confusing to the general person looking to see if campfires are permitted. I will work with our Fire/Bylaw staff to see what we can do to make this clear to the public.” 

Regarding my concerns at Mount Prevost, he said: “The gates are closed when the fire hazard increases in an effort to reduce this type of activity. We simply don’t have the resources to patrol the MFR on a consistent basis, especially given the situation we are all in now. Unfortunately, locking the gates likely won’t work either as people will either find a way around them and/or cut the locks/gates to gain access. We have already had initial discussions about permanently deactivating access to known high activity spots but in doing so restricts access for emergency vehicles should a situation arise. Even if we deactivate one area, it is very likely people will just move to another so it is a tough situation to manage.”

Domenico Iannidinardo, chief forester for Mosaic Forest Management, the largest private timber holder on Vancouver Island, described gate closures as “partially effective.”

Mosaic says gates can be necessary to protect the public during active harvesting, to reduce the fire risk, and to prevent damage to sensitive plant ecosystems and habitat. 

For more information on how to access Mosaic forest lands, visit: mosaicforests.com/access.

As for the Municipal Forest Reserve, better signage might improve the situation.

I returned to Mount Prevost Road today, just where the pavement turns to gravel and starts uphill. There is, in fact, a “no campfires” sign, but it is one of seven signs of about the same size posted at that location.

I highly doubt anyone drives past and reads them all.

Maybe a larger sign on its own is the solution, potentially adding the words “report offenders” and a phone number — as one sees on Crown forest roads as a deterrent to poachers.

Says Mason: “Now that we are in fire season, I have already been working on updating the 2020 Fire Plan. Part of this is making the rounds and checking signage as we get closer to summer.”

There is much talk these days about ways to reduce the fire risk along the urban/forest interface. Adhering to the existing ban on campfires in the Six Mountains is a good start.

— Larry Pynn, March 23, 2020

Mt Tzouhalem.JPG

Bios of citizens’ Working Group on future of Municipal Forest Reserve reveal diverse backgrounds and interests

Meetings of the newly appointed citizens’ Working Group on future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve are not open to the public, but sixmountains.ca has at least obtained some basic background on the individuals selected.

The Municipality of North Cowichan issued a news release this week announcing that the public consultation process into the Municipal Forest Reserve, also known as Six Mountains, had been suspended for 90 days due to spread of the coronavirus. “Staff and Council will re-evaluate resuming engagement before the end of the 90-day period if it can proceed in a safe, fulsome, and inclusive way,” the release stated.

Here are quick bios on the Working Group members:

Sharon Horsburgh: “After a 28 year career with local government, I recently retired as an environmental planner. I recently founded Bayshore Planning Services and I am now applying my experience to assist the development community with a variety of land use projects. I have been a resident of Maple Bay since 2006 and enjoy hiking Mt. Tzouhalem, Maple Mountain and Stoney Hill. Through my experience I recognize the competing interests forestry resources and appreciate this opportunity to work collaboratively to strike a balance that reflects the values of all community stakeholders.” 

Roger Wiles: “Roger Wiles comes to the table as a private citizen of the Municipality of North Cowichan. He has a degree in geography and a background in forest land inventory and planning in Canada and New Zealand. In recent years he was a member of the CVRD’s Environment Commission and Parks and Trails Master Plan advisory group. His current volunteer affiliations include: the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, ‘Bring Back the Blue Birds’ restoration, and the Cowichan Community Land Trust.” 

Dan Williams: “41 year old Cowichan Tribes band member and owner of two local businesses. I have over twenty years experience in the forestry industry covering all phases from block engineering, road design, road building, quarry development, logging, silviculture and firefighting, 15+ years in recreation and tourism and 15+ years in Health and Safety management. I have participated in various non profit organizations over the years with most recent being the Coastal Invasive Species Committee where I currently sit as vice president (previously president). My interests and current focus other than spending time with my family is developing my businesses and creating employment opportunities for First Nations communities, I currently employ 17 around the Cowichan valley, 12 of which are First Nations.”

Bruce Coates: “Geologist by trade, I’m nominated to represent the Cowichan Valley Naturalists Society. I’m also member of the Cowichan Agricultural Society, Cowichan Green Community, Cowichan Valley Garden Club, Cowichan Rockhounds, EcoForestry Institute and the Land Trust. As a Naturalist I will attempt to represent the millions of stakeholders in the forest that can’t come to our meetings themselves.”

Marilyn Palmer: “Marilyn Palmer is a retired architect and flower farmer who lives on Maple Bay Road, overlooking Quamichan Lake. She represents the Quamichan Lake Neighbourhood Association, (QLNA), on the MFR Working Group. The QLNA advocates for the health of the Lake and its watershed, in terms that value a balance of its ecological, social and economic capacities.”

Robert Fullerton: “Robert Fullerton is representing WhereDoWeStand - WDWS is the group that collected the petitions and citizen comments and brought a delegation to Council to ask for a PAUSE in logging for the Public Engagement & the Forest Review."

Paul Tataryn: “I am the representative for the Maple Bay Community Association regarding issues (in) the MFR within our community area. I am managing the farmland and forest of Bird's Eye Cove Farm in Maple Bay; my working background includes forest management, management of recreation trails and community involvement.”

Margaret Symon: “Registered professional forester, business owner, paramedic, proudly based in North Cowichan. Special interests: sustainable forest practices, wildfire interface management, outdoor safety, life balances.”

Rhonda Hittinger: “I am retired senior VP of human resources and have lived in Chemainus for 30 years. I am a member of the SVI chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of BC. Our chapter’s mandate is to be stewards of our forests and trail systems throughout the Cowichan Valley.”

Rick Martinson: “I moved to North Cowichan in 1987 to join the public accounting practice of Hill & Partners; and retired in 2019 from MNP – a period which included 18 years as senior partner. A focus of my practice was Indigenous services. I was selected Business Achiever of 1996 for the Cowichan Region by the Chamber of Commerce, British Columbia CA of the Year for 1997 by the Institute of Chartered Accountants and was a 2004 finalist for the Black Tie Service Awards in the category of Business Achiever. I have held leadership positions in many community organizations, including Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society, Canadian Diabetes Association, Duncan Dabber Bingo Society, Chances Cowichan, Duncan-Cowichan Festival Society/39Days of July, Crimestoppers, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and chaired a Parents’ Advisory Council. I GoByBike whenever possible. I use bikes for commuting, shopping and recreation. I hike and bike on our mountains extensively and was selected by Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society to represent hiking and biking interests on this working group.”

Deb Savory Wright: “Resident of North Cowichan for over 45 years and Past Member of the North Cowichan Parks and Recreation Advisory Council.”

Larry MacIntosh: “Inspired by Simon Charlie three decades ago, I am focused on bringing to fruition the following two projects: StoryTrails, for a video glimpse of the StoryTrails initiatives please visit Vimeo.com/240845143 (password withheld by sixmountains.ca); for a video glimpse of the Passing Through Place initiatives please visit: YouTube: Sansum Point Songs.”

Sally Leigh-Spencer: “Sally Leigh-Spencer is a registered professional biologist (R. P. Bio.) who has worked extensively throughout western Canada as a wildlife ecologist/biologist for government agencies, the forest industry, private landowners and special interest groups. The work has included assessments of the potential impacts of resource development on wildlife populations and their habitats. She has extensive experience with wildlife inventories, habitat suitability/capability modeling and monitoring of species at risk and regionally important wildlife in British Columbia and Alberta. A significant proportion of her experience has involved habitat modelling, analysis and inventories in relation to forest management and environmental impact issues. She has worked extensively on policy and management issues that involve knowledge of the BC Wildlife Act, the Forest Range and Practices Act (FRPA), Migratory Bird Convention Act, and the Species at Risk Act (SARA). She was involved in the early planning stages of ecosystem based management practices in Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest on the Central and North Coast of BC."

Susan Derby: “I’ve lived in the Cowichan Valley my whole life and belong to a very forestry-oriented family; I spend many hours out in the forests and river trails. I am hoping for a well-balanced and respectful approach in this group.”

Michael Petereit: No bio info available.

