British Columbia

Logging watchdog probes government agency over felled B.C. old-growth trees

The Forest Practices Board says it is looking into allegations that the government agency B.C. Timber Sales did not comply with provincial land use plans for stewardship around logging outside Port Alberni, B.C.

Environmentalists allege government agency B.C. Timber Sales did not comply with provincial land use plans

An aerial view of an old-growth clearcut in the Nahmint Valley from May 2018. A large Douglas fir tree can be seen on the ground. (TJ Watt)

A provincial watchdog is investigating allegations that the government agency responsible for cutting timber on public land did not follow provincial rules to preserve old growth trees outside Port Alberni.

For the past year, the environmental group Ancient Forest Alliance has been chronicling the logging of massive trees, many hundreds of years old, on Vancouver Island, particularly the Nahmint Valley.

Andrea Inness, a member of the Ancient Forest Alliance, walks beside a western red cedar logged in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni in May 2018. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

In June, the forest alliance complained to provincial officials about B.C. Timber Sales, the agency that regulates logging on public land. Now, the watchdog group, the Forest Practices Board, is heading to the area to review what was felled and conduct interviews,

In May, the forest alliance discovered what it described as one of the biggest Douglas firs in Canada in the Nahmint, which is the territory of the Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations.

The tree, estimated to be 70 metres tall, three metres in diameter and possibly 800 years old was cut despite the alliance arguing it, along with others, should have been spared.

TJ Watt, a member of the Ancient Forest Alliance, created this before-and-after photograph of a 66-metre tall and three-metre wide Douglas fir in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni B.C. in May 2018. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

"The ongoing logging of some of Canada's largest trees and most spectacular ancient forests in the Nahmint Valley is proof that BCTS cannot be trusted to sustainably manage B.C.'s endangered old-growth forests," said forest alliance campaigner Andrea Inness in a release.

Darlene Oman, who speaks for the board, says it is looking into the BCTS's compliance with the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan and its own coastal legacy tree policy, which is a new policy meant to preserve old trees of a certain size for their cultural, aesthetic and ecological value.

Ministry investigation

Oman says the board is also looking into whether an investigation the Ministry of Forests conducted into the matter by its own enforcement branch was "appropriate."

The Ministry of Forests has not said anything about that investigation or if results are forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the ministry says it recognizes the value of old-growth forests for biodiversity and is currently working on a new old-growth strategy as part a province-wide land use policy review.

It also says this year, B.C. Timber Sales began reviewing cut blocks in the Nahmint Valley — areas approved to be logged after the sale of timber licences — to determine where old growth trees exist and possibly protect them.

Environmentalists with the Ancient Forest Alliance have been documenting old growth trees being felled on Vancouver Island. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

It says so far, 200 old-growth cedars, greater than one metre in diameter, will be protected.

A total of 319 hectares or 3.19 square kilometres of cutblocks has been approved for logging in the Nahmint Valley by BCTS.

The Ancient Forest Alliance wants all future logging plans for the Nahmint Valley put on hold until the Forest Practices Board's investigation is complete. A report is expected sometime in 2019.