British Columbia

Conservation group claims B.C. company is 'liquidating' endangered trees

Wildsight, a conservation group, worries a private logging company is cutting down endangered whitebark pine trees.

Whitebark pine tree is a source of food for grizzlies and birds

In this 2011 photo, whitebark pine has succumbed to mountain pine beetles through the Gros Ventre area east of Jackson Hole, Wyo. (The Associated Press)

A conservation group in the Kootenays says a private logging company is "liquidating" whitebark pine, an endangered high elevation tree species.

Wildsight says Canwel Fibre owns a large swath of land between Fernie and Sparwood and is clearcutting the timber on much of that land, including whitebark stands.

"Canwel [Fibre] is logging in sub-alpine areas where rare whitebark pine is found and, despite past promises that they won't cut this endangered species, we've seen large piles of trees, some centuries old," said Wildsight spokesperson Eddie Petryshen.

The whitebark pine tree is listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act, which is meant to provide protection for at-risk species and help with recovery. 

The slow-growing tree produces cones and seeds that are an important food source for grizzly bears and other wildlife, and also helps hold the snowpack and moisture at higher elevations.

According to Wildsight, over the past 18 months Canwel Fibre has cut more than 35 logging truckloads of whitebark pine. Based on calculations from B.C. harvest billing system records, Pertyshen says those loads account for 70 per cent of the species cut in B.C.

The whitebark pine is a slow-growing tree found at higher elevations. (U.S. Forest Service)

"Logging of whitebark pine is a big problem in B.C., and the government is mostly ignoring it," said Petryshen.

Seven months ago, a judge in Alberta fined Lake Louise Ski Resort  $2.1 million for cutting down the endangered trees in 2013. The resort pleaded guilty to taking down 38 endangered whitebark pine along a ski run.

"There is a cumulative impact on the whitebark pine with potential risk of undermining the survival of the species in the decades to come," said Judge Heather Lamoureux.

The B.C., government is reviewing how logging occurs on private lands and hopes to have recommendations by this fall.

Wildsight wants protection for species such as whitebark pine in the new legislation.

"On private land, B.C.'s weak regulations under the Private Managed Forest Land Act give endangered species like the whitebark no protection at all," said Petryshen.

CanWel Fibre owns approximately 136,000 acres of private timberland, according to its website, much of it in the Elk Valley.

The company did not respond to a request for comment. 


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