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Echo Lake’s Old-Growth Forest and Eagle Roost Under Threat!

The Footprint Press - Ken Wu, November 3, 2016

Echo Lake’s Old-Growth Forest and Eagle Roost Under Threat!
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Photo by: TJ Watt

Near Harrison Mills, Echo Lake is a magnificent, unprotected lowland ancient rainforest, in a region where almost all such forests have long since been logged. Located by the Chehalis-Harrison Estuary near the Lougheed Highway, the region is home to one of the greatest salmon runs and perhaps the largest concentration of bald eagles on Earth –  as many as 10,000 in some years, with hundreds roosting in the ancient trees of Echo Lake at night. As such, Echo Lake is one of the great natural wonders in the province – and perhaps one of the least visited so far.

There is a reason why so few people have seen Echo Lake. The lake is surrounded by steep mountains on three sides, with private lands encompassing the flats on the remaining side by the road. Only through the permission of private landowners or via organized tours can you traverse the private lands on its east side in order to access the old-growth forests on the Crown lands on the west side. This difficulty of access has helped to keep Echo Lake as one of the last enclaves of lowland ancient forest left in the region – until now.  Echo Lake is in the unceded territory of the Sts’ailes First Nation band, who run eagle-watching tours in the area, and whose leadership has expressed concern about the fate of the old-growth cedars around Echo Lake.

In 2012, the Ancient Forest Alliance contacted the local landowners Stephen and Susan Ben-Oliel, whose private properties abut against the lake’s east side. Together we started organizing public tours, letter-writing campaigns, slideshows, outreach to attract provincial and national news media, and lobbying efforts.

In February 2013, the BC government protected 55 hectares in an Old-Growth Management Area (OGMA) primarily on the south side of Echo Lake, encompassing some impressive old-growth Douglas-fir stands. Unfortunately, the OGMA left out another 40 or 50 hectares of old-growth and mature stands on the west and north sides, within the Woodlot License of C&H Forest Products. The excluded area includes a spectacular “ancient red cedar valley” with some of the biggest trees. One tree, the East Side Giant, is almost 4 metres, (13 feet) wide. While the area at risk also includes second-growth stands, the BC government has tried to depict the entire area as a second-growth forest with just a smattering of veteran old-growth trees – which is far from the truth for those who’ve been there to marvel at the stands of giant red cedars and Douglas-firs.

In July, the Ben-Oliels discovered that C & H Forest Products had flagged a series of large red cedars near their property for logging and had been given the go-ahead to construct a 1400 metre road to access planned cut blocks on the lake’s north side. As Echo Lake is also part of the drinking watershed for local people, there are concerns about the risk to the supreme water quality in the area posed by road-building and logging.

The race is now on to mobilize concerned citizens to speak up to the provincial government, particularly in the lead-up to the May 2017 provincial election. The province could enact a Land Use Order, expand the Old-Growth Management Area, or implement some other protective designation at Echo Lake, while potentially finding an area of equivalent timber value in second-growth forests elsewhere for the licensee – something that the province is so far reluctant to do.

Already 80% of the original, productive old-growth forests have been logged in the southwest mainland of BC, including over 95% of the high productivity, valley bottoms with the largest trees. The Ancient Forest Alliance is working for a science-based provincial plan to protect all of BC’s endangered old-growth forests, and to ensure a sustainable second growth forest industry.

The protection of Echo Lake would be a vital step in the right direction.

Please speak up! Write a letter or email to your local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), as well as Premier Christy Clark (premier@gov.bc.ca) and Forests Minister Steve Thomson (steve.thomson.mla@leg.bc.ca) at the Legislative Buildings, Victoria, BC, V8V 1X4. Ask them to protect ALL of the forests around Echo Lake – for the eagles, wildlife, drinking watershed, scenery, tourism, and because lowland old-growth forests are now extremely scarce in the Lower Mainland.

Read more: http://www.footprintpress.ca/pdf/FootprintPressIssue18.pdf


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