The push from a local environmental group to halt old-growth logging near Cathedral Grove gained ground on Monday, when representatives from Island Timberlands, the B.C. Ministry of Forests and city council discussed the issue with the Watershed Forest Alliance.
Last summer, city council agreed to support the forest alliance as it pressures the province and Island Timberlands to stop harvesting along the steep slopes of McLaughlin Ridge, an area of oldgrowth trees east of Port Alberni. Although McLaughlin Ridge is owned by the forestry company, it lies within the China Creek Watershed, Port Alberni’s source of drinking water.
This gives reason for concern, said Watershed Forest Alliance co-ordinator Jane Morden, who estimates that 40 per cent of McLaughlin Ridge’s 500 hectares has been cut.
“The City of Port Alberni has the legal responsibility to provide drinking water, but it does not have control over many of the factors that influence the quality and quantity of the water in the China Creek watershed,” she stated in a letter sent to council this month.
The forestry company stated that it’s regulated under the Private Managed Forest Land Act. “Managing a forest requires the balancing of timber production with the protection of key values, such as water, soils, wildlife, ecological diversity and community needs,” stated Island Timberlands on its website. “This balance is ensured by law, certification standards, and our internal policies.” Although the harvesting is legal, logging in McLaughlin Ridge remains a concern for the community, said Mayor Mike Ruttan, who attended the watershed meeting Monday.
“If it is going to be protected in perpetuity, it has to be protected now; we’re at that tipping point,” he said. “If it’s all gone because Island Timberlands has done what they have a right to do, which is to log it, that doesn’t help the future generations because you’re never going to see these kinds of trees again.”
During discussions IT executives suggested the possibility that if a bond is issued equal to the value of the property, harvesting might stop, said Coun. Sharie Minions, who participated in the meeting Monday.
During a presentation to city council, Sarah Thomas of the forest alliance stressed that an independent land assessment would need to be made.
“It’s kind of hard to put money on the table if we don’t know what they’re asking for and we don’t have any agreement on a price,” she said.
Ruttan noted that other Vancouver Island communities are facing watershed issues, including Shawnigan Lake, where South Island Aggregates has proposed to build a dumping facility for construction waste near the community’s drinking water source. Ruttan added that the city wouldn’t be the purchaser of the China Creek watershed.
“It would be acquired by a foundation with the idea to protect it in perpetuity, and therefore the people of Port Alberni would be the major beneficiaries of this.”
Another meeting with city councillors, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Island Timberlands and the Watershed Forest Alliance is expected in February.