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Logging and protection of at-risk ‘ecosystems’ not realistic across North Cowichan forest reserve: consultant report

Suggestion at odds with recent Council motion

Protection of endangered “ecological communities” across North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve is incompatible with logging, a consultant’s draft report says.

The January 2019 report by Sally Leigh-Spencer of Ecologic Consulting titled Strategy for Managing Species at Risk is an updated version of her initial draft dated October 2017. obtained a copy through a freedom-of-information request.

The 2019 report says there is no legal protection for ecological communities other than those found in protected areas and that “to refrain from harvesting/disturbing all seral stages is not practicable for forest operations” within the “private” forest reserve.

The provincial Ministry of Forests states that “the habitat needs of most forest and range organisms are met if a broad range of forest stand ages — seral stages — are maintained across landscapes.”

Leigh-Spencer makes several management recommendations for at-risk ecological communities that apply to old-growth stands in the forest reserve, including: reduce spread of invasive species; no development of roads, trails or recreation sites; no harvest or salvage except when required to create windfirm boundaries.

Problem is, the forest reserve is bankrupt of old-growth.

The Leigh-Spencer report is at odds with a Council motion passed in November 2020 urging staff to inform Modus — another consultant, working on an Official Community Plan update — that “protection of our rare ecosystems and the species that inhabit them” is a priority.

Councillor Christopher Justice proposed that motion. Mayor Al Siebring and Councillor Tek Manhas were opposed. Asked why on Friday, neither responded.

Council and the Forestry Advisory Committee have not seen the updated 2019 report.

But it has been presented to members of the University of BC forestry department working with the Municipality on a future management plan for the forest reserve, also known as the Six Mountains — Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Tzouhalem and Stoney Hill.

The public engagement process into the forest reserve has been suspended pending secret talks with First Nations.

The Forestry Advisory Committee discussed Leigh-Spenser’s first draft at its March 2018 meeting and recommended committee member Dave Lindsay work with the consultant and staff to “further refine” the document.

The 2017 draft report makes no reference to protection only for ecological communities located in old-growth stands.

Leigh-Spencer did not respond to an interview request.

Lindsay, who retired as a TimberWest biologist in 2017, agreed there are no old-growth stands in the forest reserve. But he said some areas of the reserve not suitable for logging could grow into old-growth, but have not been officially classified as such and “circled on a map.”

Lindsay said he expects more on the issue as the Municipality gets better information on ecological mapping and classifications. “It’s tough to do it piecemeal, you really have to do the complete package. The seral-stage classification is part of that.”

Councillor Rob Douglas, chair of the Forestry Advisory Committee, confirmed he has not seen the 2019 report.

Asked if he supports the recommendation that protection for ecological communities only extend to old-growth stands, he said: “If it had come to the Forestry Advisory Committee or to Council I certainly would have raised concerns with it.” He added that if the current forest review does result in continued logging “we’re going to be managing to a higher environmental standard.”

Douglas further suggested the 2019 report may never come to Council because new initiatives such as LiDAR, vegetation resources inventory, and sensitive ecosystem assessments have “provided much more detailed information and data on the location and type of sensitive ecosystems, and that these will be much more important pieces in informing the UBC forestry review.”

LiDar stands for Light Detection and Ranging is a remote sensing system used to measure vegetation height across wide areas.

Leigh-Spencer’s 2019 report cites a BC Conservation Data Centre estimate of 28 ecological communities at risk in the forest reserve — 19 of them red-listed (endangered/threatened) and nine blue-listed (special concern).

The report identifies a “focus list” of five red-listed communities: arbutus/hairy manzanita; Douglas-fir/lodgepole pine/grey rock-moss; western red cedar/black twinberry; western redcedar/salmonberry; western hemlock-western redcedar/deer fern.

The 2019 report was submitted to Shaun Mason, who took over from Darrell Frank as municipal forester in 2018.

The 2019 report also cites a Stewardship Centre of BC estimate of 141 species at risk in the forest reserve, not including species that no longer exist there. The 141 includes 64 vascular plants, 16 insects, 21 breeding birds, 14 molluscs, 10 mammals, eight mosses, three each of amphibians and fishes, and two reptiles.

Ground sampling would be required to verify the presence of species at risk.

Part of the public engagement on the forest reserve involves a citizens’ Working Group on which Leigh-Spencer sits as a member. She was appointed after completing her latest draft report for the Municipality.

The 2017 report starts on page 15,

The 2019 report:

— Larry Pynn Sat, Feb. 20, 2021


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