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).
The BC offsets system and the Carbon Neutral Government program remain active. Details about requirements of the offsets program/projects, as well as government’s purchases and offsets portfolio, can be found on its website. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/climate-change/industry/offset-projects
— Information provided by BC Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy