Al Siebring photo _edited.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 blog), The Unseen Forest:

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.

Al Siebring photo _edited.jpg

Al Siebring photo _edited.jpg

Al Siebring photo _edited.jpg