British Columbia

Cathedral Grove at risk from old growth logging uphill from popular site, say conservationists

The Ancient Forest Alliance warns that unless the province sets aside money to buy private lands around MacMillan Provincial Park, which houses the famous Cathedral Grove of old growth trees near Port Alberni, the encroachment of logging will affect the ecological integrity of the park.

Ancient Forest Alliance demands province set aside money to buy private lands near MacMillan Provincial Park

Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner Andrea Inness stands close to a stream on Mt. Horne, the hillside above the world-famous Cathedral Grove, which she says is being encroached on by old growth logging in the area. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

Conservationists on Vancouver Island have renewed a demand that the province set aside money to buy private lands to stop the logging of old growth trees.

The call came this week after the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) and the Port Alberni Watershed-Forest Alliance drew attention to logging happening close to one of the most-visited stands of protected old growth trees in the province — Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park.

Since late 2019 Mosaic Forest Management has been logging on Mt. Horne, which is uphill from the park known for its ancient Douglas firs, some of which are up to 800 years old. 

Conservationists say that old growth trees in dense forests support biodiversity and are important areas to protect in the fight against climate change. They are also prized by loggers for their value.

Campaigners against the logging on Mt. Horne argue that that by cutting close to the park, and deforesting the hillside above it, Cathedral Grove will become more at risk to windstorms, erosion and the loss of habitat.

In 1997, a severe windstorm toppled hundreds of trees and destroyed sections of the trail in Cathedral Grove. 

"Its ecological integrity continues to be undermined as the B.C. government allows clear cut logging to encroach closer and closer to the MacMillan Provincial Park boundary," said TJ Watt, with the AFA in a release.

An old growth area logged by Mosaic Forest Management on Mt. Horne, the hillside above the world-famous Cathedral Grove. Second-growth forests are in the foreground. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

Watt and others have, for years, asked that the province create a natural lands acquisition fund to identify critical areas for biodiversity or with First Nations cultural value and purchase them from private owners.

Vancouver Island's Capital Regional District has a Land Acquisition Fund, which collects a $20 a year levy from households. Since its creation in 2000, it has purchased and protected around 5,000 hectares of land on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands

Conservationists argue, in this case of Mt. Horne, acquiring land near the park through a similar provincial fund would allow it to expand and protect more old growth areas.

The province says there is no plan to do so however. Its latest budget, with a surplus of more than $200 million, set aside $13 million to help revitalize the forestry sector in lock-step with First Nations, but that does not include money for buying private lands.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) says the area being logged on Mt. Horne is managed by the Private Managed Forests Lands Act and is subject to dozens of regulations including provisions for protecting critical fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, soil conservation and reforestation.

Reserve areas set aside

Mosaic said in 2019, prior to cutting trees in the area, registered professional biologists surveyed the area and did not identify any species at risk or endangered ecosystems.

It also said that, in the past, it has donated or sold more than 44,000 hectares of private land for conservation on Vancouver Island.

"Most of this area represents the highest ecological quality forest areas in our land base," said Karen Brandt, director of  government relations and strategic engagement with Mosaic.

"In our working forest, registered professional biologists identify and set aside additional reserve areas for high-quality habitat for ungulates [deer] and threatened species like marbled murrelet."

The province is currently undergoing an old growth strategic review. Many groups, including the AFA, recommended during public engagement that a land acquisition fund be included in future policies.

Legislative amendments based on that feedback is expected this spring, with regulations in force by 2021.

The red ticker shows the approximate location of Mt. Horne, where old growth logging takes place near MacMillan Provincial Park and Cathedral Grove, a protected area for old growth trees since 1947. (Google Maps)


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