— Larry Pynn, March 20, 2020


A forest canopy is the best protection against the ecological plague of Scotch broom

Invasive plant is also a fire risk and allergy source


Scotch broom is the scourge of North Cowichan, a tough invasive species that crowds out native plants — including endangered Garry Oak ecosystems — in the Municipal Forest Reserve/Six Mountains and creates a serious fire hazard.
The best way to combat the plant is to maintain a canopy of trees, since broom is intolerant to shade. 
“It’s very difficult to kill broom,” warns Bruce Blackwell, a leading forest professional in urban-forest interface management. “That’s why it has proliferated.”
He tells sixmountains.ca that broom creates a fire threat along cleared areas such as highway corridors and right-of-ways, including for hydro lines and gas pipelines, as well as in open meadows and grasslands.
“It will allow fire to spread more readily,” he said. 
Gorse, another invasive species, working its way up the island, is also a fire threat.
“I have dealt with both broom and gorse and I can tell you that they reach coverage levels that will become a surface fire hazard,” Blackwell said. “Typically, these hazards are expensive to manage and not always effective.”
Commercial forestlands are also plagued by broom.
"Broom is our most prolific and pernicious invasive plant species,” confirms Domenico Iannidinardo, chief forester for Mosaic, the largest private timber holder on Vancouver Island. 
“The saving grace is that it is shade intolerant. So, under a canopy of trees broom loses.”
The company’s primary strategy is to sanitize equipment between moves and reforest quickly to get the seedlings above broom as soon as possible, he said. “When that doesn’t work, we do resort to manually applied low concentrations” of the herbicide glyphosate, he added.
Glyphosate also kills grass and other vegetation. Broom seeds hidden in the soil can germinate after application. It must not be applied near water sources or in poor weather.
Occasionally, manual brushing of broom is also done with saws.
Right-of-ways and highway corridors typically exclude trees that might stop the spread of broom, and pesticides are often not an acceptable option near communities.
Scotch broom was brought to Vancouver Island in 1850. 
Regular cutting of the plant can help to arrest its spread, but won’t eliminate the problem.  Broom seeds in the ground can last for decades. The garden ornamental invades exposed, well-drained mineral soil. 
Broombusters (broombusters.org), a Vancouver Island volunteer organization working to contain the spread of broom, recommends cutting at ground level while broom is in bloom in spring. It advises not to pull broom; the seeds sprout in the sun and thrive in disturbed soil.
“Keep the ground cover, grass and trees,” the group says. “Just cut, pat down the soil and cover with the ground cover. Smile and move on. Replant grass or other plants when possible.”
According to the Invasive Species Council of B.C., broom is concentrated on southern Vancouver Island, but has been reported as far away as Haida Gwaii. An Oregon study in 2014 estimated the economic impact from the invasive plant at almost $40 million US annually in the state. One plant can produce thousands of seeds. It is also an allergy source.
“Hand pulling may encourage broom growth due to the high level of soil disturbance,” the council confirms. “If pulling will result in soil disturbance, plants can be cut as close to the ground as possible.”
The council describes gorse as a spiny shrub from the Mediterranean region of Western Europe that thrives on sunny clearings. 
It was first introduced as an ornamental in south coastal Oregon in the late 19th century, and has since spread widely in coastal areas from California to B.C.
“It’s starting to become more of an issue,” says Blackwell. “It burns like kerosene.” The plant also causes problems for people with allergies.
A municipal consultation process into future management of the Six Mountains has been suspended for 90 days due to the coronavirus. 
Stay tuned here and wheredowestand.ca  for further updates.
— Larry Pynn, March 20, 2020


Forest consultation suspended due to coronavirus concerns

The Municipality of North Cowichan announced today that the public consultation process into future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — also known as the Six Mountains — has been suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The municipality posted a statement on its website, northcowichan.ca, stating: “Public engagement, including engagement on the future of Municipal Forest Reserve and the Official Community Plan, will be paused for 90 days. 

“Staff and Council will re-evaluate resuming engagement before the end of the 90-day period if it can proceed in a safe, fulsome, and inclusive way.”

In addition, all regular council and committee-of-the-whole meetings are cancelled until further notice. Council will only hold emergency meetings electronically for the foreseeable future, the statement added.

Municipal hall will remain closed until further notice, and all services non-essential to health and public safety will be unavailable at this time. RCMP, Fire, sewer, water, waste-water treatment, and curbside collection will continue. 

Last week, a citizens’ Working Group was named to help guide the consultation process: Bruce Coates, Dan Williams, Roger Wiles, Sharon Horsburgh, Marilyn Palmer, Robert Fullerton, Paul Tataryn, Margaret Symon, Rhonda Hittinger, Rick Martinson, Deb Wright, Larry MacIntosh, Sally Leigh-Spencer, Michael Petereit and Susan Derby. 

Individual bios have so far not been released, but Lees and Associates, the Vancouver consulting firm hired by the municipality, reports members have the following “interests and/or backgrounds:” forestry (4), economy (2), conservation (4), recreation (7), and general (7).”

The meetings of the Working Group are not open to the public.

At the same time, 16 stakeholders are also being interviewed, but the names of these individuals and their organizations have not been released.

The Six Mountains that make up the Municipal Forest Reserve are Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Tzouhalem, and Stoney Hill. 

— Larry Pynn, March 18, 2020


North Cowichan has a remarkable opportunity to protect BC’s most endangered ‘landscape,’ says prominent plant ecologist


North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve lies within the most endangered “ecological zone” in British Columbia, providing the municipality with a remarkable opportunity to make a major conservation difference, says one of BC’s greatest plant authorities.

“A forest, like North Cowichan has, is one of the most fabulous resources you could think of in Canada,” Andy MacKinnon told sixmountains.ca.

The forest reserve is also known as the Six Mountains — Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Stoney and Tzouhalem. Council is currently embarking on a public consultation process into the immediate and long-term management of the forest reserve.

MacKinnon is the author or co-author of numerous guide books, including the iconic Plants of Coastal British Columbia. He is retired as a forestry research ecologist with the BC government and is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University.

“This is the most altered ecological zone,” MacKinnon continued. “We have 16 of these ecological zones in B.C. and this is the zone that has far and away the highest percentage of private land, the least amount of old-growth forest left (less than one per cent over the entire zone) and a relatively low percentage of protected areas."

The forest reserve falls within the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone, which includes a narrow strip along southeastern Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands. The area is dominated by private lands and logging, which have severely altered the natural landscape. The Mediterranean-style climate continues to draw residents from around Canada.

“As a result of all these, not surprisingly, you’ll find a disproportionately high number of threatened and endangered species and ecosystems,” said MacKinnon. The long list of at-risk species ranges from the northern goshawk and marbled murrelet to the sharp-tailed snake to Garry oaks and electrified cat’s-tail moss.

The coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone encompasses the lower slopes of the Six Mountains, generally merging into the Very Dry Maritime Coastal Western Hemlock zone at higher elevations — a zone with the second least amount of old-growth forest in the province and the second highest percentage of private land. 

The fact is, conservation of both ecological zones is critical, MacKinnon says.

North Cowichan is unique in that it owns 5,000 hectares of its own forest, as opposed to a more typical “community forest” on provincial Crown land that generally requires a certain amount of continued logging, he explained. 

“The community can do whatever they want with them. This is extraordinary. ”

There is much that scientists do not know about the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone, he added, and protection of the Six Mountains is a great way to promote further research. “There are things going on that we have no clue about,” he said. 

University of BC forestry experts are working with the municipality to forge a new future for the Six Mountains, including looking at carbon-credit cash in exchange for not cutting our forests. MacKinnon wouldn’t be surprised if carbon credits could replace much of the municipal revenues generated by logging.

He urged North Cowichan to carefully define what kind of ongoing management is required should logging stop in the forest reserve. 

The municipality might also want to consider conservation partnerships to reduce any management costs, including working with other levels of government such as Cowichan Valley Regional District or the province, he said.

Ultimately, in my opinion, what’s required is a forward-looking council that can look beyond short-term politics to create a conservation future for the Six Mountains. The absence of old-growth trees in the Municipal Forest Reserve should give us all pause for thought. 

“If we want old-growth forests we’ll have to grow our own, find some areas and say, ‘ok, I’ll come back in 200 years and this could be looking pretty good,” MacKinnon says.

“That’s what we’re down to.”

Larry Pynn, March 15, 2020

Paul Fletcher - Somenos Marsh.png

Water protection trumps logging in the Municipal Forest Reserve, says society president

The Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society is asking North Cowichan to consider water protection rather than logging as the best use of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.
“It’s really time to look at water first,” Paul Fletcher, society founder and president, told sixmountains.ca. “Water should be driving all development decisions in the valley. We have to look after our water in every direction, including streams and aquifers.”
Fletcher plans to appear before council soon to discuss a new initiative — GreenStreams — which seeks, in part, to enhance stream riparian areas. His comments come as North Cowichan is launching a public consultation into future management of the forest reserve.  A separate consultation is taking place with Cowichan Tribes and other local First Nations.
The province’s Riparian Areas Regulation applies to a 30-metre strip on both sides of a stream, but detrimental impacts on streams can start in headwaters far upstream. 
Logging alters the natural hydrological regime by creating uneven flows that are detrimental to lifeforms downstream, Fletcher said, adding that “forest cover is one of the best ways to recharge our aquifers and recharge our streams with even flows."
When developers run up against the regulation, they typically hire a qualified environmental professional to guide a development, but Fletcher believes the municipality should be in control and ensure that cumulative impacts of the entire watershed are considered. 
The first area being targeted for improvement is fish-bearing Menzies Creek and Bings Creek, which flow to Somenos Lake. The society will work with homeowners to improve riparian areas, including offering assistance and expertise in removing invasive species and planting native vegetation. Next in line would be Averill Creek, which also flows to Somenos Lake.
Fletcher said North Cowichan needs to look not only at income from logging but the value of “ecosystem services,” the benefits that water provides to communities and to nature.
“We expect them (council) to be the first protectors of these streams by not logging,” Fletcher said. “We really think the slopes need to remain intact for water flow.
“They need to leave the slopes of Swu’qus (Mount Prevost), in particular, untouched — which basically is the same for the slopes of all Six Mountains because they all feed water.”
Six Mountains is a more popular name for the Municipal Forest Reserve and includes Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Stoney, and Tzouhalem.
Larry Pynn, March 12, 2020

Maple Mountain.JPG

Confusion, suspicion reign in early stages of public consultation for Municipal Forest Reserve

North Cowichan’s launch of its much-anticipated public engagement on the future of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve stumbled badly out of the blocks this week, leaving citizens understandably confused and suspicious about the process.

At issue is who gets a seat on a 16-member Working Group being assembled to help guide the forthcoming public consultation on interim and long-term management of the forest reserve, also known as the Six Mountains.

March 6 is the deadline to apply to join the Working Group, with the express stipulation that “participants must be North Cowichan residents or represent a group/society/organization within North Cowichan….”

That seemed clear enough.

Then Megan Jordan, communications and public engagement manager for North Cowichan, pressed send on a group email this week to select stakeholders apprising them of the consultation process and suggesting they might want to apply to join the Working Group.

"As a stakeholder, with an interest in North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve, you are invited to apply to join a working group that will participate in the engagement on the future of our Forest Reserve,” she wrote.

Jordan refused to provide sixmountains.ca with a full list of stakeholders who have been approached to be part of the Working Group. “No, not at this point.”

Sixmountains.ca: “So the public process really isn’t that public at all then.”

Jordan: “The public process is extremely public. There’s a lot of transparency here. The stakeholder piece is just one very small piece. It’s an early opportunity to reach out to some people…and it’s not closed off by any means.”

Jordan noted that the stakeholder list was compiled in conjunction with University of B.C. forestry officials and consultants Lees and Associates of Vancouver, hired by North Cowichan to conduct the public engagement process.

Fortunately, sixmountains.ca managed to obtain the email list elsewhere.

I won’t share the specific email addresses, out of respect for personal privacy, but suffice to say there are some obvious problems. Among the individuals listed in the emails: Peter de Verteuil, chief administrative officer for the City of Duncan, which, last time I looked, is not located in the Municipality of North Cowichan; Tony Botica is a fuels management specialist with the province’s Coastal Fire Centre in Parksville.

Botica’s inclusion on the list is part of an obvious effort to incorporate as much forestry input as possible, including Mosaic Forest Management, Western Forest Products, Private Forest Landowners Association, and BC Community Forest Association.

And I foolishly thought this was an engagement process for the citizens of North Cowichan.

How commercial logging interests play out against the residents of our community — the ones whose protests resulted in the public consultation process — remains to be seen. 

Maybe it will backfire.

I earlier reported that TimberWest (since folded into Mosaic Forest Management) and the Crown corporation, Pacific Carbon Trust, finalized an agreement in 2013 that paid the timber company $6 million for a carbon-sequestration project, the largest of its kind on the BC coast. The company agreed not to log more than 1,000 hectares of its old-growth forests at dozens of sites on Vancouver Island for 100 years, including 50-hectare Koksilah Grove in the upper Koksilah River, which flows into the Cowichan River estuary.

That’s right, cash in the bank for not logging. What a concept.

Back to the emails controversy: I contacted Megan Turnock of Lees and Associates to provide some clarity and she assured me that despite the widespread distribution of the emails by the municipality, “only North Cowichan residents will be on the working group.”

She added: ”We are happy to add stakeholders to the list throughout the project,” noting that individuals can also sign up to receive project notifications through PlaceSpeak: https://www.placespeak.com/en/topic/6287-future-of-the-municipal-forest-reserve/

Larry Pynn, March 1, 2020


Clearcutting not the answer for reducing urban wildfire risk, expert warns


A leading forest professional says clearcutting is the worst thing a community can do to reduce the risks of wildfires along an urban interface.

“I know that some people are advocating for clearcutting, but that’s the wrong approach with this issue,” says Bruce Blackwell, a professional forester and biologist whose consulting company is B.A. Blackwell & Associates Ltd., based in North Vancouver.

“Inevitably, that leads to a dense plantation that really is a hazard for a period of time.”

Blackwell is extremely well respected in his field. Mosaic, the largest private timber holder on Vancouver Island, describes him as a “guru of interface fire management.”

His long list of clients ranges from the Canadian Forest Service, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and Pacific Agri-Food Research Station to dozens of regional and municipal governments across the province, including Whistler and North Vancouver.

Blackwell’s comments put the lie to assertions that clearcutting is necessary to reduce the wildfire risk along the interface with the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, also known as the Six Mountains.

He suggests the solution is to reduce surface fuels and “thin from below,” which could include removal of smaller trees and the lower limbs of other trees to six meters above the ground to limit expansion of a surface fire; leave “the biggest trees, the tallest trees” that are less susceptible to crown fires.

Interface treatments might involve a 50-metre strip of forest behind a small cluster of homes ranging to perhaps 300 metres for larger communities, he said. Costs vary by the specific forest, including age of the wood, biomass, and steepness of terrain, but generally in B.C. coastal forests range from $10,000 to $20,000-plus per hectare.

Such treatments not only reduce the wildfire risk but help to preserve viewscapes as well as restore areas previously harvested while allowing for enhanced wildlife habitat and the return of old-growth forests — of which the Municipal Forest Reserve has none.

Blackwell assisted with the Firestorm 2003 Review Team in the development of recommendations on forest management and policy to mitigate the risk of catastrophic fires in the wildland/urban interface after the Kelowna wildfires.

— Larry Pynn Feb. 26, 2020


North Cowichan sets March 6 deadline to apply for Working Group on Municipal Forest Reserve

I drove up to Stoney Hill today, a sunny winter’s afternoon. I was not alone. The parking lot was jammed, forcing motorists to pull over on the roadside up to two blocks away. Traffic came to a complete stop while frustrated drivers wondered what to do next.

North Cowichan is a growing community. 

So is the love for our natural surroundings. 

Clearly, what we need are more protected parkland and public trails, greater protection of viewscapes — and less of the logging that has dominated the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve for almost 75 years.

If you support long-needed changes in management of the forest reserve, now is your chance to make a difference.

North Cowichan council has set a deadline of March 6 to apply to join a 16-member Working Group that will help guide the forthcoming public consultation on interim and long-term management of the forest reserve, also known as Six Mountains.

Information posted on the municipal website states: “We are seeking a variety (of) perspectives and people who are willing to participate collaboratively with others. Participants must be North Cowichan residents or represent a group/society/organization within North Cowichan, and must commit to attending all four meetings in 2020.”

The first Working Group meeting is scheduled for Mar. 11, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. 

Terms of reference for the Working Group state, in part, that residents and stakeholders can provide input on:

— What they value about local forests overall and the forest reserve specifically.

