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3rd February 2022
Shuswap residents celebrate BCTS decision to not log in ‘high debris flow hazard’ area

Public effort helped sway decision against cutblocks in Bastion Creek watershed

LACHLAN LABERE Jan. 28, 2022 3:40 p.m. NEWS

Residents of a Shuswap community are breathing a sigh of relief after receiving news BC Timber Sales (BCTS) has backed down on proposed cutblocks in the Bastion Creek watershed.

“Cheerfully received good news was announced this week for a group of Salmon Arm citizens who lobbied against a specific logging operation in the Bastion Creek community watershed due to the high risk it presented to residents and homes in the area” said Catherine Spanevello, spokesperson for residents of the Totem Pole Resort strata, referring to the decision by BCTS to not allow logging of three cutblocks.

In early 2019, Spanevello and the strata, which is located on an alluvial fan at the base of the watershed, became aware a call to referral issued by BC Timber Sales identifying the cutblocks (K0WG, K5M7 and K5MG) along the south facing slope of Bastion Creek. This prompted concern as Bastion Creek, she explained, is identified as a debris flow waterway that drains into Shuswap Lake at the north end of Sunnybrae Canoe Point Road. She added previous landslides and debris flow/flooding events have occurred along Sunnybrae Canoe Point Road, including the 2017 slides at Handy Brook and Robinson Creek, which destroyed homes and claimed one man’s life.

In 2021, residents of Totem Pole and supporters convinced the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) board to write the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) to request a moratorium on logging in the watershed. During a meeting with the CSRD board, Spanevello said BCTS had not been cooperative and residents had to obtain information through a freedom of information request. With help from a retired professional geoscientist Bill Grainger, it was determined BCTS’ due diligence to manage risks related to the proposed cutblocks relied on outdated analysis.

In June 2021, FLNRO replied to the CSRD request, saying it did not support the moratorium “because of considerable measures being taken to ensure operations can be conducted in a safe manner.” It was explained BCTS’ plans for the watershed area had thoroughly considered potential impacts on downstream users, with hydrology and terrain stability assessments having been done by qualified registered professionals. A watershed channel and debris flow assessment was expected to be completed that summer.

Responding to the recent news, Grainger credited the CSRD for being proactive regarding geohazards in the region. He said in 2020, a regional geohazard risk prioritization study was completed for the CSRD. He said the study identified the Bastion Creek fan as a “High Risk Priority” area for damaging debris flow occurrences. He said Spanevello brought that CSRD study to his attention, along with a terrain stability investigation done for BCTS, “which did not see the same significant geohazards in Bastion that the CSRD study did.”

Grainger said he spoke to BCTS’ geotechnical expert who had completed the terrain stability assessment, and brought the CSRD’s findings to his attention, as well as the findings of an earlier, more detailed debris flow investigation of Bastion Creek completed in 2000, which had also found potential debris flow hazards.

“BCTS’ geotech did the right thing, and informed his client of this information, and recommended there be an updated detailed debris flow investigation before the proposed cutblocks went up for sale,” said Grainger.

BCTS followed that recommendation, said Grainger, and hired a recognized debris flow expert to review existing geohazard conditions in Bastion Creek and the possible increase in geohazards from BCTS’ proposed logging.

Grainger said BCTS’ debris flow expert investigated watershed conditions, including – “for the first time, in spite of decades of logging in Bastion Creek watershed” – evidence of past debris flow events on the Bastion Creek fan, and concluded there is a high existing debris flow hazard, “that is inherent to the watershed, regardless of whether any proposed [forest] development takes place.”

Grainger credited BCTS for being “reasonably cautious in balancing the need for timber to support the jobs and other economic benefits that come from timber harvesting and our local plywood mill, and the hazards and risks that logging can sometimes entail to residences and residents living downslope and downstream of that logging.”

Another supporter of Totem Pole resort residents, Shuswap Environmental Action Society president Jim Cooperman, said he was pleased with the turnabout and that, “the government has come to its senses and decided not to log in this sensitive watershed as that would have likely caused extreme damage to the Totem Pole resort community.”

CSRD Electoral Area C South Shuswap Director Paul Demenok said he was very pleased to hear of the decision to forego logging in order to enhance the safety of residents and visitors, and to help protect property and homes.

“It’s the right thing to do and I would like to thank those authorities who made this call,” said Demenok.

Spanevello said the decision marks a significant acknowledgement and promising step forward in community relations with the logging industry.