Plans to auction off 109 hectares of old-growth forest adjacent to the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park have outraged conservationists and tourism operators.
The seven planned cutblocks, two of which come to within 37 metres of the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park boundary near Port Renfrew, would see an estimated 55,346 cubic metres of old-growth – the equivalent of over 1,300 loaded logging trucks – leave the region known as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada.
Opponents charge the B.C. government and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson have demonstrated a lack of political will to preserve the endangered forests.
“The provincial government has a blind spot that they are not willing to address,” said Andrea Inness, a representative of the Ancient Forest Alliance.
“They won’t even acknowledge that there’s a problem and keep hiding behind misleading statistics that paint a very rosy, and very false, picture for old-growth forests. But if you dig down you can see they just don’t get it.”
Inness said the government will say that 55 per cent of the old growth on Vancouver Island is protected, but they fail to acknowledge that some forest types have already been devastated by logging.
“If you look at the coastal Douglas-fir forests, for example, less than one per cent of those forests remain,” she said.
Inness added that the 55 per cent figure is also misleading as it includes already protected areas like the Great Bear Rainforest and other forest types like the sub-alpine and bog forests that have no commercial value and were never threatened.
The government’s move to auction off the current cutblocks came with no public consultation, said Inness and were discovered when environmental groups studied the 2019 schedule of work published by the B.C. government’s logging agency, B.C. Timber Sales.
B.C. Timber Sales is the B.C. government logging agency that manages 20 per cent of the province’s allowable annual cut. It recently came under fire from a host of environmental agencies for what Jens Weiling of the Sierra Club has described as “flying blind into terminating the old-growth web of life.”
In a review of B.C. Timber Sales’ sales schedule, environmental organizations Elphinstone Logging Focus and Sierra Club B.C. found the provincial government agency is proposing 2019 cutblocks across the last intact old-growth rainforest areas on Vancouver Island adding up to more than 1,300 hectares–an area equivalent to the size of more than three Stanley Parks.
The move to cut down old-growth forests is also of concern to tourist business operators in the region who contend that the standing trees have a far greater value than the clear cut lumber they will provide.
“Port Renfrew, a former logging town, has successfully re-branded itself in recent years as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada and is seeing a huge increase in eco-tourism, greatly benefiting local businesses,” said TJ Watt, a photographer and advocate for old growth forests.
“This logging will impact Port Renfrew’s reputation as an eco-tourism destination, not to mention the impacts on the environment.”
Soule Creek Lodge owner John Cash said he is deeply concerned and disappointed with the planned logging in an area adjacent to his tourist attraction.
“My business relies on tourists who come to admire the big trees and old-growth forests. My business doubled after Avatar Grove was discovered,” he said.
“Instead of old-growth clearcutting right up to a provincial park boundary, the B.C. government should be helping rural communities like Port Renfrew transition to more diverse and sustainable economies. People don’t come here from all around the world to hear the sounds of old-growth being cut down.”
Cash said despite the NDP’s promise that they would make forest conservation a priority, their actions have not reflected that commitment.
“It’s business as usual,” said Cash.
Both Cash and Inness have called upon Forests Minister Doug Donaldson to cancel the old-growth timber sales before the closing date for bids on April 26. They say that, instead, the minister should move to protect the area and consider incorporating it into the boundaries of the provincial park.
A spokesman for the Forest Ministry responded with a statement that confirmed the sale of the cutblocks, reiterated the government position that 55 per cent of old growth forests are protected and said that ending logging in old growth forests would affect people engaged in the logging industry.