Island Timberlands has backed away from plans to log the fringe of trees along the Hump near Port Alberni.
“We considered our plans over the weekend and now we are putting a temporary suspension on the harvest of the buffer along the highway,” Island Timberlands spokeswoman Morgan Kennah said in an interview Monday.
“We are still planning to harvest it in the future, but probably after we have replanted the harvested area behind and given it time to grow.”
That is likely to take several years, Kennah said.
The one caveat is that, if trees in the buffer pose a blowdown threat on the highway, they will be removed, she said.
The company has already logged most of the area behind the 40-hectare buffer, so that if the remaining trees were removed, drivers heading to Port Alberni or the Tofino-Ucluelet area would be looking at a large clearcut.
The logging plans, resulting in the denuding of about 800 metres beside the highway, sparked outrage in the community and a vigil was planned for Monday evening, when logging was scheduled to start.
Opponents said views along the hilly section of Highway 4, known as the Hump, would be destroyed and could affect Port Alberni’s efforts to become an eco-tourism centre.
Others were concerned about evening road closures of 15 minutes at a time, from Jan. 21 to Feb. 8. Highway 4 is the major road access to the Alberni Valley.
Island Timberlands was given permission by the Highways Ministry to close the road so logging could be conducted safely.
Public concerns about the inconvenience of the traffic interruptions and the visual aspect of the cutting brought about the change of plans, Kennah said.
“We always listen and, sometimes, we react in a way that might be considered favourable,” she said. “This is one where we have heard lots of concern and we can be flexible on it.”
Alberni Valley resident Chris Alemany, organizer of Monday’s Witness the Hump Clearcut event, was startled by the change of heart.
“Wow. That’s great news. That’s amazing,” he said. “Maybe they saw just too much opposition. I think people were pretty upset about it.”
Alberni-Pacific Rim NDP MLA Scott Fraser, who had reacted in horror to the potential destruction of the viewscape in a tourist corridor, said public opinion appears to be forcing Island Timberlands into making some community-friendly decisions.
“That’s good news. It’s an important step for the company to take, given the public reaction on this issue,” he said. “A reprieve is better than nothing.”
Last week Island Timberlands said it is reconsidering logging plans at nearby McLaughlin Ridge because of community concerns about critical habitat for wintering deer and effects on the community watershed.
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