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Natural Resource Officers hard-pressed to keep up with tree poaching in Cowichan Valley

Thieves reportedly ‘collecting wood illegally, selling on Facebook Marketplace’

The BC government received 16 reports last year of tree poaching on Crown land in the Cowichan Valley, but frequently lacked the resources to investigate, freedom-of-information documents show.

The reported poaching occurred across the valley, including Crown forests in the Cobble Hill, Sahtlam, Chemainus River, and Shawnigan Lake areas, as well as Hillcrest Forest Service Road and Currie Creek Forest Service Road.

The reports often contain important details, sometimes naming the alleged perpetrators and providing photos and even video. Yet often the province did not investigate due to lack of resources — officially described as “No Action - Resourcing.”


In response, the Ministry of Forests said in an emailed statement that the "illegal harvest of timber from Crown Land is a high priority.”

Natural Resource Officers take all complaints seriously, but must prioritize reports to ensure the most meaningful investigations are undertaken, the ministry added. Factors such as public safety and environmental impact are taken into consideration.

The province employs 84 Natural Resource Officers at 16 locations around B.C., including Nanaimo and Victoria, the head office.

One case reported on June 26 involved the logging of trees — “equivalent to 2-3 truck loads” — from land owned by the Cowichan Lake Research Station on Meades Creek Road in Youbou. The station’s headquarters is near Mesachie Lake. Under the heading of “Action Taken,” the report reads: “Recommend for Inspection.”

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Another case involved the March 7 inspection of logging and excavation alongside the Chemainus River. The site had been used for more than 20 years as a campground, the documents report. Officers took “enforcement action” under the Water Sustainability Act and the Land Act.

In another case, an individual on February 14 reported witnessing illegal logging on Crown land up an old logging road that leads from the Hillcrest Forest Service Road to the back side of Mount Prevost. “I did not confront him,” the individual states. “He was there with his dogs, standing right beside the fallen tree.”

(Note: in 2022, an off-duty North Cowichan bylaw enforcement officer also reported an apparent theft in the Hillcrest Forest Service Road area. “I am aware of numerous people collecting wood illegally in this area and selling on Facebook Marketplace.” The officer provided the BC vehicle licence plate and a detailed description of the pickup truck and driver. The Natural Resource Officer reports reads “No Action - Resourcing.”)

Tree thieves were also reported Oct. 6 on the Currie Creek Forest Service Road, located south of Highway 18 about 10 kilometres west of the Trans Canada Highway.

A mound of garbage about 200 metres down the road includes dozens of empty marijuana packages and containers. A faint trail leads to the forest and evidence of poaching on both sides of the creek. Wooden planks on a fallen log provide better footing.

Elsewhere, several residents complained from March 20 to May 2 about a man cutting trees on Crown land behind his home in Sahtlam. One complaint included video in which the suspect “tries to defend his theft.” The Natural Resource Officer wrote in the report: “Low priority with available resources.”Another citizen stated that “other neighbours have made a complaint and no one has received any feedback. If this continues to go unaddressed more poachers will…take advantage of your inaction.”

A Sahtlam resident told that a Natural Resource Officer did visit but that to his knowledge no “enforcement or even a warning was ever issued and local folks have given up and lost faith in the process.”


Another complaint received June 18 involved the “peeling of bark” off Crown trees near Shawnigan Lake. The file concludes: “Low priority, likely cultural use….”

The province declined to provide a full account of fines or charges last year related to tree theft on Crown land, saying that would require a separate freedom-of-information request.

Tree poaching has also posed a problem in North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, prompting council to increase penalties in 2021.


Asked for an update on the situation, municipal forester Shaun Mason told that tree poaching is reduced considerably, but not eliminated.

“We still see random occurrences, which isn't uncommon but it was fairly quiet over the fall/winter months of 2023.

“In 2024, we have noticed a few occurrences where trees (Douglas fir) were cut along roadsides on Mount Prevost, likely for firewood based on the sawdust pattern. Generally speaking, it has been fairly quiet thus far in 2024 but staff continue routine patrols along the road systems and monitor for any tree poaching activities.”

(Photos: Tree cutting near Hillcrest Forest Service Road.)

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— Larry Pynn, March 18, 2024

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