Groups push to halt old-growth harvesting

City council unanimously supports Watershed Forest Alliance in fight to protect McLaughlin Ridge

Eric Plummer / Alberni Valley Times
August 14, 2014 12:00 AM

The City of Port Alberni has joined a push initiated by environmental groups to halt old-growth harvesting on privately-owned McLaughlin Ridge. Council unanimously voted to support the Watershed Forest Alliance’s letter to Island Timberlands CEO Darshan Sihota and Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. McLaughlin Ridge is within the China Creek Watershed, Port Alberni’s source of drinking water.

In a presentation to city council on Monday, Sarah Thomas of the Watershed Forest Alliance said large sections of forest removed from the watershed eliminate the natural filtration provided by trees, placing expensive demands on the municipality to clean water through a treatment plant.

“As the water percolates into the system the trees act as a sponge and help to hold water so that it can be let out slowly over time, as opposed to having a runoff and rushing down the slopes and into the creek,” said Thomas, adding that a logging ban was lifted from McLaughlin Ridge in 2004.

The group says a few hundred hectares of extremely endangered old-growth forests still stand for now in McLaughlin Ridge near Cathedral Grove, including “major stands of ancient Douglas-fir trees, the overwhelming majority of which have been logged on B.C.’s coast.”

Prior to Thomas’s presentation to council, a succession of locals stepped up to the microphone to support the halting of oldgrowth logging.

“We have to stand up for our rights to clean, healthy water in Port Alberni and on Vancouver Island,” said Dan Cebuliak.

Jacques Savard said the watershed has been “raped and ravaged” by Island Timberlands. McLaughlin Ridge is privately owned by the forestry company, the result of regulatory changes to land within Tree Farm Licence 44 in 2004.

The handling of private forest is overseen by the Private Managed Forest Land Council, who have recently concluded in a report that Island Timberlands’ activities in McLaughlin Ridge does not increase the turbidity (cloudiness) of water in the China Creek Watershed, said Morgan Kennah, Island Timberlands’ manager of community affairs.

“Their report concluded that our practices are above average for coastal operations,” said Kennah.

“The study noted that although harvesting activity has increased in the area in the past decade, the hydrological capacity for the watershed to balance this harvesting with current forest cover and regenerating forests is below the threshold for best management in watersheds.”

Privately owned forest is currently regulated differently than the standards of Crown land, which is enforced by the Ministry of Forests.

“This creates problems,” said Coun. Cindy Solda, who also serves as chairwoman of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. “We’re getting really tired of this. The rules aren’t the same for private land and we’re not happy with that, One main goal is to get private land and Crown to be the same, so that they are equal.”

Coun. Hira Chopra encouraged the Watershed Forest Alliance and residents to work with the city to lobby for the laws to be changed.

“We need all of the help, everything that we can find to justify that government is wrong,” he said. “Those standards are raised by the B.C. provincial government. We have to push the government to keep their promise up.”

Another motion passed to ask Island Timberlands representatives to present to council on their operations in the area.

Coun. Rob Cole cautioned of the need to closely consult with the forestry company to find a solution.

“Lobbying can be a lot stronger when we’re in communication with those groups. We have to see all sides of the picture,” he said. “If we totally push away the industry that has control of that land now legally in our country, then we can also not get very far.”

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