Approximately 175 citizens, members of local government, scientists and community group representatives met at the Best Western Fernie Mountain Lodge in Fernie last Thursday to discuss clear-cutting in the Fernie area.
Conservation group Wildsight called the emergency meeting amid growing community concern about logging’s impact on trails and the environment.
Representatives from Wildsight, forestry company CanWel, and local and provincial government were all in attendance.
During the meeting, CanWel explained that they are following the rules and guidelines set out by the B.C. Government for private land use and management. Representatives of Wildsight stated they believe CanWel is doing the ‘bare minimum’ and should ‘do better’.
After all sides shared their views, it was determined that this issue of clear-cutting is a regulation issue that must be solved at the provincial level.
Wildsight representative Eddie Petryshen was first to speak and explained that clear-cuts can be extremely harmful to wildlife, and ecosystems.
MLA for Kootenay East Tom Shypitka was unable to attend the meeting but appeared via a prerecorded video, addressing some of the issues raised, including sight lines, neglected habitat and the negative impact on recreation and tourism.
“Fernie is expanding and so is industry,” said Shypitka. “We’re getting a collision here with those two and we’ve got to address it head on. And legislation has to reflect those changes.
“Right now, under the Private Managed Forest Land Act, CanWel, the company that is being highlighted through all this, is doing everything under that land act. So it’s not so much the company but it’s the legislation associated with it that we have to address.”
Thirty-two per cent of the Elk Valley is private land, mainly centred around the Fernie and Elkford areas, explained Petryshen.
He further explained what Wildsight considers irresponsible logging and also spoke to what has been done previously in the Valley.
“If we’re not taking care of wildlife and ecosystems when we log on private land, the health and function of this Valley is in jeopardy,” said Petryshen.
Petryshen acknowledged that CanWel has allowed Elk Valley residents access onto their private lands. He also added that although they have had some successes with logging in certain areas in the Valley, they haven’t been able to ‘stem the tide’ of ‘unsustainable logging’ around the Elk Valley.
Petryshen said it was important to recognize that this is mainly a government and regulation issue.
Across the province, there are approximately 8200 square kilometres of managed forests. Petryshen said that the Kootenay region, more specifically the Nelson and Elk Valley areas, are two regions which provide a significant amount of the province’s wood annually.
Although the regulations on Crown land logging aren’t perfect, Petryshen said that one of the benefits is there is a limit on total annual harvest, as compared to private land, which he says has no limit.
“Short-term liquidation is what we’ve been seeing in the Elk Valley,” he said.
Petryshen showed photos of several cut blocks with clear-cut on ridge tops and close to wetlands, which he says disrupts the movement and habitat of animals. He said that not only does this take away cover for animals to move and rest under, but it also increases the risk of erosion into streams and lakes, which are home to valuable fish populations.
He referenced a CanWel clear-cut north of Fernie, above the Hosmer area.
“The more of the landscape that becomes clear-cut, the less resilient that ecosystem is to floods and landslides,” he said.
Petryshen added that community concern will only continue to increase as the ecosystems in the Elk Valley are pushed to the limit through harvesting of mature forest on both private and Crown land.
“It’s not that CalWel or Jemi can’t do good logging,” said Petryshen. “They can, we know that.”
He provided examples of what he considers good logging; harvesting that leaves a healthy diversity of vegetation. Petryshen said this needs to happen everywhere.
“We need the province to set a protective standard on managed forest,” he said. “The private managed forest regulations are a huge regulatory gap for our ecosystems, our wildlife and our communities.”
Vice President of CanWel Fibre, Jake Blackmore, took the microphone to explain their view of the situation.
In 2016, CanWel announced an acquisition of 136,000 acres of land, previously owned by Jemi Fibre Corp. Blackmore, who previously worked with Jemi Fibre, explained that their original logging plan did not change under new ownership.
Blackmore said that their cuts are based on market price and also what their needs are for their own manufacturing plants. He added that they follow provincial guidelines and are in good standing.
After concern was raised over the logging of a wetland last year, the Managed Forest Council responded with an audit.
“Everything you saw in the pictures and the presentation met the standard that was required by private lands management,” he said.
Blackmore explained that they have leases on this land with over 300 local companies and organizations, including Teck Coal, North Coal, Fernie Trails Alliance, Fernie Snowmobile Club, and more.
“All these people are welcome on our land and are great partners,” he said. “If they have a problem they come directly to us, and we have open conversation with any concerns where logging is being done, where trails are being affected.
“CanWel has no intentions of stopping that, at this time.”
Blackmore said CanWel is proud of their land, the resources they provide and the people they employ. According to the VP, the forestry company employs around 250 residents in the East Kootenays, not including third party contractors.
Regarding standards for logs, Blackmore explained that before they can sell a log to Canfor, the forest productions company based out of Vancouver, it must meet their required standard. A standard, Blackmore says, is higher than the standard put in place by the Forest Stewardship Council for private and Crown land in B.C.
He added that a covenant in place between CanWel and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, allows the conservation organization to order changes to the company’s plan if they deem a corridor sensitive. In addition, Blackmore says that the group will purchase land they deem necessary to protect.
“I report directly to the CEO of the company. If people want to protect certain areas then buy it (them),” said Blackmore.
In other communities, this is already happening. Last month, a group of about 400 concerned residents in Nelson raised over $50,000 in less than 30 days to purchase a piece of land for conservation. Their goal is to save the Cottonwood/Apex area from being logged. Visit Nelsonstar.com to read more.
The VP explained that steep slope logging is becoming more and more common as companies purchase land to harvest the remaining timber. He said that it is extremely difficult, and sometimes unsafe, to selectively log steep slopes, and leave leafy trees behind.
In response to a question from the public, Blackmore explained that CanWel has been logging steep slopes for approximately two years and has not had any issues with erosion.
A resident in Cokato explained that since an area of land behind their property was clear-cut, they have had increased runoff onto their property.
“I really worry about that block out by Hosmer, I wonder if CP Rail should be worried about that block,” the resident asked.
The man, who explained he works in the area of corporate responsibility, says he has wondered about the amount of risk being created for CanWel here in the Valley. He agreed that the provincial regulations need to be improved.
However, he spoke of his time working with both the mining and pipeline industry, in which companies worked hard to improve their practices above the regulatory standards.
“I just wonder whether CanWel might give some thought to improving its practices, because it’s good business,” he said.
This statement was met with enthusiastic applause by audience members.
Another member of the audience explained that while teaching her grade seven class about human impacts to the environment, the clear-cuts by CanWel were brought into question.
The students were so upset that they proposed to sit in front of the bulldozers. The teacher explained that she shut this idea down, but asked CanWel at the meeting, “What answer do I give a 12-year-old who asks, why aren’t they doing a better job?”
Wildsight’s John Bergenske said that it’s crucial that guidelines are changed, that CanWel maintains communication with the public and that the company strives to do better than just meet the basic requirements.
“I think that the failure that has taken place is the failure to work effectively with the community as community members,” said Bergenske. “You’re basically meeting the bottom line right now.”
Until regulations are changed, Bergenske said the best thing the community can do is ask CanWel to be open to conversation and hear their concerns.
“We respect the fact that logging is taking place but you can do a helluva lot better job,” he said.
He concluded that there is no need for clear-cuts and that selective logging on steep slopes is possible.
“This is going to take change at the government level,” reiterated host and Wildsight Elk Valley Conservation Coordinator, Randal Macnair.