The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) was not notified or consulted about this year’s harvesting plans for the McNeill Lake watershed as “there is no legal requirement to consult on detailed site plans,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said last week.
SCRD directors are opposed to plans by B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS) to allow logging on 33 hectares in the McNeill Lake area, including 11 hectares within the watershed that provides drinking water to about 1,000 homes in Madeira Park and Francis Peninsula.
Lack of consultation has been a flashpoint for SCRD directors, but BCTS has maintained that it did consult with the regional district on its forest stewardship plan for the area before the plan was approved in April 2012.
Asked to provide more detail on the consultation, Ministry communications manager Vivian Thomas acknowledged that the forest stewardship plan does not contain “detailed site plans,” but only “outlines management strategies and objectives for timber and non-timber values.”
“As required under the Forest and Range Practices Act, B.C. Timber Sales consulted with the regional district on their forest stewardship plan for the Sechelt Peninsula. There is no legal requirement to consult on detailed site plans,” Thomas wrote in an email. “When the Forest and Range Practices Act was introduced (taking effect in January 2004), there was a conscious decision to have public review and comment on the forest stewardship plan … Previously, public review and comment on site plans was deemed to be too late in the process.”
Thomas said BCTS, which operates as the provincial government’s timber sales program, “understands the SCRD’s concerns, and has met with them regularly on detailed site plans with regard to Mount Elphinstone.”
BCTS, she added, “will be approaching the regional district to finalize a protocol agreement around notification/consultation on more detailed plans.”
Responding to Thomas’s comments, SCRD board chair Garry Nohr said a protocol agreement with BCTS “could go a long way to reduce concerns and at least there would not be surprises” over future logging plans.
“Having an opportunity to give input is only reasonable,” Nohr said.
On Jan. 17, the SCRD board passed a resolution calling for BCTS to immediately withdraw the offer of sale for cutblocks in the McNeill Lake area, but five days later BCTS told Coast Reporter that it will be proceeding with the timber sale, calling it an important component of its coastal sales plan for 2013. The auction date is Feb. 7.
Meanwhile, a Vancouver-based water users group has joined the SCRD in opposing the planned logging in the McNeill Lake/Haslam Creek watershed.
In a Jan. 28 letter to the SCRD, Will Koop, coordinator of B.C. Tap Water Alliance, applauded the board’s resolution and urged it to “continue to take a strong and conscientious position on the protection of its community drinking water sources.”
In its letter, the group accuses B.C.’s Liberal government of maintaining a policy that began in the early 1980s under the second Social Credit administration, breaking from past traditions of responsible provincial stewardship over watersheds.
“The secretive inclusion of community drinking watersheds in the timber harvesting land base by the Ministry of Forests … continues to defy logic and ignore the issue,” Koop wrote.
Despite the provincial policy, he wrote, Metro Vancouver and Victoria “re-protected” their watersheds in the 1990s, and “protection for the remaining 44 per cent of the population’s drinking water sources is a critical issue that needs to be raised and vigorously debated in the months leading to the next provincial election.”