It seems like somebody made a mistake.
That’s how Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall feels about B.C. Timber Sales’ proposed plan to log the Ymir watershed. And during a community meeting on Tuesday evening, she pledged to support residents’ efforts to oppose the project.
“Right when you first did the tour of the watershed, I thought this must be a mistake somewhere in the bureaucracy,” the newly re-elected politician told the gathering.
“You have to give the government a reason to undo their mistake.”
As things stand now, B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS) is in the planning stages of a long-term project to create three cut-blocks in a Crown land area that includes Ymir’s collection pond and water treatment facility. Residents are concerned their water supply could be disrupted or contaminated.
An upcoming legally mandated 60-day consultation period, from June 15 to August 15, will give residents the opportunity to express their concerns, after which the cutting boundaries could potentially be moved. (The Star attempted to contact B.C. Timber Sales by email and phone, but they did not respond in time for press deadline.)
And the residents of Ymir are mobilizing to make sure their watershed remains untouched.
‘Don’t pick a fight with the Kootenays’
Jason Leus is feeling optimistic.
On Monday afternoon, the primary spokesperson for the Ymir Community Watershed Action Team (YCWAT) met with BCTS representatives. He spent two and a half hours discussing the hydrology report the company had produced and the sensitivity of the environment around the collection pond.
Another issue that has been raised by the community is the insurance implications of potentially leaving Ymir without water to fight forest fires.
“BCTS has assured us they’re in a planning stage, and it was learned they’re willing to modify their cutting,” Leus said, noting that the company is unwilling to visit Ymir and talk to the community in person for fear of “being lynched.”
But he wants to keep things cordial.
“We’re pro-responsible logging, but against bad decision-making.”
Mungall attended the meeting, and was in fighting form as she praised the community for their chutzpah.
“The argument that this is a community watershed is the strongest argument you’ve got, and it’s enough to build a foundation on,” she said.
“One of the things I always bring up when I meet with various government ministries, my line is ‘Don’t pick a fight with the Kootenays, because we’re going to fight back and we’re going to win’. We have a long history of that.”
She asked, “How far is the community willing to go?”
“We need butts on logging roads. People need to be willing to go there and do that. I’m going to work hard to make sure we don’t get to that point, but that’s what you need to be willing to do.”
Ymir’s multi-pronged mobilization
Mungall noted that she’s been involved in similar logging disputes at Glacier and Howser creeks during her time as MLA, and told the crowd her staff is currently researching the issue and trying to find a “win-win solution.”
That work is being supported by Hans Cunningham, the elected representative for the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s Area G, who pledged to match any money raised with funds from his government’s coffers and introduced a motion on the subject at a Thursday RDCK meeting.
One way to bring progress grinding to a halt? Identifying an endangered (or “red -listed”) species in the habitat, whether it’s an invertebrate or a mushroom or a bird.
“If we find one red-listed species, we’re pretty much saved,” said Leus.
To that end, YCWAT is organizing a community hike on Sunday in which residents will be encouraged to document “anything that moves and breathes,” and offering a $500 reward for anyone who successfully identifies an endangered species that currently lives within the watershed.
And that’s just the beginning — they’re also investigating whether local First Nations bands have significant archaeological sites nearby, working to get their hiking trails recognized and protected, as well as calling for a more thorough hydrology report than the one produced by BCTS.
Mungall encouraged residents to contact their friends in Salmo and Nelson, to bring regional awareness to the issue, and theorized that the West Kootenay Ecosociety would be keen to get involved. Leus noted that they’ve already been invited to join the All Kootenays Watershed Association, a larger scale organization.
“We’ve got a lot of solidarity, so that bodes well for the future,” he said.
Festival considers implications
So what about Tiny Lights?
The annual festival is coming up in the next few weeks, and directors Shawn and Carla Stephenson asked the meeting what role it should have in this dispute — should they be concerned about their artists writing protest songs or being outspoken on the subject?
The answer they received: “let the dogs off the leash”.
Already the community has created T-shirts that are for sale in the Ymir store for $10, and though the official 60-day consultation period doesn’t begin until June 15, residents have already been flooding the government with letters and emails.
“Every meeting I go to, they mention they’ve been getting letters,” said Leus.
“So keep writing them, because they’re having the desired effect.”
Ultimately, he said, his goal is to be able to welcome BCTS representatives into the community with “a handshake and a hug” — but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to budge. In answer to a fellow resident who expressed vehement opposition to the project, Leus assured him that he’s on the same page.
“If in the end it comes down to blocking the road, I’m going to be right there with the rest of you.”