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21st February 2019
...continued from Part one

“What do you think of when you hear ‘clear-cut?’” Siebring asks. “You think of the worst forestry practices that existed in the ’50s and ’60s. We don’t clear-cut. Since we set up this paradigm in the ’70s, we have never clear-cut.”

Technically speaking, the type of logging that is done in the North Cowichan municipal forest is “clear-cutting with reserves,” meaning loggers do leave a few trees behind. It is clear-cutting, but cutblocks are much smaller than the average in B.C.

The allowable annual cut in the municipal forest is 20,000 cubic metres per year. This translates to a maximum of two per cent of the land base, or 100 hectares, available to log each year, with the forest recycling itself every 50 years. In reality, this has only averaged out to about 44 hectares logged per year.

Cutblocks are replanted and logs are sold to a variety of local sawmills, as well as TimberWest’s log sort yard, where an unknown percentage of the logs go overseas.

North Cowichan operates as a “market logger,” which means the actual harvest levels fluctuate based on wood prices. When prices are up, they try to log the maximum. When prices are down, they leave the trees in the ground.

According to a municipal forest report, in four of the last five years, with wood prices historically high, net revenues from the forest have been just over $1 million a year.

Of that, 20 per cent goes into general revenues to keep taxes down, 40 per cent stays in the reserve fund to fight wildfires and operate in lean years and 40 per cent goes into a forest legacy fund, which funds community projects such as local museums and scholarships.

“Bottom line is I do believe we have done very well by that forest, not just financially but we’ve done a good job of sustainability,” Siebring says. “At the same time, I want the world to know that I am open to improving that.”

‘We stopped being as transparent as we should have been’

In 1981, the municipality established a forest advisory committee to advise North Cowichan’s forestry department staff. Today, the committee is made up of four registered professional foresters and one council member.

With the collapse of the U.S. housing market and the global economy in 2008, wood prices fell very low, so the municipal forest was doing very little logging, other than a few telephone poles for BC Hydro.

Siebring, who had just been elected to council for the first time in 2008, recalls that it was getting a little ridiculous that every time they wanted to cut down a few telephone poles it had to go before council. So council delegated authority to the forestry department and the advisory committee to look after the forestry business.

“That, I think, is fundamentally where we went wrong,” Siebring says. “We stopped being as transparent as we should have been about the way we were logging and the cutblocks we’re logging. For the last 10 years, council hasn’t seen those cutblocks and those logging contracts.”

Icel Dobell says there needs to be a restructuring of the advisory committee.

“Our forest has been run as if it was a private logging company, rather than a community forest,” she says.

‘Communities are waking up’

While the particulars of North Cowichan’s situation are no doubt unique, they are not alone in their calls for greater transparency, more community consultation, an examination of alternative forestry methods and the need to reassess the true value of the forests in our own backyards.

“Most of southeastern Vancouver Island was first logged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” says forest ecologist Mackinnon. “The last logging was lost to cultural memory. And so it came as a surprise to many when the trees became large enough and the logging began again.”

Coastal residents of Port Renfrew, Cumberland and Cortes Island, as well as elsewhere in B.C. like Ymir and Grand Forks, are taking a greater interest in the impacts of logging on watersheds, eco-tourism and communities’ ability to weather the uncertainties of climate change.

“Communities are waking up all over Vancouver Island and indeed the province,” Dobell says. “They’ve been surrounded by forests that have been maturing for 60 years and the public assumed that they were forever. Now communities are madly trying to pull together and raise funds, millions of dollars in some cases, to purchase the forests around them.”

The Cumberland Community Forest has done just that. When residents realized that logging companies owned the forests surrounding their community, they began fundraising to purchase them in order to prevent them from being logged. They have raised millions of dollars to date and purchased well over 100 hectares of forestland, with more on their radar.

North Cowichan is in a unique position in that they don’t have to purchase the forests around them — they already own them.

“This conversation is just emerging in our community but we feel it is taking off,” Dobell says. “The more people are learning, the more we realize we don’t know anything about what the alternatives are.”

Mayor Siebring says he is open to a reassessment of what the municipality has been doing.

“I’m hoping that we can come up with a compromise that says, we’re going to do minimal active logging this year, we will keep a bit of a revenue stream going by pulling out the trees that got knocked down in the wind, and give ourselves a year’s breathing room to step back and say, ‘Are we doing the best that we can?’ ”

The agenda for the upcoming council meeting on February 15 indicates changes are indeed coming to the forest advisory committee, with several new people being added to the group, including members of the Cowichan Tribes, Halalt and Lyakson First Nations.

A decision will be made on Friday about whether slated logging will continue in 2019, or whether a pause will happen to allow for community consultations.

*Correction made at 11 a.m. on Feb. 19, 2019: The article originally stated the E&N land grants totaled 300,000 hectares, but they actually totaled 769,000 hectares.