— What values should be considered in future planning.

— The mission and goals of the forest reserve.

— Development of criteria for evaluating possible forest management options.

Members of the Working Group will represent four sectors: recreational; environmental; forestry and local economy; and community members and groups.

The municipal contact is Megan Jordan: megan.jordan@northcowichan.ca or 250-746-3156. Application forms and further information can be found on the municipal website: https://bit.ly/3a0LWhZ

— Larry Pynn Feb. 22/2020


Council maintains halt on approval of new logging pending public consultation on Municipal Forest Reserve

North Cowichan council has rejected a staff suggestion to approve logging an additional 5,000 cubic metres from the Municipal Forest Reserve.

Instead, council voted unanimously to log 2,000 cubic metres of timber, representing outstanding contract commitments from last winter’s blowdown storm.

One standard logging truck hauls about 40 cubic metres of wood, which means that 2,000 cubic metres totals about 50 logging trucks.

Council this week debated logging in the reserve as part of its budget discussions. Information in the agenda package was confusing and poorly presented — and even Mayor Al Siebring said as much. One does wonder why staff cannot present information on such an important topic of public interest in a clear and straight-forward way.

Siebring said he met with staff prior to the council meeting and learned that the additional 5,000 cubic metres is meant to give the municipality options going forward for logging later this year and is contingent on the recommendations by September from University of B.C. forestry officials on future management of the forest reserve as well as the outcome from a public consultation process.

“I didn’t understand this going in and I don’t think the public understood it,” Siebring said. “I didn’t get that from the documentation here.”

Council decided not to approve the 5,000 cubic metres.

Councillor Rob Douglas instead won unanimous support for his motion urging staff to proceed with the 2,000 cubic metres of harvesting obligations from last year and to “consider additional harvesting” after receiving recommendations from UBC as well as a FireSmart study into ways to reduce fire risks in North Cowichan.

Council already approved a two-phase engagement process for an interim forest management plan covering the period Sept. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021, and a long-term management plan beginning on Jan. 1, 2022.

Sixmountains.ca earlier reported on freedom-of-information documents revealing Chief Administrative Officer Ted Swabey’s personal support for continued logging in the 5,000-hectare forest reserve. In the documents, Swabey advised council to preserve the “logging mandate” and warned that the “divisive” issue could take staff away from other priorities and that logging trees in the forest reserve is “part of our cultural makeup.” 

The reality is that logging has dominated the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, also known as Six Mountains, for decades and citizens are now demanding consideration of other values, including protection of viewscapes and forest ecology.

— Larry Pynn, Feb. 13, 2020


Much-anticipated public engagement on future of Six Mountains about to begin

Citizens of North Cowichan will soon have an opportunity to apply to join a public working group as part of the engagement process for future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, also known as the Six Mountains.

Megan Jordan, North Cowichan's communications and public engagement manager, tells sixmountains.ca that a call will go out in two or three weeks via social media, the municipal website (northcowichan.ca), and the newspaper to apply for the working group.

Municipal staff will work with Vancouver consultants Lees & Associates to “finalize the membership, and will ultimately decide on composition of the group to ensure a diverse range of perspectives is included in the group,” Jordan said.

Lees’ representatives mentioned the public working group as part of their presentation to council on Jan. 29. The working group, comprised of perhaps 15 individuals, will help to guide the engagement process, but won’t have decision-making powers. 

The engagement process will include interviews with stakeholders, guided forest walks, phone and on-line surveys, public forums, and community pop-up events. 

Council unanimously approved a two-phase engagement process for an interim forest management plan covering the period Sept. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021, and a long-term management plan beginning on Jan. 1, 2022.

During council debate, Mayor Al Siebring urged the consultants to ensure that stakeholder consultations are balanced — which is his way of saying he doesn’t want the process weighted in favour of pro-conservation forces.

The cost to the municipality of the engagement process is estimated to be at least $200,000, not including a separate engagement process with Cowichan Tribes and other local First Nations. 

Public concern over increasingly visible logging scars in the forest reserve just over a year ago led to a municipal moratorium on new logging pending a public engagement process. 

— Larry Pynn, Feb. 6, 2020


Cowichan Tribes develops major marijuana-growing operation on Mount Tzouhalem reserve

Logging has been taking place on Mount Tzouhalem in the Six Mountains, but this time it’s not the Municipality of North Cowichan.

Cowichan Tribes has been clearing trees on its reserve lands for development of a major  marijuana-growing operation.

“We are putting in a production plant for growing cannabis,” Chief William Seymour told sixmountains.ca. “It's a new economic development opportunity for Tribes to move forward on.”

Phil Floucault of Costa Canna Corp. revealed further that the facility will be built in two phases and cover a total of 40,000 square feet, with construction expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

Completion of phase one will produce about 1,580 kilograms of annually, rising to about 4,600 kilograms per year under phase two, he said.

“Premium flower will be sold in our retail locations, partnered retail locations, and medical patients via e-commerce,” Floucault said in an email. “We will also process lower quality flower into extract which will also be distributed in the same manner. If we have residual available it could be used for international markets as well provincial distribution.”

He added: “We are starting as stand-alone company, however we have several partnerships that will be formed over the next two years.”

Asked if the operation might cause problems for neighbours, Floucault said: “Health Canada has strict regulation around facility exhaust which include carbon filters which scrub the air prior to be exhausting to the exterior. We are developing a sealed cultivation system as well which reduces the amount of exhaust from the facility overall, reducing the ability for external odour. Typically, odour is present in greenhouse cultivation systems which we will not have on this site.”

Tracy Parow, executive director of Providence Farm, which is close to the site, said in a statement to sixmountains.ca that the farm shares about 160 hectares of property boundary with North Cowichan, the Nature Conservancy,  Mount Tzouhalem Eco Reserve (BC Parks) and Cowichan Tribes. 

“The primary focus of Providence Farm is the renewal of body and spirit; this is achieved by stewarding and using Providence Farm land to restore, sustain and grow the spirit, potential and skills of people, especially those with barriers to education or employment,” she said. 

“Providence Farm prioritizes the value of harmonious relationship and we respect the right of our neighbours to steward their land according to their own requirements.”

Cowichan Tribes opened the Cowichan Valley’s first retail marijuana outlet, Costa Canna, last October, with speeches and traditional dances at Duncan Mall.

— Larry Pynn, Feb. 5, 2020

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Consultant warns that two-phase talks on Municipal Forest Reserve could create public confusion, fatigue

A draft plan for public consultation on future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — also known as the Six Mountains — has highlighted several “challenges” with the process being undertaken by North Cowichan council.

One of those challenges involves “avoiding confusion” over the requirement for both  interim and long-term management plans and the potential for “engagement fatigue,” according to the draft plan by consultants Lees & Associates of Vancouver.

The interim forest management plan covers the period Sept. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021, whereas the long-term management plan begins on Jan. 1, 2022 — the same year as the next municipal election. Which raises the question: will a reduced public engagement result in business-as-usual logging in the Six Mountains over the next two years while council completes a more extensive public consultation for a long-term plan? 

Municipal logging in the Six Mountains continued unchallenged for decades until the public expressed concerns over ever-more logging scars just over a year ago. One information rally sponsored by the watchdog group, wheredowestand.ca, drew a full-house of 700 concerned citizens to the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre.

Public concerns include the impact of logging on viewscapes, forest ecology, climate change and recreational opportunities. An average of 20,000 cubic metres of timber are logged annually in the forest reserve.

Other potential challenges identified in the Lees draft plan: 

— Limiting the scope of engagement to the Municipal Forest Reserve, and not other forest lands.

— Reaching a representative sample of the population.
— Reaching individuals as well as organized groups.
— Providing clear and concise information about tradeoffs.

A separate consultation process will apply to Cowichan Tribes as well as the Halalt, Stz’uminus, and Penelakut First Nations.

Council will discuss the draft plan at its meeting on Wed., Jan. 29, at 1:30 p.m. Further details can be found on page 138 of the agenda package: https://bit.ly/2TXkOMo.

— Larry Pynn, Jan. 25, 2020


Mt. Prevost and Mt. Sicker are critical viewscapes requiring protection.


Expert sees need for improved viewscape policy in Municipal Forest Reserve

As North Cowichan embarks on a public consultation on the future of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — better known as Six Mountains — one of the key issues is the need to protect important viewscapes.

