This week’s Committee of the Whole meeting at City Hall had to be relocated from the board room to council chambers – an unusual event.
But that’s what happens when there’s as much interest surrounding the topic being discussed as there is in what’s going to happen to the Snowden Demonstration Forest.
This Tuesday’s meeting saw presentations from Jeffery Hamilton of BC Timber Sales (BCTS), Graham Cameron of Recreation Sites and Trails BC, and Gary Ullstrom, the Campbell River resident representing the mounting opposition to the proposed logging activities in the popular mountain biking and hiking area northwest of town.
The discussion surrounded how to best develop a long-term plan for the area – both in terms of timber harvesting and recreational use and development – something that currently doesn’t exist.
Everyone seems to be on board with the creation of such a plan. But nobody seems to know how to get there.
Hamilton’s presentation focused on the currently-proposed logging activities, outlining the plots that will be cleared under the current plan – approximately 43 hectares in total over five different areas of the forest. He cited the economic impact of timber harvesting in the region, saying that approximately $1.6-million in direct government revenue will come from the proposed logging operations at a rate of $80 per cubic metre, which provides money to fund government programs and operations such as creating the long-term plan for the area, which is what everyone wants – including the BCTS.
Right now, Hamilton says, BCTS doesn’t have the resources to even plan in advance which areas will be harvested and when – something he, too, would like to see changed and something they are working towards.
“BCTS has a large operational area,” Hamilton says, “and while we would love to have an operating plan that looks 20 years ahead, honestly, with the resources available, we don’t even have a five-year plan locked down to any really good extent. We’re looking to develop that more in the Snowden area and in an attempt to do that we’ve gone out and started to gather better data.”
Ullstrom, however, presented an economic argument for keeping the logging operations out of Snowden altogether.
Well, out of the “core area,” at least.
“The core area is a sub-unit of the demonstration forest,” Ullstrom says.
He thinks that even by removing that by protecting the core area – about half of the total area of the demonstration forest – from logging, and promoting the trail system as a destination, everyone will win in the long run.
“What the problem is with Snowden is that we don’t realize what a world-class asset we have right here on our doorstep,” Ullstrom says, suggesting there is much more economic benefit focusing our efforts on promoting the area as a destination for recreation instead of harvesting the wood contained within it.
But he also admits that until we do some real research, we can’t know that, and encourages a moratorium being placed on logging in the area for two years so a proper study can be completed.
He cites studies done by communities like Rossland, which found that direct visitor spending due to mountain biking amounted to a $600,000 injection into the local economy per year. He thinks, based on studies done in other communities, that Campbell River could generate between $2 million and $5 million per year off visitation to Snowden should it be properly marketed.
But by allowing logging to occur in Snowden’s core, Ullstrom says, the community could lose out on millions of dollars annually in tourism dollars in exchange for an injection of $600,000 into government coffers once every 20 or so years.
What Ullstrom was really asking, however, was for everyone just to slow down and have an official look at it so that the right decisions can be made.
“Frankly, I just don’t think we have a clear understanding of what economic benefit Snowden is currently generating for our town and our region. And more importantly, we haven’t done a careful assessment of what economic activity this asset could potentially generate if this asset was developed and promoted in a coordinated manner.”
Cameron presented on the role of Recreation Sites and Trails and how the agency has previously worked with grassroots organizations in other regions to create long-term use plans for various trail systems, like one that could potentially be developed for Snowden.
He also said, however, that any such plan would need to be worked out in collaboration with all stakeholders, including those interested in harvesting, such as BCTS.
It would also involve money.
Currently, Cameron and one other employee are responsible for overseeing the sites and trails of around 6.5 million hectares of area on our coast.
“Our budget this year was just slightly over $130,000 and I have hundreds of sites to be managed, everywhere from Royston to Bella Bella. And it’s only growing,” Cameron says.
In the end, council thanked everyone for their presentations and encouraged all stakeholders to come together and keep working towards solutions in developing a long-term plan for the area.
“What’s lacking is that there is no long-term master plan,” said Coun. Larry Samson.
“We’re just going from year to year. There’s no vision for the future. That’s where I can see this council and the regional district saying ‘no, we need a master plan for what’s going to happen here.’”
“I certainly wouldn’t disagree with you,” said Cameron, but added that Rec Sites and Trails can’t be the driver on a project like that.
“The reality is that Recreation Sites and Trails is a tool for the recreating public to use to make sure the value is seen and respected and we are going to act in that way,” Cameron says. “But it really, fundamentally, needs to be the communities that drive the bus.”
Mayor Andy Adams summed up the overall sentiment of the room, saying, “if we want to have some sustainability of the Snowden as a forestry and recreation and economic development area, we need to work collaboratively on that to say, ‘what is that going to look like five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road?’” adding the city will definitely be advocating for the creation of such a plan and do what it can once it’s been developed to help see it implemented.
A previous version of this story incorrectly cited the number of hectares planned for harvest, as well as the amount of direct government revenue from the operations, which has since been clarified by BCTS. The Mirror apologizes for the error.