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Citizen scientist’s fight for bird habitat access denied

Legal battle highlights clash between industry rights and threatened species protection
A western screech owl is among at least two threatened species that have been spotted in the temperate rainforests of Tree Farm Licence 46 on Vancouver Island. (Pixabay) A western screech owl is among at least two threatened species that have been spotted in the temperate rainforests of Tree Farm Licence 46 on Vancouver Island. (Pixabay)

A citizen scientist studying threatened bird species in a vast Vancouver Island forest has encountered another hurdle in her efforts.

The B.C. Forest Practices Board has found that both the Forest Ministry and Teal Cedar Products Ltd. acted lawfully in restricting her access to areas in Tree Farm Licence 46 on Vancouver Island, near Port Renfrew.

Royann Petrell, an associate professor emerita of chemical and biological engineering at the University of B.C., had previously filed a judicial review application challenging the access restrictions.

According to court documents, Petrell argued that Teal Cedar Products Ltd.’s construction of 10 gates, with approval from the forest minister, significantly hampered her ability to conduct research on threatened bird populations within the forest.

The court, however, dismissed her case, citing the Forest Practices Board as a suitable alternative for addressing her concerns.

“This was critically important research that was unfortunately severely restricted,” said Kegan Pepper-Smith, a lawyer representing Petrell with Ecojustice.

Public access to roads on land for non-industrial purposes is generally a right. Still, the Forest and Range Practices Act allows for limited exceptions. Protecting public safety and property is one exception.

TFL 46 was at the centre of the Fairy Creek blockades, one of the most significant instances of direct action against logging in British Columbia’s history. Indigenous groups and environmental activists have consistently opposed logging in sensitive ecosystems.

“The decision to restrict access, agreed to by the district manager, was deemed necessary to protect property and public safety during active logging operations,” said Keith Atkinson, chair of the Forest Practices Board.

“We expect that decisions to restrict access going forward will continue to be assessed for reasonableness, and public access will be restored when safety concerns are no longer significant to require these measures.”

Pepper-Smith said Petrell was not involved in the anti-logging protests. She aimed to gain access to the area to document bird species and their habitat before logging commenced.

On at least one occasion, Teal Cedar delayed logging due to Petrell’s observations.

Petrell’s research and her colleagues have confirmed the presence of western screech owls and marbled murrelets within the forest. Both species are classified as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act.

Logging threatens the western screech owl and marbled murrelet by destroying their old-growth forest homes. These owls and murrelets nest in cavities of large trees, precisely those targeted for lumber. Without suitable nesting sites, their populations decline.

The Forest Practices Board is an independent watchdog investigating public complaints and recommending improvements to forest and range practices on public lands.

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Kevin Laird

About the Author: Kevin Laird

It's my passion to contribute to the well-being of the community by connecting people through the power of reliable news and storytelling.
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