About 375 people packed the Rod and Gun Club on Wednesday, Dec. 19, joining together in a call to stop logging near Cottonwood Lake and the Apex ski area.
They heard an appeal for the community to form a non-profit organization to raise money and buy the land to prevent further logging.
The meeting was organized by Andrew McBurney, who lives on Cottonwood Creek, downstream from the lake.
“We don’t have months to do this,” he said. “We are talking weeks. If people are serious about this, it has to happen soon.”
Leading much of the discussion were Nelson city councillors Rik Logtenberg, Keith Page and Jesse Woodward, who said they were there as individuals, not representatives of the city.
They said, however, that as councillors they do have some insights into the local government aspects of the logging agreement and any potential purchase of the land.
The land in question, running on both sides of the highway from Giveout Creek to the Apex ski area, is privately owned. Logging on private land is not regulated by the provincial government or anyone else. So the focus of the meeting and the prevailing sentiment in the audience was the need to buy the land to stop the logging.
The logging, conducted by Nelson Land Corporation, which is owned by Mike Jenks, began last spring.
The meeting focused on two potential ways of buying the land: through the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK), or through a community group raising funds to buy it.
Logtenberg advocated strongly for a community approach to the purchase. He said such a group could undertake crowdfunding (such as a GoFundMe campaign) and at the same time apply for grants from all levels of government, the Columbia Basin Trust, other funding bodies, and private donors.
He noted that the federal government announced a $1-billion Nature Fund in its 2018 budget aimed at investments in conservation.
“The group could rise up and take the lead, get the seed capital, and that would be a statement for other potential funders that we care,” Logtenberg said.
“When the community leads it, it is much easier to sell it to other funders. So if we, tonight, can rally people like that, this is a powerful model to develop.”
He said a community group could be faster on its feet than the RDCK.
“The group would have complete freedom to do what they want to do, as fast as they want,” he said.
“When you are dealing with a few staff and a few (RDCK) directors that have tons of competing priorities, meetings only monthly, they are just inevitably going to be slow.”
Hans Cunningham, who represents Area G (rural Salmo) on the RDCK board, suggested that if a community group took ownership of the land, much of the debt could be paid off by selling timber from thinning the forest for wildfire mitigation.
The need for the provincial government to regulate private logging came up often, but this was seen as a long-term provincial solution when a local short-term one is needed here.
Logtenberg, Page and Woodward explained to the crowd that the RDCK, of which Nelson is a member, has been negotiating with the landowner for some months in an attempt to purchase the land.
Because negotiations for the sale of land are by nature sensitive and private, the trio of councillors told the audience that there was little they could say about the proceedings. They were not free to state the land purchase price being discussed, or any other details.
Cunningham, who spoke under the same limitations, said that any deal negotiated by the RDCK would have to be approved by the five areas near the park: Area G (rural Salmo), Areas E and F (rural Nelson), the Village of Salmo, and the City of Nelson.
If a deal were reached, Cunningham said, taxpayers across those areas would pay an equal tax increase to cover it.
Cunningham said he could not disclose the dollar value being negotiated but, “it is not in the hundreds of thousands, it is in the millions,” adding, “millions are big money to us here in the Kootenays but in Vancouver, millions is two houses.”
The gathering was also addressed by a number of scientists and community groups about the ecology and recreational use of Cottonwood Lake and the Apex ski area.