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Logging interest prompts swift reaction

BCTS rejects requests to extend public comment period

Over the weekend, Bowen Islanders learned that BC Timber Sales (BCTS) in Chilliwack, BC has access to parcels of Crown Land on the island and is interested in engaging the municipality on opportunities to harvest trees on that land. Council chambers overflowed on Monday evening with citizens eager to speak their mind and hear what council had to say on this issue. By Tuesday, Islanders were already organizing to oppose the plan.

Mayor Murray Skeels shifted the agenda of Monday’s meeting so that the public comment section, which was made up entirely of points opposing industrial logging activity on Bowen, coincided with council’s discussion on the issue.

André Chollat told council that while Islanders understand that the Provincial Government can do what it pleases with Crown Land, Bowen is the wrong place to be harvesting trees for commercial purposes.

“Times are changing, and as we see right now in the Caribou, wrong decisions can have unintended consequences and costs.... Crown land makes up 60% of our land to be left in its natural state regulating our water reserves, and climate conditions,” said Chollat.

Hugh Freeman brought up the impacts felt by islanders while Cape Roger Curtis was being logged, and urged council to enact bylaws directed specifically towards logging, logging trucks, logging helicopters and woodlots.

“Our island consists within a boundary, and that boundary is the shoreline. And even though the properties within the island are park land, called crown land, we have some control over it, it’s within our boundaries. And similarly we have a little area of water around the island in our letters pattent that should allow us to prevent fairly significant permit seeking by logging companies,” said Freeman.

John Dowler took issue with BCTS’s public comment period taking place in the summer, when many residents are taking vacation and those involved in the tourist industry are working “full-tilt.”

Mayor Murray Skeels followed up these, and other comments, with the perspective that so far, the process followed by BC Timber  has not served Bowen Island well.

“We received a fairly innocuous letter sent to our chief corporate officer, suggesting they would like to meet with council in a Committee of the Whole. Then before we know it there is an ad in The Undercurrent, which I don’t think most people picked up on as being related to anything. Now we find out their public engagement process is set to end on September 6. So, the process to date has not moved well.”

Skeels suggested that council write a letter in return to Enrique Sanchez, from BC Timber Sales, inviting him to a Council of the Whole meeting but also requesting that he extend the date for public comment and change the scheduled July 30th open house to a later date.

 Sue Ellen Fast suggested that the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the Crown Lands Report made in the year 2000 may be useful tools in dealing with logging proposals, and allies will be found through Islands Trust and other community groups.

After some further discussion, Fast mentioned that she and Bonny Brokenshire, Manager of Parks and Environment, met with Sanchez on June 30.

“What I gathered, was that the previous Forest Stewardship Plan was done in 2006, and Bowen Island wasn’t in it. Our new Bill 12 and Bill 25 would allow BC Timber Sales to allow BCTS to bring Bowen Island into the boundary. Benefits, I asked, and he said revenue, jobs, local companies would benefit. I said I don’t think we have local companies and he said, well you have a loggers festival coming up,” said Fast, recounting the meeting. She says she asked questions about water quality, and brought up points about climate change, logging trucks and property values. “I thought, by the end of it... I had been persuasive, and Bonny had been doing her staff thing asking questions and I thought he would go away - but he didn’t. Next thing I know, we got this letter and saw this ad in the paper.”

Council continued to discuss the issue and how best to move forward in a strategic sense. After a lengthy discussion, they agreed to Mayor Skeels initial suggestions about an invitation and request to change the public comment period and open house date.

The following day, after summarizing the meeting on Facebook, Dave Pollard suggested that members of the community write letters to Enrique Sanchez of BCTS stating their objection to logging on Bowen.

John Stiver posted the response he recieved from Sanchez that afternoon stating that the dates of the public comment period and the open house on July 30 will not be changed.

In a phone interview with The Undercurrent a short time later, Sanchez confirmed his unwillingness to change the dates of the public comment period.

“The current Forest Stewardship Plan (FSP) is going to expire on December 1, and we need one in place before it does,” he says. “Once a new one is approved, BCTS will engage the community in putting together a 20 year plan that would solidify the details about how and when timber harvesting would be done on Bowen Island. This process would take several years as it would require extensive community conversations and meetings, essentially, the community would be taking ownership of how the forest is managed.”

The current FSP was created in 2006, and although these plans have five-year terms, they can be extended - as this one was. Sanchez says that the 2006 plan does not include Bowen, as BCTS recognized that the forest required time to regenerate following the last timber harvest, which occurred in 1991.

That last harvest focused on the north end of the island, near Hood Point West.

“According to the provincial database for this area, small patches of timber totaling approximately 9 hectares were harvested using small openings inside of which clearcut Siviculture systems were used,” explains Sanchez. “The harvested areas have the objective to minimize impact on local resources. The areas were planted and monitored for stocking. The original stand was of Douglas Fir and had an age of approximately 100 years.”

Sanchez explained that each year on Bowen, the trees within the 1,400 hectares of land accessible to BCTS grow approximately 8,233m3.

“Your harvest really shouldn’t exceed the growth, although there are some cases in which that is possible to manage for a specific value,” says Sanchez. “The conversation will go back and forth and the amount to be harvested will be based on that. The community knows more about the local watersheds than I do, as well as the recreational opportunities that need to be maintained and enhanced. This is why I need their input in a 20 year plan.”

When asked about whether not harvesting timber on Bowen would be a possibility, based on community input, Sanchez replied that this is not an option. The 1400 hectares assigned to BCTS on Bowen island are part of the working forest and contribute to the Fraser Timber Supply area’s rate of harvest.