Cortes Island activist Leah Seltzer is dwarfed by an old growth Douglas fir near Basil Creek where Island Timberlands plans to log.

Loggers leave Cortes … but promise to return

An unofficial time out is being observed in the standoff between Cortes Island environmental activists and Island Timberlands

An unofficial time out is being observed in the standoff between Cortes Island environmental activists and Island Timberlands over the company’s plans to log its private land which contains old growth stands.

Last week, Cortes environmentalists, residents and supporters repeatedly blocked Island Timberlands’ crews from beginning logging operations near Basil Creek. Zoe Miles, a member of Wildstands, says the community has attempted to work with the company for more than four years to develop an ecosystem-based approach to forestry. “The community is now left with no choice but to stand in Timberlands’ path to defend these ecologically significant forests.”

The group lifted its blockade after frustrated logging crews left the island, but the company’s Director of Human Resources Mark Leitao says they are simply assessing their options. One of those options is a court injunction. Behind the scenes efforts were being made to bring the two sides together for talks.

West Vancouver environmental lawyer Joe Spears, who has been hired by the environmentalists, tells the Mirror: “Situation normal, trees standing.”

“This goes way beyond private property rights,” the lawyer says. “There is so little coastal old growth left.” Spears says there needs to be an informed discussion about the best use of the resource – “a source of raw logs for China or deferred forestation that gives rise to carbon credits?”

Ken Wu, Executive Director of Ancient Forest Alliance, says: “What is needed now is leadership from the Liberal government to help resolve the war in the woods by committing funds to purchase endangered ecosystems on private lands, including old-growth forests on Cortes Island.

The alliance is calling for a $40 million annual park acquisition fund. The last time the provincial government had a dedicated land acquisition fund was in the 2008 budget, Wu says.  A similar battle on Salt Spring Island over a decade ago between local residents and a logging company was resolved through funding from the provincial, federal and regional governments and local citizens to purchase the endangered lands around Burgoyne Bay and on Mount Maxwell.

Meanwhile, the Private Forest Landowners Association has taken Cortes activist Leah Seltzer to task for her claim that “privately managed forest companies (do not have) any legally binding regulations on their lands.”

There are more than 30 acts and regulations that apply to managed forest land, the association says, “and successive independent audits show the protection … on private managed forest land meets or exceeds the standard of protection on public lands.”

Seltzer counters: “The industry uses a model of ‘professional reliance’ which means that there is no real government oversight.  So, technically on the books, there is ‘legally binding legislation,’ but ultimately the forest professionals determine what compliance looks like and for us this feels a lot like the fox is watching the hen house.