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Non-profit launches legal battle to gain access to logging area for scientists

Ecojustice filed a suit challenging the legality of at least eight road closures granted by the B.C. Ministry of Forests in Tree Farm Licence 46, which includes Fairy Creek, the site of ongoing protests against old-growth logging.
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Ecojustice says between May and November last year, the province approved more than a dozen requests for road closures from Teal Cedar, which holds the right to harvest timber in TFL 46. The non-profit is taking the province to court to have gates and other barriers removed so scientists can study wildlife and birds in the area. Norman Galimski

A legal non-profit is taking the province to court to have gates and other barriers removed from several access roads near Port Renfrew so scientists can study wildlife and birds in the area.

Ecojustice filed suit on behalf of Royann Petrell, associate professor emerita at the University of B.C., challenging the legality of at least eight road closures granted by the B.C. Ministry of Forests in Tree Farm Licence 46, which includes Fairy Creek, site of ongoing protests against old-growth logging.

In a statement, Petrell noted the work done by scientists and citizens in forests is important for the protection of the province’s wildlife.

“The B.C. government doesn’t generally know where endangered birds and other wildlife are located. Citizen-scientists like me are trying to fill that gap before the province’s few remaining areas of old-growth forest are logged,” she said.

Petrell said the gates prevent citizen scientists from identifying and protecting at-risk species in areas where logging is imminent, and “prevent us from doing what the B.C. government should have done years ago, before it approved logging in those areas.”

In court documents, Ecojustice said between May and November last year, the province approved more than a dozen requests for road closures from Teal Cedar, which holds the right to harvest timber in TFL 46.

Ecojustice said when Teal Cedar was given approval to close off access, the company installed gates and hired a private security firm to operate them.

While the Ministry of Forests has the authority to close or restrict use of roads if property, public health or safety might be endangered, Ecojustice said, the ministry granted many of Teal Cedar’s requests to restrict public access in order to protect logging operations. It said Petrell’s work would not prevent logging.

More than 1,100 people have been arrested since an injunction against blockades in the Fairy Creek watershed was granted last year to Teal Cedar.

In its court filing, Ecojustice points out the current injunction against those protesting applies only to people involved in road blockades.

“Dr. Petrell is not involved in blockades surrounding the logging at Fairy Creek or elsewhere in TFL 46 and should not have been denied access to the area,” it says.

The documents, filed last week, say time is of the essence, since many at-risk bird and other wildlife species in the woodlot typically start rearing their young at this time of year.

“It is critical to document these species during this time to ensure the federal and provincial governments can protect these species, where appropriate, from planned logging operations.”

Ecojustice noted Petrell’s work has already identified the western screech owl and marbled murrelet, both listed as threatened species, within TFL 46.

“By permitting blanket road closures, the B.C. government is effectively putting the interests of resource development and extraction companies before the rights of local people and communities to access public lands,” said Ecojustice counsel Rachel Gutman.

“At a time of a biodiversity crisis, we need scientists like Dr. Petrell to be able carry out their important work of mapping species unimpeded. Logging companies shouldn’t be able to stand in their way.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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