North Cowichan’s Official Community Plan states:

— The Municipality will protect North Cowichan’s visual appeal by undertaking integrated forest management planning and encouraging managers of privately held forest land to practise small-scale sustainable timber harvesting and to engage in logging practices that consider visual impacts.

— The Municipality will use its Visual Landscape Inventory (2001) to assess forest harvesting plans, paying particular attention to areas visible from highways, scenic roads, residential areas, and travel corridors on water .

— The visible faces of Mt. Prevost, Mt. Tzouhalem, Mt. Richards, Maple Mountain and Mt. Sicker, together with the landforms visible from Sansum Narrows, Maple Bay, Osborne Bay, and Chemainus Harbour require specific attention to protect the visual values of the Municipality.

Clearly, these guidelines are not being met, since the growing number of visible clearcuts is what led the public to rise up against harvesting practices in North Cowichan more than a year ago.

Which begs the question: what are some of the key considerations for a modernized viewscape policy for North Cowichan, one that has some teeth and an ability to be monitored in the field? 

To find some answers, I sat down with Cam Campbell, an expert in this field who is also a member of the municipal Forestry Advisory Committee. Campbell is a resident of Maple Bay and a former visual landscape specialist with the British Columbia government who is currently an adjunct professor and lecturer on landscape planning in the Faculty of Forestry at University of British Columbia.

The need to protect visual landscapes from logging, including for tourism and recreation, started to evolve in B.C. around the late 1970s, and became formalized in provincial legislation, including the former Forest Practices Code and the current Forest and Range Practices Act.  Visuals are one of the 11 resource values in the act that the government may set objectives for on Crown Land, Campbell says.  

A multi-step process is involved. First, the visible landscape is inventoried and mapped, and an evaluation made of its sensitivity to change. Visual quality objectives (VQO’s) are then established where considered appropriate setting out the level of landscape change. Five VQO classes range from “preservation,” where alterations are very small and not easily distinguishable from the natural landscape, to “maximum modification,” typical of large clearcuts.   

First Nations, industry, and local communities are typically consulted during the objective-setting stage. To achieve those, forest managers use design techniques to tailor the cutblock shape and level of tree retention, and prepare visual simulations to evaluate whether these meet the VQO. 

An important part of the B.C. approach includes research into public acceptance for the visual impacts of different forest practices. Campbell says the research shows that “in general, regardless of where you live, people prefer natural forest scenes to those showing forest harvesting, and selective harvesting over clearcutting or variable retention. Tourists are less tolerant of harvesting than residents, and the public is generally less accepting of harvesting than are forest professionals, he says.

North Cowichan is not obliged to follow the provincial model, since its lands are held privately, but the Official Community Plan does acknowledge the importance of protecting viewscapes for its citizens.

Going forward in North Cowichan, Campbell says “what’s needed are clear objectives for visual quality that are grounded in community input, and a more strategic and longer-term approach for forest development in scenic areas.” At present, he asks, how can North Cowichan evaluate whether operations are achieving the desired level of visual quality if there are no formal objectives or criteria against which to judge success or failure? He remains hopeful these issues will be properly addressed as part of the forthcoming public consultation process. At the same time, he recommends that the municipality provides citizens with 3-D visual simulations showing how their viewscapes might look under different forest management and harvesting scenarios as part of the consultation and planning process — including complete retention of the forests.

Anyone who drives around Vancouver Island knows that the forest landscape has been heavily clearcut, especially on private timberlands. As I see it, that puts North Cowichan in a unique position to make a difference, to forge a new progressive future for the Six Mountains that recognizes the importance of standing trees.

North Cowichan council is expected to review a draft for a public consultation process for the Municipal Forest Reserve/Six Mountains at its Jan. 29 meeting.

— Larry Pynn, Jan 14, 2020

genoa bay - six mountains.JPG

Cowichan Tribes purchase of Genoa Bay Farm raises development, logging questions

Cowichan Tribes has purchased Genoa Bay Farm and plans to develop a residential community on the lands, says Chief William Seymour.

Logging may also be in the future, although Seymour said in an interview with sixmountains.ca that the extent and nature of any cutting has yet to be determined. The farm has some of the last best Douglas firs in the Municipality of North Cowichan.

“We might have some selective logging. Nothing huge.”

So no clearcutting? “No.” 

Seymour, who was re-elected to a fourth two-year term earlier this month, described the farm as about 130 hectares and the purchase from a numbered company in the ballpark of $10 million — all made possible by a loan, although he did not provide specifics.

“It’s huge,” he said of the purchase. “You’ve got farmland, timberlands and waterfront.”

Seymour said the farm used to be reserve land, but that the federal government “sold it from under us” around the late 1800s and that “it was a matter of getting it back for us.”

He said Cowichan Tribes is now working with the federal government to have the farm put back into reserve — and away from oversight by North Cowichan — although the process could take some time.

While it’s understandable that the First Nation wants to advance its economic position, there’s undoubtably going to be planning concerns related to a residential subdivision suddenly popping up in the absence of a comprehensive area plan.

While Cowichan Tribes has not yet made any decisions about the future of the farm, Seymour noted “we’re probably looking at a small subdivision, maybe 40 homes” somewhere on the lands.

North Cowichan is about to launch a public consultation into management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, also known as the Six Mountains — Tzouhalem, Stoney, Maple, Richards, Sicker, and Prevost.

The municipality is bending over backwards to accommodate Cowichan Tribes on the forestry file, giving the First Nation representation on the Forest Advisory Committee and authorizing a parallel consultation during the Municipal Forest Reserve review.

Asked if Cowichan Tribes will extend the same courtesy to North Cowichan on the future of Genoa Bay Farm, Seymour remained non-committal. “Maybe, I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t discussed it with my staff or even with North Cowichan, yet.” 

— Larry Pynn, Dec. 23, 2019

Chemainus pole.jpeg

Story of One Tree Gives Hope for the Future of the Six Mountains

It’s just one tree that lived long ago, but its story still resonates, and has the capacity to make us remember how things used to be and how they might yet be in the future.

In 1958, forest workers in Copper Canyon, MacMillan Bloedel’s Chemainus sawmill division on Vancouver Island, cut down a massive old-growth Douglas fir to be shipped to England as a flag pole in celebration of the centennial of British Columbia and the bicentennial of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

Everything about this tree is startling, including how forest workers managed to cut it down and transport it on logging roads to be shipped overseas. The Guinness Book of Records recognized the wooden flag pole as the largest in the world at 225 feet. Even Life Magazine wrote about it. And there is a mural in Chemainus dedicated to the event.

Today, the big trees are almost all gone from our area, but it needn’t be that way forever. As North Cowichan embarks on a pubic consultation on management of the Six Mountains/Municipal Forest Reserve, know that the big trees can still come back — not to be harvested again, but for everyone to admire — if we only have the foresight to let them.

Read the full story on this amazing tree:



North Cowichan to forge new path for the Six Mountains beginning in early 2020

In a few weeks, North Cowichan residents will get their first peek at plans for a public consultation process into the future of the Six Mountains/Municipal Forest Reserve.

Megan Jordan, North Cowichan’s communications and public engagement manager, says she is awaiting a draft plan from Lees and Associates, the Vancouver company that received the municipal contract to lead the public consultation process.

Jordan said the draft plan will tentatively be discussed at council’s Jan. 29 meeting. Actual engagement work would likely begin in February. “We don’t know what that will look like because we don’t have a plan yet,” she said.

Lees' project manager assigned to the contract is Megan Turnock. The company was selected from eight bids for the contract in November.

A Duncan-based company, Indigenuity Consulting Group, will be working with Lees, handling a separate engagement process with Cowichan Tribes. “That’s a huge aspect, really important to the project,” Jordan says.

The president of Indigenuity is Cheryl Brooks, a Sto:lo from the upper Fraser Valley and a former associate deputy minister in the provincial energy and mines ministry.

If the fiasco over the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit expansion bid is any indication, this public consultation process will be anything but straight forward. Residents favouring a progressive, long-term future for the Six Mountains that rates viewscapes, ecology, and recreation over the short-term benefits of logging will have to be forceful in expressing their views and not allow the process to be hijacked.

North Cowichan is also working with the University of British Columbia on management options for the Six Mountains, including the potential to earn carbon-credit cash for leaving the trees standing.

In 2013, TimberWest and the Crown corporation, Pacific Carbon Trust, finalized an agreement that paid the timber company $6 million for a carbon-sequestration project, the largest of its kind on the BC coast. The company agreed not to log more than 1,000 hectares of its old-growth forests at dozens of sites on Vancouver Island for 100 years, including 50-hectare Koksilah Grove in the upper Koksilah River, which flows into the Cowichan River estuary.

If big business can do it, why can’t North Cowichan?


Loaded logging trucks from Mount Tzouhalem rumble through residential area of Maple Bay

I saw something very strange this week — a fully loaded logging truck lumbering through the residential streets of The Properties at Maple Bay.

The truck was hauling logs from a blowdown logging site within the Municipal Forest Reserve on Mount Tzouhalem, one of the greatest mountain biking destinations on Vancouver Island. (In fact, it was a social media post from a biking enthusiast annoyed at yet more logging on the mountain that first alerted me to the issue).

Curious where the truck was headed, I followed it along Maple Bay Road to Herd Road and Osborne Bay Road before it turned into Mosaic’s Shoal Island Log Sort in Crofton.

What happens to those logs next? A Mosaic representative told me: “All logs are first offered to local mills, by law, before they are deemed surplus. So, typically, on any given load of logs, some logs will be taken by local mills and some logs will be deemed surplus to local mill needs.” Surplus means they could be exported as raw logs.

According to North Cowichan’s 2018 annual forestry report, 58 per cent of timber sales were exported and 42 per cent were sold locally, within BC.

The municipality’s official position is that, “In all blowdown salvage areas, contractors are asked to remove damaged timber only, as long as there are no safety risks of doing so.” If you wander up Mount Tzouhalem to see the logging, you are forgiven for thinking that it is simply clearcutting, if on a smaller scale, and that last winter’s wind storm is a convenient excuse for North Cowichan to keep logging revenues rolling in pending a public consultation process on the future of the Six Mountains.

Earlier this year, the watchdog group, Where Do We Stand, conducted a detailed investigation into municipal blowdown logging on Stoney Hill, and found that healthy trees were cut down for all manner of reasons.

Here are the details: https://www.wheredowestand.ca/blowdown-recovery.

— Larry Pynn Nov. 14, 2019

view home - six mountains.JPG

Logging income no match for value of residential viewscapes in North Cowichan

People who buy a home in North Cowichan are willing to pay a premium for a water or mountain view — and that preference translates into untold millions of dollars in house prices as well as added tax revenue for the municipality.
If you’ve wandered up to Kingsview Road and Nevilane Drive lately near Maple Bay you’ve been surprised at the pace of residential development. 
The phased Kingsview Comprehensive Development Plan anticipates up to 1,190 residential units, including single-family detached homes, multi-residential units, and townhouses, as well as an additional 189 secondary units, for a total of 1,379 units, according to the North Cowichan municipal website.
One real-estate website boasts a development featuring “a panorama of Quamichan Lake to the west with Mt. Prevost as the back drop, to Maple Mountain to the east.”
We can debate whether this rate of development is a good for the community, but one thing is irrefutable — people are attracted to a home with a view.
“There’s no question that people coming onto the Island crave an ocean or mountain view,” confirms Don McClintock, managing broker with Remax in Duncan/Mill Bay and immediate past president of the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board.
McClintock says it’s hard to put a specific value on a view, but suggests it could be worth up to $50,000 — more for homes with the best views in great neighbourhoods. “A spectacular 180-degree panoramic view is going to be worth quite a bit to people,” he said, noting that view properties are also easier to sell.
That adds up to millions of dollars in extra cash put out by residents for a view home. And while I haven’t canvassed them all, it’s fair to say they’d prefer that North Cowichan not degrade those views — and their investments — by logging the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve (best known as the Six Mountains — Tzouhalem, Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, and Stoney).
How do those figures compare with municipal income from logging?
Last year, North Cowichan reported a profit of $261,077 from timber harvesting, much of that, sadly, derived from timber exported as raw logs. The reported annual average profit since 1987 has been less than half that value — $128,286. 
The comparisons continue.
While logging is a quick one-shot deal employing few timber workers, the taxes on those new homes accrue annually to the municipality. Of course, there are also municipal costs associated with servicing new residential communities. 
One 2000-built view home selling for $664,500 on Nevilane generates $5,233 in annual gross property taxes. Multiplied across a development “it doesn’t take long” for those kind of taxes to add up to “millions for the municipality,” McClintock says. New homes atop Nevilane with prime views are selling for closer to $900,000. For the foreseeable future those views will include other homes under construction below them.
McClintock concludes there is another reason for keeping the trees that has nothing to do with real-estate values. “The whole ecology question is vitally important. We have to be very mindful of maintaining certain lands in their natural state.”
Indeed, a standing forest can provide immeasurable benefits in terms of ecological diversity, recreation, tourism, culture and personal well being — with the potential for carbon-credit cash for simply leaving the trees be.


North Cowichan could learn from Metro Vancouver’s no-logging policy in its watersheds

While North Cowichan debates whether or how much it should log within the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, it could learn some lessons from Metro Vancouver’s management of its own North Shore watersheds.

Metro Vancouver has had a no-logging policy in its watersheds since 1994, the result of a public backlash against timber harvesting — and the forests have not burned to the ground since then.

“A good, fateful group of people were very persistent in wanting logging stopped, and the politicians agreed with that,” confirms Mike Mayers,  division manager of watershed operations and protection for Metro Vancouver.

Has that decision increased the fire risk? “I don’t think so. The current ecosystem is pretty healthy. Hopefully, things will eventually return to that old-growth balance.”

Mayers said in an interview that Metro Vancouver is looking at the potential impact of climate change on its forests, and how certain species may be affected more than others. The region has also done limited amounts of fuel reduction along some urban interfaces such as West Vancouver and Coquitlam. “Where we have boundaries with residential homes, we’ve done a little bit of thinning and reducing ladder fuels on the trees,” he said, noting the urban interface is where human-caused fires are most likely to occur.

Widespread removal of grounds fuels to reduce fire risk throughout the watersheds would be difficult given the area’s steep and rocky terrain and sometimes thick duff layer, he noted.

“Historically, the biggest fires in the watersheds were caused by activity like logging,” he added, noting an especially large fire occurred in 1910. More recently, lightning strikes have been the main fire source in the watersheds. 

“We fall back on having very prepared staff — two three-person initial attack crews, a big stash of fire-fighting equipment, over 30 staff trained in fire-fighting, and a memorandum of understanding with the province. We send crews their way when they’re in jeopardy, and they then reciprocate, understanding that the watersheds are extremely important to the residents of the Lower Mainland for their drinking water.

“So, we’d have a massive response if we had a fire. Our real goal is to be able to get on any fire report extremely quickly with our crews, and then call in the resources needed very fast.”

Metro Vancouver draws its water from a vast area stretching from Cypress Bowl to Coquitlam, including parklands and forested areas off-limits to the public.

Pat Morrow and Baiba - Stoney Hill.jpeg

Order of Canada mountaineer offers conservation encouragement to Six Mountains debate

One of the world’s great mountaineers, Pat Morrow, visited North Cowichan last weekend — and he had a few words to say about the grassroots campaign to save the Six Mountains from logging.

Morrow, and his wife, Baiba, attended the WildWings festival gala at Bird’s Eye Cove Farm, a fundraiser for Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society. Morrow gave a presentation, with photos, on his latest book, Searching for Tao Canyon, https://rmbooks.com/book/searching-for-tao-canyon/, co-authored with Jeremy Schmidt and Art Twomey.

Morrow, who is also an accomplished photographer and video documentarian, lives in the Invermere area of BC’s East Kootenays. He reached superstar status as the second Canadian to hike Mount Everest, in 1982. Then, he became the first person in the world to hike the tallest peak on each of seven continents, in 1986. He received the Order of Canada for his lofty accomplishments.

While visiting North Cowichan, Morrow took time to explore the Six Mountains in the contentious 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve. He stood on the flanks of Mount Tzouhalem and looked across the Cowichan Valley to Mount Prevost, Mount Sicker, Mount Richards and Maple Mountain. Later, he hiked to admire the stunning views from the Stoney Hill bluffs overlooking Sansum Narrows and Saltspring Island.

