Gambier Island residents and local governments in Howe Sound are trying to put the brakes on plans that would see an estimated 25 per cent of the island logged out.
As bids closed last week for two woodlots on the northeast part of the island, the Gambier Island local trust committee called on the province to either cancel the planned woodlots or, at the very least, reduce them in size.
“With these new leases, 25 per cent of Gambier Island will be under active logging and this does not include private cutting,” committee chair David Graham wrote Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, on April 9.
“No other island in the Sunshine Coast has this much land under logging pressure. How can this possibly occur without any community input?” Graham said in the letter.
The Gambier Island Conservancy has opposed the creation of the two woodlots since last September, when they emailed Thomson with their concerns, and in December, the group launched a petition campaign calling on Thomson not to proceed with the plan.
“We weren’t informed, we weren’t consulted in any way,” Conservancy president Peter Scholefield said Wednesday, adding that he “just stumbled on the plan” when he was talking to a Ministry land officer in April 2013.
Since then, Scholefield said, he’s been overwhelmed by the community’s opposition to the plan, evident in the barrage of letters that have been sent to the Ministry.
“It’s got everyone upset. There’s been a lot of action, but the only response we’ve got from the Ministry is basically form letters saying we’ll be consulted after the licences have been awarded,” he said.
The woodlots would clear-cut Crown land that includes a large portion of the island’s recreational trail network and areas around Gambier Lake, a designated recreational site used by day-hikers from the Lower Mainland, youth groups and four children’s camps on the island. The woodlots would also encompass the community watershed.
“They’ll be logging in the watershed and we’re not happy with that,” Scholefield said. “There’s also a log dump proposed by Douglas Bay and the people around Douglas Bay aren’t happy with that.”
The Conservancy website (www.gambierc.ca) also points out that the Ministry, as part of its recreation mandate, is completing a network of kayaking sites through Howe Sound, and two of them — Latona Passage and Ramillies Channel — are located at the corners of the proposed woodlots.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?” Scholefield said.
Economically, he said, the estimated $1,500 per year in stumpage fees from the woodlots pales in comparison to the benefits from Gambier being a high-quality outdoor destination and draw for yacht clubs and the film industry.
“The value of Howe Sound for recreation, for film, for tourism far exceeds whatever they’re going to get from those woodlots,” he said. “I think if we can get a meeting with decision-makers we can convince them that this is not in the best interests of anyone.”
Gambier Island trustee Kate-Louise Stamford said the local trust committee is working with Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons to set up a meeting with Thomson.
“Maybe there’s a chance to lay it out and ask, ‘Do you know what 25 per cent means on the island?’”
Stamford noted the woodlot plan is “one of many projects hitting us from all sides,” including the proposed incinerator at Port Mellon two kilometres away, the LNG proposal for Squamish, and the proposed Burnco gravel mine at McNab Creek.
Lee Turnbull, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) director for West Howe Sound, also pointed to the multitude of industrial proposals for Howe Sound and questioned whether any of the review processes are studying cumulative effects.
Turnbull said she is working with SCRD board chair Garry Nohr to “see what we can do to interrupt the process.”
Contacted Tuesday, Ministry spokesman Greig Bethel said Thomson’s office had just received the local trust committee’s letter and had not yet reviewed it in detail.
However, Bethel said in an email, the two woodlots “are to be located in an area that has been identified by the Gambier Island official community plan (OCP) as being suitable for this type of forest tenure. Also, the woodlots have been located to exclude old growth management areas as established under the Howe Landscape Unit Plan.”
Scholefield called the OCP argument “ridiculous” and “misleading,” and in his letter to Thomson, Graham pointed out the OCP “is required by the province to include forestry uses on Crown land, yet this has been used by (the Ministry) in correspondence to the local MLA as a rationale for how and why these woodlots are in compliance with local community values.”
Graham called the OCP justification “a circular argument that implies that the local trust committee and the community have been the creators of this situation.”
The two woodlots comprise 1,325 hectares while an existing woodlot, licensed in 1989, spans 400 hectares. Gambier Island is 6,893 hectares in size.