British Columbia

'Reckless' B.C. forestry company ordered to pay $80K after chopping trees on couple's property

A B.C. forest company has been ordered to pay $80,000 in damages after cutting down dozens of trees in a couple's backyard — trees that had been on the family property for generations.

Western Canadian Timber Products cut down 45 trees on James and Deborrah Avenders property in 2014

A file photo of a feller buncher cutting poplar trees in 2013. Western Canadian Timber Products used such a machine to cut down 45 trees from James and Deborrah Avender's Nanaimo-area property in 2014. (Brian Davies via Associated Press)

A B.C. forest company has been ordered to pay $80,000 in damages after cutting down dozens of trees in a couple's backyard — trees that had been on the family property for generations.

It took just 45 minutes to chop down 45 trees from the forest on James and Deborrah Avender's property in 2014.

The company, Western Canadian Timber Products, owned the neighbouring property and had planned to bring trees down on its side — but crossed the property line and felled some of the Avenders' trees as well.

In his ruling, a B.C. Supreme Court justice called the company's actions "reckless" and "careless," costing a couple part of their "magical" backyard forest.

Childhood backyard

James and Deborrah Avender live on a rural property outside of Nanaimo, B.C. The land originally belonged to Deborrah's parents, but the couple carved out a four-acre plot for themselves after they married.

The remainder was sold to Western Canadian Timber Products, a forestry company, after Deborrah's mother died.

Part of the property is covered with large, quintessentially Vancouver Island trees. A fish-bearing creek runs through the company's part of the land, and it wasn't uncommon for the couple to see deer and other animals roaming around.

The forested area was special to Deborrah, according to the judgment — somewhere where she remembers playing as a child.

"She regarded it as magical; a beautiful, forested section of their property ... She described it as an amazing place to grow up and felt that she and her husband had been privileged to be able to raise their children with access to the same peaceful area," read the B.C. Supreme Court judgment.

On Dec. 29, Western arranged for a feller buncher, a tree harvesting machine, to cut down trees on its property — but 45 trees were also chopped down on the Avenders' side.

Deborrah, who'd been out for a morning walk, returned to find the wooded area being destroyed. 

Western made arrangements to cut down trees on its property — but 45 trees were also chopped down on the Avenders' side. (CBC)

The Avenders sued the forestry company and several of its employees shortly afterwards.

Western initially denied trespassing but admitted to crossing the line months later.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Butler found the company hadn't made an effort to look for survey markers or make "reasonable inquiries" to confirm property lines before it started bringing trees down.

Damages

On Oct. 5, Butler ordered the forestry company to pay the Avenders $80,000 in damages. A quarter of that amount was for punitive damages, which go beyond compensating the couple — it was tacked on to punish the company.

The justice wrote that Western was "reckless," "careless" and "highhanded" in trespassing and needed a harsh penalty as a deterrent.

"Western operates a successful logging business and the award must be sufficient to deter it and other similar enterprises from cutting trees without taking any reasonable steps to find out if they have any right to do so," Butler wrote.

"An award at the low end of the range could be seen as a simple cost of doing business and would not send the right message to members of the public and to those involved in the business of removing trees."

The rest of the damages cover the loss of amenities, cost of removing debris, as well as the cost of buying and planting new trees. 

Read more from CBC British Columbia

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now