Morrow has seen some of the best and worst of the world, from its beautiful and inspiring mountain landscapes to deforestation and industrial degradation, be it in the Himalayas or the East Kootenays.

“I encourage council to carefully consider the future of this area, and create something extraordinary from its unique forest holdings,” said Morrow, observing logging’s impact creep ever closer to the core of the Six Mountains and to where most citizens live and recreate.

“I’ve travelled to places where such opportunities have been lost or never were an option. North Cowichan still has that chance.”

Council has suspended new logging in the Six Mountains pending a public consultation process. 


Providing balance to the debate on carbon, forestry and old growth

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring recently referenced an opinion piece written by some of Canada’s senior timber industry officials who support the notion that it is better to log trees for profit before they grow old and turn into carbon and methane emitters. The Mayor said on Facebook that the industry comments were “apropos to the discussion about our Municipal Forest Reserve,” which could be interpreted as providing justification for continued harvesting and not allowing our forests to reach maturity. 

This is a nuanced subject area deserving a balanced and informed touch. As such, I have included, below, key passages from the study, Forestry and Carbon in BC, released earlier this year by the highly respected Dr. Jim Pojar, a long-time researcher for the BC Ministry of Forests, lecturer, and best-selling author, including co-author of the Plants of Coastal BC, the Bible of such field guides. Of course, there are many good reasons for maintaining old-growth forests, including biodiversity, hydrology, resilience to wildfires, recreation and culture. Regrettably, North Cowichan is bankrupt of old growth. Let’s hope that the pending consultation process for the Six Mountains is the beginning of a brighter, richer future for our forests.

MYTH #1 — Forestry is carbon neutral.

It could be but usually isn’t. At the scale of a forest stand, the conversion by logging of mature and old forests to young forests results in an increased release of carbon immediately, and for several years thereafter. This is because a) clearcutting generally leaves minimal carbon sinks (living trees and other plants) on the cutblock; b) a large pulse of carbon is lost immediately after logging due to the removal of trees and to the associated fossil fuel emissions; and c) disturbance to the soil and the original vegetation, and sometimes warming of the site, results in an increased rate of decomposition of coarse woody debris, litter, and soil organic matter, whereby losses of CO2 due to respiration exceed the amount fixed through photosynthesis by the regenerating forest—for at least a decade. Moreover, in managed forests, the overall carbon store is reduced if the secondary forests are managed on typical commercial rotations. The oldest stands typically have the largest stores of carbon. At the scale of a large landscape (say 300,000-500,000 ha) or of the entire province and if forest management is performed sustainably, it is possible that forestry-related emissions could be offset by uptake of carbon dioxide by the unharvested forests. It should be emphasized that the underlying carbon budget calculations are complex and depend on assumptions about a future with much uncertainty around carbon dynamics in a rapidly changing environment. Logging primary, mature and old forests and converting them to secondary, managed forests can reduce total carbon storage by 40-50% or more, even when off-site storage of carbon in wood products in buildings is factored in. The carbon dynamics are sensitive to rotation length, proportion of felled wood that becomes wood products in long-term storage (reportedly 25-40% for BC wood used domestically), and longevity of storage. Construction materials such as lumber, plywood, and laminated beams can last for many decades but wood products include paper and pulp materials (office paper, toilet tissue, paper towels, cardboard packaging, disposable diapers) as well as pallets and pellets, all of which have much shorter lifespans. Conventional short rotations and relatively short ‘life cycle’ even of long-lasting wood products (often reckoned to be 50-70 years in both cases, although some storage persists beyond 100 years) probably result in a significant one-time net loss of about 100-300 tonnes C/ha. A managed secondary forest could — in principle — recapture the lost forest carbon if allowed to regrow long enough to fully recover its carbon stock, which could be achieved more quickly and easily in most interior forests than in coastal or interior wetbelt forests. 2 “Oversimplification, and the second part is mostly false.” 

MYTH #2 — Young forests take up more carbon than they emit and are ‘carbon sinks’; mature and old forests take up less carbon than they emit, are ‘carbon sources’, and contribute to climate warming. 

That is an oversimplification and the second part of it is mostly false. Forests both absorb and release carbon throughout their life, from regeneration after disturbance through youth and maturity to old age. This results in a dynamic balance that changes over time, depending on stand age and on type and intensity of disturbance. The relative balance between uptake and emission determines whether a particular forest ecosystem is a net carbon sink or a source. After a stand-initiating disturbance, young forests are net carbon sources for several years until the amount of carbon they take up exceeds the carbon they emit through respiration and decomposition. Some old forests (sources) emit more carbon than they fix but most (sinks) fix more than they emit, depending on levels of within-stand mortality, decay, and growth. Net carbon uptake in old forests does level off or decrease, but total storage increases. Old forests usually store much more carbon on site than do young post-logging forests. Depending on how they naturally function, how they are disturbed, and how they are managed, forests can therefore either mitigate or contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. 3 “Death is inevitable, but beside the point.” 

MYTH #3 — Mature and old forests are not permanent carbon banks because inevitably the trees die; the forests will succumb to wildfire, insects, disease, drought, and logging. 

Death is inevitable but in this matter beside the point, which is about the time value of carbon currently stored in forests. Indeed some existing forests will succumb or are already on the way out but BC forests will not disappear overnight. And some of these forests grow very old—ancient even— and carry on functionally intact for a long time, for several centuries or even millenia. If stand-replacing disturbances are rare or infrequent, as they are in wet coastal forests and many wet subalpine forests and interior wetbelt forests, the majority of the landscape will be occupied by old forests and most of them will just keep ticking along, taking up and storing carbon. Trees can get very old but they don’t live forever. If a forest does not experience a standreplacing disturbance (like wildfire, beetle attack, blowdown, clearcutting), as it ages individual or small groups of trees continually die and are replaced in what is called gap dynamics. The forest carries on with new recruits. Moreover, although all BC forests will eventually be replaced—suddenly, episodically, or gradually—currently they are carbon banks and their stored carbon has much greater time value now and in the crucial next three decades than anticipated, post-logging carbon storage recouped over the ensuing seven or more decades. Regardless of whether BC forests are a net source or a sink at any given moment, they continue to store megatonnes of carbon as long as they still have trees on site—even if the trees are dead.

View the full Pojar report: http://skeenawild.org/images/uploads/docs/Pojar-7mythsfinal-2019_copy.pdf

— Larry Pynn


The Six Million Dollar Forest

How a private timber company turned a tidy profit by not cutting old-growth trees in the Cowichan Valley

Domenico Iannidinardo is a forester. He makes his living by cutting trees on private lands on Vancouver Island. But in a secluded old-growth forest on the edge of the Cowichan Valley, he’s also learned how to reap the financial benefits of leaving trees standing.

“There’s no better example of a mature old-growth forest in the Cowichan Valley,” he says during a tour of Koksilah Grove. “Pretty spectacular. This is what forests all over Vancouver Island used to look like.”

Iannidinardo is vice-president and chief forester with Mosaic Forest Management.

The company was formed in November 2018 when three public-sector corporations — B.C. Investment Management Corporation, Public Sector Pension Investment Board (a Canadian Crown corporation), and Alberta Investment Management Corporation — affiliated their long-term timber investments, TimberWest Forest Corporation and Island Timberlands Limited Partnership.

That makes Mosaic the largest private timber holder on Vancouver Island — and public sector workers the unlikely caretakers of some of its last best old-growth forests.

In 2013, TimberWest and the Crown corporation, Pacific Carbon Trust, finalized an agreement that paid the timber company $6 million for a carbon-sequestration project, the largest of its kind on the BC coast. 

The company agreed not to log more than 1,000 hectares of its old-growth forests at dozens of sites on Vancouver Island for 100 years, including 50-hectare Koksilah Grove in the upper Koksilah River, which flows into the Cowichan River estuary.

Despite Koksilah Grove being located on company private lands with no posted public signs, its importance has not gone unnoticed.

The Ancient Forest Alliance, an environmental group fighting to save the remaining old-growth forests on Vancouver Island, describes Koksilah Grove as an “absolutely incredible stand of old-growth Douglas firs that rivals Cathedral Grove with its beauty and scale. Old-growth Douglas firs have been reduced to one per cent of their original numbers on Vancouver Island, so getting a chance to hike through a forest so full of them is an incredible experience. Most of the grove’s big trees range from four to six feet in diameter with the largest ones reaching over eight feet across at the base.”

