Media Release: BC Government Must Protect Old-Growth Forests in Port Alberni's Drinking Watershed
Ancient Forest Alliance, March 31, 2015
Port Alberni Watershed Forest-Alliance's Jane Morden stands with giant Douglas-fir trees on McLaughlin Ridge
Photo by TJ Watt
For Immediate Release
March 31, 2015
Conservationists: BC Government Must Protect Old-Growth Forests in Port Alberni’s Drinking Watershed
Conservationists call on BC Government to help purchase endangered old-growth forests on Island Timberlands’ deregulated lands, including McLaughlin Ridge in Port Alberni’s drinking watershed, following BC Teachers Federation motion, Port Alberni city council resolution, and now Island Timberlands’ potential interest in selling McLaughlin Ridge.
Conservationists are ramping-up the pressure on the BC government to purchase and protect endangered old-growth forests owned by Island Timberlands around Port Alberni, including McLaughlin Ridge in the city’s drinking watershed, following rapidly evolving developments. Recently, Island Timberlands has stated that they are potentially interested in selling McLaughlin Ridge, greatly sought by conservation interests, and that they have no plans to log the ridge in 2015. The company’s new stance follows the Port Alberni city council’s support for protecting the old-growth forests of McLaughlin Ridge and the BC Teacher’s Federation’s motion last month calling on Island Timberlands to divest itself of McLaughlin Ridge so that it can be purchased and protected and to upgrade the company’s forestry practices to the higher, more environmental standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme.
The BC Liberal government deregulated McLaughlin Ridge and thousands of hectares of other old-growth forests around Port Alberni in 2004 by removing them from their Tree Farm Licence, opening them up to logging. Public forums, rallies, and letter-writing events are currently being planned by conservationists to help the BC government overcome their reluctance to take responsibility for and to show leadership on this issue.
Conservationists with the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Port Alberni Watershed Forest Alliance are calling on the BC Liberal government to help fund the protection of these old-growth forests – which they deregulated in 2004 by removing them from their Tree Farm Licence (TFL 44), thus removing planned environmental protections for old-growth forests, endangered species, deer and elk wintering habitat, and exposing these lands to clearcut logging. The conservation organizations are also actively looking at various land trusts and private donors to also contribute to funding the protection of these endangered old-growth forests, including Mclaughlin Ridge, the Cameron Valley Firebreak, Katlum Creek, and Horne Mountain above the world-famous Cathedral Grove.
Island Timberlands is owned in large part by the BC Investment Management Corporation or BCIMC which includes the pension funds of public employees including teachers.
“With Island Timberlands indicating that they have some interest in a conservation solution for McLaughlin Ridge, and with the support of the Port Alberni mayor and city council and the BC Teachers Federation for this, it’s time that the BC government also step forward and become part of the solution,” stated Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance. “After all, they originally deregulated these forest lands, causing this whole mess – and now they must fix it. They need to commit to funding or helping to fund the purchase and protection of McLaughlin Ridge and other remaining old-growth forests on these deregulated lands.”
“After years of campaigning, we’ve now reached a juncture that most of the critical parties are in agreement that we need a win-win solution to keep our drinking watershed and key old-growth forests intact by Port Alberni. We’re not there yet, but the BC government can push this into a final solution very quickly if they have the political will,” stated Jane Morden, coordinator of the Port Alberni Watershed Forest Alliance.
Conservation groups will be requesting meetings with Vancouver Island MLA’s (Members of the Legislative Assembly) with the ruling BC Liberal party, and holding letter-writing and public awareness events to ensure the protection of these lands if provincial government intransigence persists.
In addition, forest activists are actively searching for options among private land trusts and other donors who may take an interest in helping to purchase McLaughlin Ridge and other lands. Island Timberlands recently worked with local Cortes Island residents to ensure the purchase and protection of the mature and older forests at the Whaletown Commons.
Island Timberlands is the second largest private landowner in BC, owning about 250,000 hectares of private forest lands in the province. This includes extremely scarce old-growth Douglas-fir forest, high quality ungulate (deer) winter range, and endangered Queen Charlotte goshawk habitat at McLaughlin Ridge, which the company has previously partially cut, although much of the core area remains intact.
See recent photos of the logging at McLaughlin Ridge in early July (media are free to reprint, credit to “TJ Watt” if possible): http://on.fb.me/1qeaXhn
See older photos of the intact forest and earlier logging in 2011 at McLaughlin Ridge (media are free to reprint all photos, credit to “TJ Watt” if possible): www.ancientforestalliance.org/photos.php?gID=10
McLaughlin Ridge has been recognized by the provincial government’s own biologists as one of the most ecologically important forests. See: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/battle-revealed-over-use-of-sensitive-island-forest-near-port-alberni-1.10365
McLaughlin Ridge is part of 78,000 hectares of land (originally owned by Weyerhaeuser, followed by Island Timberlands) that were removed from Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 44 on Vancouver Island in 2004, thereby removing the planned environmental policies and/or regulations intended to protect species at risk (Wildlife Habitat Areas or WHA’s), old-growth forests, deer and elk winter ranges (Ungulate Winter Ranges or UWR’s), and riparian areas; to control the rate of cut; and to restrict raw log exports to protect local mills. The removal of the lands from TFL 44 included the stipulation from the BC government that a follow-up agreement be developed between the company and the government to ensure the protection of McLaughlin Ridge and other intended UWR’s and WHA’s - however, both parties failed to pursue the agreement, and the lands were subsequently partially being logged until Island Timberlands halted operations recently.
In total, about 2400 hectares of endangered old-growth forests originally intended for protection by the BC government as Ungulate Winter Ranges and Wildlife Habitat Areas in TFL 44 are now endangered.
These lands also include Horne Mountain above the world-famous Cathedral Grove, the Cameron Valley Firebreak, Katlum Creek, and other areas – about three-fourths of which are estimated to have been logged by now (ie. only about 600 to 700 hectares are estimated to still remain). Most of these areas are within the traditional territory of the Hupacasth, Tseshaht, and/or K’omoks First Nations bands.
Over the past several years conservationists have been asking the BC government to purchase and protect endangered private lands – which the government did at Jordan River for example in 2010 at a popular surfing area at risk due to similar circumstances involving TFL deregulation of Western Forest Product’s private forest lands. Ideally, these purchases would occur as part of a larger, dedicated “park acquisition fund” of millions of dollars each year for this purpose. At this urgent time, simply protecting the last few hundred hectares of the old-growth forests that remain at McLaughlin Ridge, Horne Mountain (above Cathedral Grove), Cameron Firebreak, Katlum Creek, etc. would be the immediate priority.
Protecting these areas would protect vital habitat for endangered species, as well as Roosevelt elk, deer, and other wildlife; ensure clean and abundant water for fish and drinking watersheds; protect hiking, hunting, fishing, and recreational areas; and would provide huge potential for eco-tourism ventures in the area.
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