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Last August city council passed a resolution to urge both the B.C. Ministry of Forests and Island Timberlands to halt the harvesting of old growth trees in McLaughlin Ridge, a steeply sloped area near Cathedral Grove.
It was a bold move with the appearance of pushing the direction of Island Timberlands, one of the region’s largest landowners. But after eight months of regular meetings little progress towards this goal is evident, other than that the various parties involved are continuing the conversation.
Council has heeded warnings from the Watershed Forest Alliance, a local environmental group that fears the old growth logging is threatening wildlife and Port Alberni’s water supply by removing the natural filtration provided
by trees. McLaughlin Ridge lies within the China Creek Watershed, which serves as a source for the taps of over 20,000 resident in Port Alberni and Beaver Creek. Turbidity – the measure of suspended particles in water – is a major concern, as this muddiness interferes with municipal disinfection systems. Turbidity is normally caused by heavy rainfall and eroding soil, but forestry practices are believed to also be a contributing factor.
Since last August’s resolution other local groups have added their voices to this anti-logging cause. Jake Leyenaar of the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association, which protects fish habitat in the area, warned that logging steep land like in McLaughlin Ridge contributes to winter flooding in streams. In January the
B.C. Teachers Federation voted to ask Island Timberlands to halt the old growth harvesting out of fears the practice threatens Port Alberni’s watershed. This urging is significant, as the teachers’ union has a significant amount of shares with Island Timberlands through the B.C. Investment Management Corporation.
But one organization that has not joined the McLaughlin Ridge cause is the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. Last year the ACRD’s board of directors declined to support this lobbying, citing the lack of evidence that Port Alberni’s water supply is actually being compromised. Local tap water has consistently passed Island Health’s increasingly stringent standards, while data collected by the city shows a consistent improvement in turbidity levels over the last decade.
Meanwhile the Private Managed Land Council has investigated Island Timberland’s activity in the China Creek Watershed. Although logging has increased in recent years, IT’s operations where rated above average for coastal forestry companies in terms of managing operations in an environmentally sustainable manner. The watershed is more than capable of handling what’s being cut, ruled the forestry council.
As the effort to halt old growth harvesting grows, an essential issue lies with identifying proof of what harm is actually occurring. Ariel shots of McLaughlin Ridge are hard to dispute, showing massive swaths of forest cut bare despite the steep grades. Can we really accept that this is not creating permanent damage? Or is the turbidity data and the forestry council’s conclusion indisputable, and are we really seeing the growing influence of an aggressively vocal environmentalist lobby? The situation the community currently struggles with is the direct result of provincial legislation passed in 2004 that allows a large tree farm licence in the region to be privately owned.
Now Island Timberlands has the legal control of 84 per cent of the community’s watershed. Despite the company’s adherence to industry standards in the region, the fact that one of our most precious resources isn’t publicly controlled will continued to arouse concern until legal changes are made to the ownership of the China Creek Watershed.