North Cowichan considers suite of measures to stop tree poaching
North Cowichan found itself in the spotlight this week — and for all the wrong reasons.
CBC’s The National visited Stoney Hill to witness first-hand where sixmountains.ca discovered the stumps of a couple of valuable western red cedars that had been poached.
Here’s a link to the story for those who missed it: https://youtu.be/tCi6AKPG7d8
Cedars and Douglas firs have also been poached on Mount Prevost and Mount Sicker, and firs at a second site on Stoney Hill. Overall, about 100 trees — that we know of — have been illegally taken from the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.
The high price of wood and lumber is thought to be fuelling poaching activity.
Question is: what’s to be done about it?
Municipal forester Shaun Mason says several options are under consideration: increasing the $200 bylaw fine for removing forest products without a permit; video surveillance cameras; limiting vehicle access to the forest reserve; and teaming up with Crime Stoppers to encourage public tips on poaching activity.
Several new signs have already gone up warning against illegal tree cutting.
News of the rash of tree poaching was also covered by CHEK News, The Times Colonist, and the Cowichan Valley Citizen — which, in total, went a long ways to educate the public on the precarious plight of our forests.
Note that the forest reserve falls within the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone — one of the two most endangered forests in Canada, says former provincial forest research ecologist Andy MacKinnon, author of Plants of Coastal British Columbia.
The other is the Carolinian forest of southern Ontario. (https://caroliniancanada.ca/legacy/FactSheets_CCUniqueness.htm)
The biodiversity issue is important to keep in mind.
I winced when Mayor Al Siebring told The Times Colonist: “It’s like going into somebody’s garden and stealing their carrots, except this is worth a lot more money.”
Not the best analogy for an endangered forest, home by one account to an estimated 141 species at risk, from plants to amphibians, birds to mammals.
But I was also buoyed by another comment Siebring made: “What's really frustrating about this is we're in the middle of a review of whether we even want to log, or whether we want to preserve the forest for carbon credits or do different things.”
This is the first time I’ve heard the mayor publicly acknowledge forest preservation and carbon credits as an option for the future of the reserve and it follows on the heels of a new federal proposal to support a domestic carbon trading market that would benefit municipalities and First Nations.
Did I say “future?”
It’s been more than a year now that a public consultation process into the future of the forest reserve has been on hold, while secret talks continue with local First Nations.
It’s also been more than seven weeks since we were told to wait just a while longer to allow for completion of a Memorandum of Understanding with First Nations.
During this period of uncertainty, one thing is evident.
While paralysis grips council, thieves have never been busier, stealthfully dismantling the forest reserve one tree at a time.
Photo: western red cedar trees poached at Mount Prevost.
— Larry Pynn, May 6, 2021
Small trees are typically chainsawed to fuel illegal campfires at such sites, which are often chosen for their views of the valley — post-removal of trees, of course.
A lack of enforcement patrols, especially on weekends and evenings, allows such behaviour to flourish.
Municipal fines are no deterrent.
Under the Forest Use Bylaw, littering carries a $200 fine — the same as illegal removal of wood products— compared with an illegal campfire $100, and damage to trees $100.
Stronger fines are clearly needed. Curiously, someone who builds an unauthorized trail or defaces a sign could be fined $500.
The Municipality should also consider at least occasional patrols on weekends to roust partygoers and extinguish campfires — which are banned year-round.
One is reluctant to restrict respectful users of our mountains, but more gate closures might also be necessary.
There is no excuse for bad behaviour.
But it does make one wonder: given the Municipality’s history of clearcutting its endangered forests, does that send the wrong message to a certain segment of society inclined to abuse those same forests?
Currently, there is a moratorium on municipal logging pending pubic consultations on the future of the Six Mountains — stalled for more than a year now while parallel but secret talks with local First Nations continue.
Read why our forests are endangered at https://www.sixmountains.ca/north-cowichan-has-a-remarkable-opp
— Larry Pynn, May 29, 2021