You’d think a place so spectacular would be a shoo-in for a provincial park. Not necessarily. Iannidinardo offers three reasons why the forest is in better hands with the company: BC Parks is historically underfunded, lacking the cash to properly manage all its protected lands; Koksilah Grove is not promoted to the masses, thereby reducing visitation issues; and the agreement with the province requires Mosaic to monitor the site and deliver an annual report relating to everything from pest outbreaks to wildfires.

Koksilah Grove is a fascinating case-study as North Cowichan moves forward with public consultation on the future of its 5,000-hectare-plus Municipal Forest Reserve — better known as The Six Mountains. Real potential exists to earn cash in return for leaving The Six Mountains standing — and allowing them to regain their old-growth magnificence.

A tour of Koksilah Grove is scheduled for Sat., Oct. 26, as part of the WildWings Nature & Arts Festival, sponsored by Somenos March Conservation Society. Tickets are $10.

Visit Wildwingsfestival.com for more information.

—- Larry Pynn

A Short History of Carbon Offsets in BC:

• In the 2008 Throne Speech, the provincial government announced an offsets scheme designed to establish a carbon market for cap-and-trade and for the Carbon Neutral Government program.

• To start the carbon market, government enacted legislation and created a Crown corporation called Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) to facilitate carbon-credit trading, establish a carbon-offsets market in BC and to invest in made-in-B.C. offset projects.

• In 2014, the province dissolved PCT and folded its operations into the Ministry of Environment, which established a new offset-compliance framework that separated the offset regulatory and purchasing operations.

• The new framework came into effect Jan. 1, 2016, as the Greenhouse Gas Emission Control Regulation (under the Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act).

— Information provided by BC Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy


North Cowichan embarks on new but uncertain path for the Six Mountains

Interim forest plan next step

North Cowichan Council approved what could be considered a milestone this week in terms of management of our 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — better known as the Six Mountains. What it all ultimately means, especially in the short term, for logging in our community forests is not at all clear.
During a meeting attended Wednesday by an estimated 300 citizens at the Ramada Duncan, council officially approved two key motions: one, to move forward in partnership with the University of British Columbia on developing a long-term, forest-management plan for the Six Mountains, and, two, to hire a consultant to engage the public on this plan.
On the surface, it sounds good. But the details can be unsettling.
The goal is to implement this new forest management plan on Jan. 1, 2022. 
What happens before then? The municipality promises to “incorporate public feedback” as it develops an interim plan “to help the local forest manager meet short-term forest resource objectives” from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2021. 
That’s barely four months from now.
“Some key topics to be assessed include management response to natural disturbance events, reduction of fire risk, and promotion of forest health,” say municipal documents.
The plan also calls for identification of “areas where interim forest management activities may be warranted” and information on “different silviculture methods and options.”
All words that could be interpreted as justification for continued logging, much of which results in the export of raw logs.
Whatever happens in the interim, it’s critical that citizens be involved, have an opportunity to assert ecological diversity, recreation, and protection of viewscapes as the highest and best uses of our forests. Interim plans must not simply be developed by staff and UBC. 
All six councillors told me in writing prior to last fall's municipal election that they support the public’s right to review logging plans before any decisions are made. I now ask them to live up to that commitment.
Ernie Mansueti, general manager of community services, further informs me that the interim planning process “may or may not result” in harvesting, adding that “ultimately, council will make that decision….”
For now, I won’t be popping the cork on the champagne. 
While the future of the Six Mountains is in doubt, it remains a time for public vigilance.


Municipal Forest Reserve at a Crossroads

North Cowichan CAO Ted Swabey:  “We do not clear-cut as a harvesting practice:"

Not long ago, I asked Tourism Cowichan where I might go to see an old-growth forest. I was referred to Avatar Grove, a postage stamp of a protected area almost two hours away at Port Renfrew on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Then I asked the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre near Duncan the same question and was told I might also consider MacMillan Provincial Park near Port Alberni, about as far. That neither organization could point me to an old-growth forest in my own backyard in the Cowichan Valley hints at a troubling legacy that has placed far more value on forest cutting than forest conservation.

I got involved to make a positive difference — and hope you do the same.
After selling my home in Tsawwassen and purchasing a view property in the Maple Bay area in May 2018, I soon noticed clearcuts appearing near and far, including on Mount Prevost and Mount Sicker, both within the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve. When I inquired, a municipal staffer informed me that the “municipality does not release logging plans for public comment before proceeding with any activities” and that the Forestry Advisory Committee is mainly comprised of “community members who are professionals in the forestry field.”
That concerned me as a citizen, a nature lover and proprietor of an Airbnb whose investment stands to be diminished by such clearcuts — an Airbnb, I might add, that brings in thousands of dollars to businesses in the Cowichan Valley.
Turns out I wasn’t the only person growing concerned about logging in the Municipal Forest Reserve.
Hundreds of people — the highest in recent memory — turned out for a council meeting last December to overwhelmingly support a change in management of the Reserve, which for too long has operated under the public radar.
Then, in March, a full-house of 700 concerned citizens turned out to the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre for an event sponsored by the grassroots watchdog group, Where Do We Stand, wheredowestand.ca (which, for the record, I do not represent).
A second event, The Magic of the Six Mountains, is now planned for 7 p.m., Oct. 2, at the same venue. Guests speakers include forestry ecologist and best-selling author Andy MacKinnon and University of British Columbia forestry professor Suzanne Simard. Today, North Cowichan is in a unique position to reverse its long-held logging policy and adopt a conservation ethic that recognizes ecological, recreational, and viewscape values. In doing so, the municipality might take a page from Port Renfrew’s book.
That small but forward-looking community at the end of Highway 14 has embraced old- growth forests, and officially calls itself the Tall Tree Capital of Canada.
Tourists today visit Port Renfrew for three main attractions: sport fishing, Botanical Beach and big trees — and the protected forests are a draw year-around, and don’t give a hoot about the daily tides.
“Strictly on a business basis, the attraction of an old-growth forest will last forever,” says Jon Cash, co-owner of Soule Creek Lodge and past-president of the chamber of commerce. “The benefits of logging will be very short-lived and you can’t take it back.”

Which is not an indictment of logging, but a cry for greater balance in our forests.
Will the winds of change make it to North Cowichan?
Freedom-of-information documents I obtained from municipal hall earlier this year reveal Ted Swabey, chief administrative officer, advising council to preserve the “logging mandate” and warned that the “divisive” issue could take staff away from other priorities and that logging trees in the forest reserve is “part of our cultural makeup.”

Well, Ted, let me inform you that North Cowichan is a fast-changing community, and not everyone agrees with you. Whether they are newcomers to the municipality or long- standing residents, people have seen too much logging on Vancouver Island and view the Municipal Forest Reserve as an opportunity to make a difference.

When Swabey further writes: “We do not clear-cut as a harvesting practice,” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Just drive up Mount Prevost and see for yourself.
Mayor Al Siebring has also been hawkish on the issue. Before the last election, I asked council candidates where they stood on the issue of the public having the right to review logging plans in the Municipal Forest Reserve before any decisions are made. Of those elected, only the Mayor refused to commit to the motherhood idea.

The vast majority also expressed support for a greater balance of interests on the Forestry Advisory Committee. Again, the Mayor refused to commit.
Since then, there have, in fact, been additions to the Committee, but it remains weighted in favour of logging. For example, one of the latest appointees is also operations manager for Khowutzun Forest Services, the forestry arm of Cowichan Tribes, which receives forestry contracts from the Municipality.

For the moment, council has put a hold on contracts for new logging within the Municipal Forest Reserve. Tomorrow, who knows?
The future of the Six Mountains — Tzouhalem, Maple, Stoney, Richards, Prevost, and Sicker — hangs in the balance. UBC forestry faculty is working with council on a management strategy for the reserve that may include saving forests for carbon-credit cash, but nothing is guaranteed at this point.
Council meets at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the Ramada Duncan ballroom— and the Municipal Forest Reserve is on the agenda.
If you can attend, please do so. Council needs to know that the electorate demands a new vision for the Reserve, one that considers ecological values, recreation, and preservation of viewscapes to be the highest and best use of our forest.
Please encourage council to look beyond its four-year mandate to a time when people can once again walk amongst an old-growth forest in the Cowichan Valley.


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