There was standing room only in the Regional District of Central Kootenay board office Thursday morning as West Kootenay logging company owner Ken Kalesnikoff spent over an hour being grilled about watershed harvesting.
The meeting was triggered by the ongoing dispute around proposed logging by BC Timber Sales (BCTS) in the Ymir watershed, as well as an RDCK resolution that opposes the project. Kalesnikoff was representing the Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association (ILMA), of which he’s the president.
And though the lion’s share of the controversy is related to the Ymir watershed specifically, BCTS wasn’t there to clarify their position on the project.
“We’re hoping to have a very positive conversation. We’re doing this in the spirit of education,” Kalesnikoff told the board.
“There is a lot of work and effort and energy that goes into cutting down a tree. We’re all very passionate about our jobs and care very deeply about doing this right.”
Kalesnikoff is embroiled himself in a watershed controversy in Glade. According to him, though, his company has successfully logged in watersheds such as Balfour and Riondel without incident. The vast majority of the work being done by the member mills of ILMA is within Kootenay watersheds, partly because they’re running out of other areas to harvest from, so the financial stakes for his business are significant.
He expressed hope that in the future communities could find a way to be less combative, and more collaborative, when loggers propose projects.
“We’re all on the same page,” he said. “Our hope is moving forward we can all work together.”
‘We’re going to have dust coming out of our taps’
The morning began with a Power Point presentation from Dwane Sorenson and Kailee Woodbeck of Kalesnikoff Lumber that detailed the history of their logging practices, itemized the concerns they’ve heard from the public and licensees, and outlined all the ways their objectives are twinned with people expressing environmental concerns.
But board members had outstanding concerns, and weren’t shy about sharing them. Ymir’s representative Hans Cunningham spoke out passionately, levelling most of his criticism at BCTS’ handling of the Ymir situation.
“This isn’t a logging problem, it’s a BCTS problem. If we’re not careful, we’re going to have dust coming out of our taps,” Cunningham said, accusing the company of failing to complete a proper hydrological survey of the area.
“There have been studies that show there are watersheds that are well taken care of, and then there’s some in the opinion of the people that haven’t been so well looked after, but this is one that if you go in you could cut off the water supply for a whole community — and that’s unacceptable.”
Salmo representative Stephen White likened BCTS’ behaviour to a “bear sticking its snout in a hornet’s nest”.
“I am confounded by the inability of the organization to recognize (the effect they’re having). In my view, it’s impossible to overlook the life experience and the on-the-ground experience of the residents in this area in regards to what is a very, very fragile water source,” he said.
“It all comes back to water, and the consumption of water, and while I understand the necessity of balancing this with economic necessity, it has to come back to the protection of that water.”
White’s question: “Why continue down a road that will lead to tremendous conflict?”
`We could be a model for the rest of the province’
During the meeting, directors took turns addressing the room. Rural Castlegar director Larry Davidoff proposed pressuring the provincial government to create a task force consisting of tenure-holders, hydrologists, biologists, wildfire specialists and citizen representatives, with the goal of creating a new provincial plan for watershed harvesting management.
Though Kalesnikoff was fielding the questions, he couldn’t answer on behalf of his ILMA executive. He could only say he supports the idea in theory, adding that he believes it’s possible to come up with a plan “that appeases both sides.”
Rural Nelson director Ramona Faust was one of the board members who brought up the realities of climate change, and the devastating wildfires of this summer. She urged the board to move beyond an “us versus them” relationship with loggers.
“We’re all not doing a good job of communicating what our new reality looks like, where we’re going to have to remove fibre in order to protect from fire, shade the ground so we can retain water, and keep volume in creeks for fish, humans and ecosystem values,” she said.
“We can’t be pushing back on each other’s objectives. We have the science now.”
Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak echoed her observations, saying Ymir could ultimately become an example to the rest of the province of how to properly consult and collaborate with a community.
“Whether you’re a climate change believer or not, the truth is we’re going to see more and more wildfires in our province and the cost of that is a huge thing to talk about,” she said.
“We need a new framework in which to have these conversations, and we’re going to have to look at new legislation.”
Kozak said they’re often at the mercy of the changing provincial and federal governments, which she hopes will change.
“Local government has been a missing voice at these table for years when it comes to how we manage our watersheds and our forests, but we’re coming to the table now because we’re responsible for water and that’s an extremely important consideration,” she said.
In Nelson, she told the board, they’ve already been taking “baby steps” towards creating a task force that will look at issues such as logging the dead pine around Selous Creek just outside town to create a fire break.
“If we can get this right, it make take us a bit of time, we could be a model for the rest of the province.”
‘A brazen attempt to put lipstick on a pig’
After the meeting, Ymir community spokesperson Jason Leus was thoroughly unimpressed. He wasn’t given a chance to speak or ask questions.
“The presentation itself was a brazen attempt to put lipstick on a pig and call it a princess. The general spirit of the discussion afterward, with the RDCK wanting to work with ILMA to find solutions for each watershed and their unique problems, was very encouraging,” he said.
But the communication they’re receiving from the BCTS isn’t as reassuring, and he couldn’t believe they weren’t there.
“It would’ve done a lot of good for the public perception of BCTS and its way of doing business if they were able to answer questions from RDCK directors, but they missed that opportunity.”
He said, “Ymir is not going to give up in its fight to protect our very fragile water source. Our further goal is to help other communities in the future to protect their watersheds as well.”