Facing the possibility of a court injunction, the province pushed the pause button Tuesday on the tendering process for two controversial woodlots on Gambier Island.
“We have decided to delay our decision of identifying the successful woodlot licensees for a few weeks,” Craig Sutherland, assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, emailed the Gambier Island Conservancy, one of two petitioners scheduled to appear in court the same day to ask a judge to halt the process.
“We believe we have followed the appropriate process; however, given all the concerns being raised and confusion about the process, and as a sign of good faith and to build trust, we will organize a local public process to help concerned individuals better understand the woodlot process,” Sutherland wrote.
The Ministry was expected to have awarded tenders for the two woodlots Tuesday, but late Monday, the Gambier Island Conservancy and a private landowner filed documents to bring action the next morning in B.C. Supreme Court, requesting a judicial review of the province’s decision to allocate the woodlots.
The petitioners, who argued the Ministry had not adequately notified or consulted local stakeholders and wanted the judicial review to freeze the tendering process, cancelled their court appearance Tuesday morning after receiving Sutherland’s assurance.
Conservancy president Peter Scholefield called the delay “a step forward,” but said the kind of consultation that Sutherland wrote about was not what islanders want.
“It sounds like the same story we’ve had before — ‘we’ll explain the process.’ We’ve had that. We don’t need that kind of consultation,” Scholefield said.
“We need them to address our questions. Why is this happening? Why weren’t we consulted? Has there been a study done comparing the value of logging to recreational values? Basically we want them to reconsider this whole woodlot issue. That’s our intention.”
Scholefield said the Conservancy decided to seek the court injunction after two “important meetings” in May failed to resolve islanders’ concerns.
The first meeting, on May 1 in Victoria between Minister Steve Thomson and local trustees for Islands Trust and MLAs Nicholas Simons and Jordan Sturdy, resulted in Thomson agreeing to pause the process and arrange for consultation with senior Ministry officials, Scholefield said.
That meeting was held May 30 in Horseshoe Bay, and though Ministry staff failed to invite “some critical stakeholders,” Scholefield said there was still an expectation that the Ministry would consult further with the public.
Last week, however, Sutherland wrote the group, saying the most appropriate time to consult would be after the successful candidates were selected to operate the woodlots.
“We were very upset about that,” Scholefield said, “and that set in motion a letter-writing campaign … and then we decided to contact this law firm and get an injunction.”
The Conservancy has compiled a list of 30 to 40 organizations and now plans “to get them together with a consensus on what our concerns are,” he said. “We are going to be proactive in this and make sure there is a thorough stakeholder consultation.”
The two woodlots comprise 1,325 hectares in the northeast part of the island and encompass the community watershed, a large chunk of the island’s recreational trail network and areas around Gambier Lake. An existing woodlot spans 400 hectares, and the Conservancy points out that the approval of the new woodlots would mean about 25 per cent of the island would be dedicated to long-term, clear-cut logging.
The province advertised the woodlots from Feb. 7 to April 9 and received 12 applications — six per woodlot, the Ministry said in a backgrounder.
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