An old-growth forest, close to Cathedral Grove and formerly protected as a critical wildlife corridor, is ringed with logging tape and conservation groups fear harvesting is imminent.
The marked 40-hectare cutblock, part of Island Timberlands private lands that government agreed could be removed from a tree farm licence in 2004, is about 300 metres from the boundary of MacMillan Provincial Park on the Alberni Highway. It is one of Vancouver Island’s most popular tourist attractions because of giant Douglas firs.
Island Timberlands did not return calls Monday or Tuesday, but company spokeswoman Morgan Kennah wrote in an email: “We have no comment on the planned story.”
The logging tape and road markings were found by members of the Ancient Forest Alliance. Ken Wu, founder of the environmental group, said logging would affect tourism and wildlife populations.
Wu wants both the Liberals and NDP to commit to re-regulating lands removed from the more stringent rules of tree farm licences.
“And we want to see a provincial park acquisition fund of $40 million a year to purchase endangered ecosystems on private land,” he said.
Alliance campaigner TJ Watt said Cathedral Grove is B.C’s iconic old-growth forest.
“It’s like the redwoods of Canada,” he said.“The fact that a company can just log the mountainside above Canada’s most famous old-growth forest underscores the B.C. government’s deep failure to protect our ancient forest heritage.”
The cutblock intersects the Mount Horne Loop Trail, which connects with Cathedral Grove.
“It’s a circle trail, so a lot of people walk up it,” said Jane Morden of Port Alberni Watershed-Forest Alliance.
The planned logging is the latest in a series of proposed cutblocks on lands that were supposed to be protected as critical habitat for wintering deer and other species.
When the government agreed to allow then-owners Weyerhaeuser to remove 88,000 hectares of private land from Tree Farm Licence 44, the province insisted that critical winter habitat should be protected for two years and a committee should then decide on further levels of protection, according to documents obtained through a freedom of information request by Alberni-Pacific Rim NDP MLA Scott Fraser.
But, after the private lands went to Island Timberlands, meetings with the government were “terminated” by the company in 2009, with government biologists saying the company’s harvesting plans were not science-based, the documents show.
There is no doubt that logging in the winter range would have an adverse effect, said independent biologist Mike Stini, a former government contractor.
“They are totally wrong to do this,” he said. “Habitat means it is the animals’ home. If someone takes your house away and you have to live on the streets, you won’t die right away, but your life will be short and your reproductive chances are going to be slim.”
Fraser, who has met with Forests Minister Steve Thomson about the breakdown in the original protection agreement, said the government signed the document and must take responsibility for enforcing it.
“The government gave away public control and that’s what caused this problem,” he said.
Fraser acknowledges it will be tough to regain control of private lands, but, if the NDP forms the next government, he would like to see changes to the Private Managed Forest Lands Act, possibly giving more say to local governments, and more public representation on the Private Managed Forest Lands Council, which is now made up of two industry representatives, two government appointees and a chair chosen by the other four members.
“But some of this might be very simple. Having a government that protects the public interest may be all it takes,” he said.