Lawsuit aims to save endangered Douglas fir ecosystems on Vancouver Island

Environmental groups are suing the provincial government in hopes of saving the last remaining pockets of coastal Douglas fir forests on Vancouver Island.

The Wilderness Committee, ForestEthics Solutions and Ecojustice filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday seeking a court order preventing the province from allowing logging on Crown land in the coastal Douglas fir biogeoclimatic zone.

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The groups are claiming that the province is violating its own laws, which are supposed to protect ecosystems from destruction.

“This is a greenwash test case,” said Valerie Langer, ForestEthics Solutions forest conservation director.

“The province brags that it has world-leading environmental laws. Clearly this is misleading and it’s about time that the province put some teeth into environmental protection.”

Coastal Douglas fir forests were recognized by the province as endangered ecosystems in 2006. But, since then, it has been logging as usual, said Torrance Coste, Wilderness Committee Vancouver Island campaigner.

“This forest type is listed under B.C.’s forest laws as being at risk, but instead of being protected, the entire forest is being wiped out,” he said.

The issue came to a head with the province giving the go-ahead in 2011 for the logging of DL 33, a patch of coastal Douglas fir near Nanoose Bay, Coste said.

A fraction of the remaining ecosystem is on provincial Crown land, and only a few hectares of that is prime old-growth, which should make it vital for the province to enforce full protection, Coste said.

A Forests Ministry statement said it would be inappropriate to comment on the lawsuit.

There are 256,800 hectares of coastal Douglas fir remaining on southern Vancouver Island and parts of the Fraser Valley and Sunshine Coast, but only 23,500 hectares are on provincial Crown land. Of that, 39 per cent is fully protected, including 1,600 hectares protected under the Land Act in July 2010, the ministry statement said.

About 80 per cent, or 205,800 hectares, is privately owned. The remaining 11 per cent, or 27,400 hectares, is on federal and municipal land.

“The major threat to coastal Douglas fir ecosystems is continued urbanization, not logging,” a ministry spokeswoman said.

Last year, the province formed a partnership with local governments and conservation groups to further protect ecosystems and educate private landowners, she said.

Coste said the record of private owners, mainly large logging companies, is “appalling” and he has little hope the patches of endangered forest will be protected.

The aim of the court case, expected to be heard this year, is to protect what is left of coastal Douglas fir on Crown land, said Devon Page, executive director of Ecojustice, whose lawyers are leading the case.

“Do our laws say ‘protect the environment’ in one clause, but, in the next, provide a loophole to legally destroy it, or is the province legally required to protect these endangered forests and species,” Page said.

“If the government is breaking its own law, then we want the courts to make the province take action to protect the last of these endangered forests.”

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