The forested drive to Port Alberni and the west coast of Vancouver Island will soon include a close-up view of a clearcut.
On Monday, Island Timberlands starts logging about 40 hectares of privately managed forest land beside a hilly section of Highway 4 known as the Hump. It tops out at the 400-metre-high Alberni summit, about nine kilometres east of Port Alberni.
The forest company says the harvest, stretching about 800 metres along the highway, will not make a significant difference. But others, including Alberni-Pacific Rim NDP MLA Scott Fraser, say it will destroy the views and make a mockery of Port Alberni’s efforts to be an eco-tourism centre.
“It’s like the worst of the old days,” Fraser said. “This is a tourism corridor and part of the economic future of the Alberni Valley.”
Island Timberlands spokeswoman Morgan Kennah said the company is trying to minimize the visual impact. It will leave shrubs and saplings on the side of the highway to act as a buffer and some taller trees will be left farther back from the highway, in an area that has already been cut, to provide texture, she said.
“There will be no visual buffer against the highway due to safety concerns,” Kennah said. “We can’t leave tall trees because the wind could blow them over.”
The cutting is part of Island Timberlands’ normal harvesting, Kennah said. “This just happens to be adjacent to Highway 4.
“If you are focusing on your driving, you shouldn’t be seeing a large opening. It’s not a vast size of area that’s being cleared.”
The B.C. Transportation Ministry will allow Island Timberlands to close the road for up to 15 minutes at a time, from Jan. 21 to Feb. 8, so logging can be conducted safely.
The closings will be from Monday to Thursday, 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The closings rub salt in the wound, Fraser said.
“It’s the only road access to the Alberni Valley, Tofino and Clayoquot Sound, and it’s already a bottleneck. To make it worse, it’s being shut down to enable the destruction of the tourism corridor,” he said.
“We are shooting ourselves in both feet. It’s hindering economic development, and all these logs are being exported. It’s to the detriment of the whole of the Alberni Valley.”
The highway clearcut and other controversial Island Timberlands logging plans around the Alberni Valley can be laid squarely at the feet of the Liberal government, which, in 2004, allowed 88,000 hectares of private forest land to be removed from tree farm licences, Fraser said.
“That has completely ringed the Alberni Valley with private lands, so everything is at risk — watersheds, wildlife habitat, wildlife corridors, recreational areas and now tourism.”
Port Alberni Mayor John Douglas said there is sensitivity around the plans.
“I hope it won’t affect the viewscape badly because Port Alberni is not just a logging town any-more, so we are sensitive to these sorts of issues, but it is outside our jurisdiction.”
Douglas said he hopes the harvesting will not affect tourism.
Jane Morden, Watershed Forest Alliance spokeswoman, said Timberlands is going into contentious areas because only remnants of forests with big trees are left.
“It just shows they are not really caring about viewscapes anymore,” she said. “I think this is going to [annoy] a lot of people because they expected them to leave the fringe.”
Additional reporting by Julie Bertrand, Alberni Valley Times