On January 26, Fernie Trails Alliance advised trail users of the latest closure. Source: Facebook

East Kootenay groups to call meeting amid logging ‘crisis’

Wildsight, Fernie Trails Alliance concerned about CanWel’s encroachment on trails, habitat in Fernie

Fernie community groups are expected to call a crisis meeting later this week amid growing concern about logging in the Elk Valley.

Forestry company CanWel owns approximately 55,000ha of land in the Elk Valley and has been logging in the area for some time.

However, groups such as Wildsight and the Fernie Trails Alliance (FTA) are becoming increasingly concerned about CanWel’s encroachment on wildlife habitat and trails.

FTA Board Chair Krista Turcasso and Wildsight Elk Valley Conservation Coordinator Randal Macnair attended Monday’s regular meeting of council, where they called on the City and community to act.

Wildsight is preparing to announce an open house with stakeholder groups, elected officials and community members to address what is being described as a “crisis”.

“This has been happening for some time in different parts of the Valley and now it’s right literally in our backyard,” Macnair told The Free Press.

“Nobody is saying we don’t want logging but we want to ensure that the various values on the land are respected and if you look at the clearcut just north of town, that’s not happening.

“That’s a steep slope, it’s been completely denuded and there’s lots of potential problems with that in the short term, and the long term.”

CanWel has been keeping the FTA informed of its harvesting activities, where trails may be affected. However, the group has noticed an increase in logging notifications this fall and winter.

The FTA is a not-for-profit organization that represents member clubs including the Fernie Mountain Bike Club, Fernie Nordic Society, Fernie Trails and Ski Touring Club, Stag Leap Co. and Island Lake Lodge.

It relies on grant funding, donations and volunteers to build and maintain Fernie’s vast network of trails.

On January 25, the FTA was advised by CanWel that harvesting would soon begin on the block where the Dirt Diggler, Three Kings, Dopamine and Smooth Salamander trails are located.

“Communications on future plans is something we really hope to work on with this company to ensure we can plan accordingly,” said Turcasso.

Turcasso recognized that as a private company operating on private land, CanWel is not obligated to communicate its plans with the FTA.

She hopes to maintain the FTA’s relationship with CanWel, while advocating for changes to provincial logging regulations.

The Elk Valley is in a unique situation because the logging is occurring on private land, whereas 95 per cent of the province’s timber is publicly owned.

Across most of B.C., the provincial government authorizes forest tenures, which grant the rights to the timber and outlines the conditions under which it is harvested from Crown land.

Timber harvested on private land has its own set of rules, regulations and practices.

These are laid out in the Private Managed Forest Land Act, which aims to protect both property owners’ rights and the environment.

Wildsight has previously raised concerns about CanWel logging in environmentally-sensitive areas near Elkford and its lack of consultation with the conservation group compared to its predecessor.

LOOK BACK: Logging concerns after company sale

CanWel is a Vancouver-based company and one of Canada’s largest national distributors in the building materials and related products sector.

In May 2016, it took over Jemi Fibre, a forest products company that operates primarily in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

At the time of sale, Jemi owned approximately 136,000 acres (55,037ha) of private timberlands, strategic Crown licenses and tenures, log harvesting and trucking operations, several post and pole peeling facilities, two pressure-treated specialty wood production plants, and one specialty sawmill.

Macnair said CanWel will be invited to present at the open house and directly communicate its plans with the community.

He hopes to hold the meeting in early February and expects to announce details later this week.

“There’s an immediacy to this and I think it’s an opportunity to raise a flag to the Province to say ‘hey, we have various values’ and, as I stated to council, the Minister is the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development,” said Macnair.

“We’re a community that’s trying to diversify our economy, so we have mining, forestry and recreation, and we’re succeeding in that. We need the balance on the landscape to ensure that our economy and community thrives.”

More updates on the open house will be posted at Thefreepress.ca.

Those with concerns about logging can contact randal@wildsight.ca.

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