PORT ALBERNI — The Alberni Valley’s largest landowner is watching its property more closely amid concerns that public use could be threatening assets.
Island Timberlands owns 254,000 hectares of property throughout Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, including private forest land in the Alberni Valley.
Some of this land is regularly used by the public for recreation, but a letter sent to the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s board of directors said opening its trails to the public has created problems.
“This opportunity comes at a significant cost to our company in the form of various types of illegal activity, including theft (e.g. wood, equipment fuel, tools), vandalism (e.g. arson, equipment damage) and copious volumes of garbage dumping from a small amount of users,” wrote Morgan Kennah, the forestry company’s manager of community affairs.
Island Timberlands has installed additional gates, including some that are locked, Kennah said. Patrols are being conducted to inform visitors about what the company expects from those using its land, with the possibility of violation tickets for those who do not respect the property.
Local recreational groups like the Alberni Valley Riders recognize the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the forestry company to be able to continue to use Island Timberlands’ property.
“You always get the bad apples … who dump garbage and tear up stuff that can ruin it for everyone else,” said Lee Blais, of the cycling group.
The Alberni Valley Outdoors Club also ventures onto the company’s property for hikes, said club president Judy Carlson.
“When you do plan to go somewhere and you find a gate closed it’s very frustrating,” Carlson said.
The forestry company says it has seen more activity through its gates in recent weeks.
“Island Timberlands will continue to provide for respectful recreational opportunities,” wrote Kennah in the company’s letter to the regional district. “However, we will also continue to exercise our right to restrict access to areas where we deem a risk is present.”
While the large areas of forest are economically important to the company, the land’s recreational potential is also vital for Valley residents, Blais said.
“It’s [Island Timberlands’] to work and to make dollars off of, but the value of these lands for the community, I think, is priceless,” he said.