B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS) agreed to withdraw the cutblock closest to McNeill Lake from its logging plans last week, after First Nation and local government leaders raised strong objections during a site visit.
In particular, Sechelt Nation Chief Garry Feschuk was instrumental in convincing BCTS officials to pull the cutblock from this month's timber sale, said Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) chair Garry Nohr.
"Garry Feschuk made it happen," Nohr said.
The 1.7-hectare cutblock saved from logging was deemed the highest risk of three cutblocks located in the watershed, which provides drinking water to about 1,000 homes in Madeira Park and Francis Peninsula.
"The biggest concern was the cutblock that was nearest the lake, and quite visible from the lake, and the way we thought, certainly the highest risk one that they were planning on cutting," said Frank Mauro, SCRD director for Pender Harbour/Egmont, who attended the site visit on Feb. 8 with Feschuk, Nohr, SCRD vice-chair Donna Shugar, and Sechelt Nation's newly appointed SCRD director, Ben Pierre. Also present were three SCRD water services staff and two BCTS officials.
Mauro said local leaders were unanimous about saving the most sensitive cutblock.
"Chief Feschuk and all of us expressed the concerns of the residents of South Pender about the impact on the water supply," Mauro said.
Four days after the site visit, BCTS regional timber sales manager Don Hudson wrote an email to Feschuk, Nohr, Mauro and Shugar, acknowledging their request for BCTS to drop the cutblock "of most concern" from the timber sale.
"I agreed to this change today, we will be amending our tender package and process to reflect this change," Hudson wrote, adding that BCTS "will ensure there are no surprises going forward for the areas of most concern to you."
In a follow-up email to Nohr and Mauro, Hudson said he had also directed staff to prepare the final draft of a BCTS/SCRD communication protocol.
"The ball is in our court with this," Hudson wrote. "The sooner we complete and implement this the better."
BCTS's commitment to adhere to a communication protocol is "huge," Nohr said, although the true test, he added, will be how well it works when the next timber sale happens.
The lack of meaningful consultation on McNeill Lake was the other major concern raised during the site visit, Mauro said.
"The interested parties all need to know, and then consultation can occur," he said.
The revised logging plan retains two cutblocks covering about nine hectares within the watershed, but Mauro said they pose a much lower risk than the cutblock that was pulled. One is situated below the McNeill Lake water intake, while the other is located about half a kilometre away from the lake, "and so the risks, the way we see it, are much, much lower," Mauro said.
"They responded to our greatest concern, and we appreciate that. It certainly shows a movement on their part and a recognition of our concerns and our low tolerance for risk for our residents," Mauro said. "There's still some logging in the watershed, but it's a positive step, and I think it'll be a positive step all up and down the Coast if this reference protocol is taken care of."
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