The Sunshine Coast Community Forest (SCCF) plans to go ahead with logging a 14-hectare portion of lower Mount Elphinstone, despite opposition that included a public rally Thursday, Nov. 15, in Sechelt and the presence of some shíshálh elders in the protest.
"We said we would listen to the community, and we did listen," SCCF chair and president Glen Bonderud told Coast Reporter Tuesday. "But we're not going to throw it up again and again and again for public discussion, which seems to be what a lot of people want to do."
The rally, organized by Coast-based environmental group Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF), was intended to "send a clear message to SCCF and the owners, District of Sechelt, that the wider community is demanding that this forest gem be set aside forever and not turned into an industrial tree farm," said a news release from ELF issued Wednesday.
SCCF announced on Nov. 2 that it was currently logging a 10-hectare section in East Wilson Creek Block 11 (EW011), above the Sechelt airport, and was planning to start logging about 14 hectares in East Wilson Creek Block 2 (EW002).
ELF is opposed to the logging of EW002, saying SCCF did not make good on its promise to consider proposals and suggestions from the community when it suspended the operation in May.
One proposal by ELF was to preserve and jointly manage EW002 as a recreational area, similar to Hidden Grove in East Porpoise Bay. Both areas, said Ross Muirhead of ELF, have similar values, including large Douglas fir stands.
"It's the same thing - low elevation, 10 minutes from the highway," Muirhead said, adding the proposal was consistent with SCCF's mission statement. "One of the mandates of the community forest is to look at high-value recreational opportunities in the inter-urban zone."
The disputed area was largely destroyed by fire in the late 1800s and while SCCF said that makes it second-growth forest, ELF contends the fire allowed it to regenerate naturally. The cutblock also has old-growth management areas on either side, so logging it will "disrupt the connectivity," the group claims.
SCCF plans to leave about six retention zones in EW002, but logging "still removes the integrated component of the forest," Muirhead said. "Equipment damages the plants and moss and there's a logging road going through the middle of it. Trees that are 250 to 500 years old have been spray-painted with a red dot, so they would be left behind, but it's not a forest anymore."
Muirhead estimated the job would employ two fallers for about two weeks and use two trucks from a local hauling company.
"You're looking at a maximum of four to five jobs on site for a couple of weeks. Then 80 per cent of the logs leave the Coast," he said. "We have to ask, what is the future? Is it logging these last little remnants of older forest or to have people come here to retire for the environment and lifestyle?"
SCCF officials said Muirhead's estimate of economic benefits was not even close.
"The fact of the matter is, there's 70 to 80 people who have their hands on the wood and gain direct employment from it, here on the Coast," said SCCF operations manager Dave Lasser. "It's not just a couple of fallers. There will be fallers, they'll come in and do the right-of-way initially for the road construction. Then there's the road construction crew, the logging crew, the local truckers, the guys who did the engineering. Then you've got scalers."
The logs finally go to Coastland Dryland Sort, which employs about 25 people, Lasser said. And while SCCF does not dispute that about 80 per cent of the logs go off Coast (because there is not an adequate sawmill to process them), Lasser pointed out that last year SCCF supplied five or six loads of house logs to Gibsons-based West Coast Log Homes, "which was virtually their entire supply for the year."
The forest sector provides about 1,200 jobs on the Coast, making it the largest private employer, and contractors pay top wages and create "good year-round jobs," Lasser said.
"To simply discount what the forest community does is a slap in the face," he said.
Lasser said SCCF did listen to proposals from the community, but found "the majority of comments coming back to us were based on -I think to be fair - misinformation upfront."
There are old-growth management areas all over the region and, "by their nature they're not connected or there would be nothing left but a massive green blob" on the map, Lasser said. "Same with the watershed. 'You shouldn't be logging it.' Well, we're not. 'You're logging old growth.' No, we're not. 'The endangered Douglas fir.' No, it's not. You just go on and on and listen to these things and when you take that out of the argument, there's not much left. And that's the frustration," he said.
On Nov. 5, ELF announced it had been part of a blessing ceremony near the Wilson Creek trailhead conducted by three shíshálh elders, "to show that there are a whole bunch of other values associated with this forest," Muirhead said.
Xwu'p'a'lich Barb Higgins said EW002 "is really an ancient forest" and contains medicines such as rattlesnake plantain, used as a poultice to disinfect wounds.
"I'm not looking for a scrap or fight," Higgins said. "I'm 79 years old. Who needs it? But the people of this Coast need that forest. It's not just for Sechelt. It's for every living being on the Sunshine Coast."
Higgins said she understands the community needs lumber, "but it can be harvested in the proper way and not by digging up and ruining the ecosystem," she said.
Muswiya Jamie Dixon, who had a protected Douglas fir tree with a 2.3-metre diameter named in his honour after the ceremony, said his main concern is that logging will damage the Wilson Creek spawning grounds.
"Elders on both sides say it will damage the watershed and I say so myself," Dixon said, contradicting the findings of SCCF's watershed assessment, which was completed in August. "We're not renegades. We're working for both sides -the Native and non-Native - because of the watershed."
"Everybody's trying to do this legally," added Higgins. "We don't want confrontation and fighting. We're in the 21st century and we should be able to do things in a more realistic manner. If we can't, we'll have to look at other things. But I can't quit. I have to see this through.
"My chief and council will probably be upset with me, but my elders, the elders who are older than me, told me to not stand down, to keep it up."
Four days after the blessing ceremony, ELF met with Chief Garry Feschuk and the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) council to request official Band support. At press time, SIB had not released a statement on the issue.
SCCF officials said they had received no communication from SIB and Bonderud noted the Band approved plans to log both cut blocks under its protocol with SCCF.
"The Band signs off on our operations and they did that," Bonderud said. "Our channel of communication is with chief and council. That's who speaks for SIB, as far as we're concerned. We have a long-standing agreement."
Meanwhile, on Nov. 5, SCCF obtained an interim injunction from a Vernon court, naming "Penny Singh, Douglas A. Fugge, John Doe, Will and Guy, and Jane Doe."
The injunction forbids the defendants from interfering with logging operations at EW011 and EW002 or encouraging others to do the same. It includes an enforcement order, authorizing a peace officer to arrest and remove any person who is found in contravention.
Bonderud said the injunction was sought because the defendants had congregated at the EW011 logging site, preventing workers from doing their jobs.
"They put a tent up in the middle of it," he said, adding that the group was also setting up at EW002. "That's why it was served at two sites."
After being served, Bonderud said, the group left peacefully. "I hope that's it. This has been a really divisive thing," he said.
No ELF members were named in the injunction, Muirhead said.
Singh, an environmental activist who calls herself chairperson of the Earth Summit Council, could not be reached for comment.
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