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Rift hits Community Forest/Elphinstone Logging Focus relations

Operational meetings between Sunshine Coast Community Forest and Elphinstone Logging Focus have come to a halt.
Attendees at the Aug 6 AN3A tour conducted by Elphinstone Logging Focus

Sunshine Coast Community Forest (SCCF) has halted regular meetings with Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF) because of interpersonal dynamics as planning continues for fall logging of an Angus Creek area cutblock. 

An alleged statement by ELF spokesperson Ross Muirhead during an Aug. 6 public tour of that cutblock (AN3A) and relayed to SCCF operations manager Warren Hansen, prompted Hansen to inform ELF of a decision to “discontinue our meetings” earlier this month. 

SCCF stated in an Aug. 15 email to Coast Reporter that following its most recent joint meeting with ELF, concerns were raised to the SCCF board about how staff were treated. The board directed that additional sessions would not proceed until Terms of Reference to define a common purpose and appropriate participant conduct were agreed to.

While that rule development process was under way, Hansen received a report of a statement disrespectful of his professionalism being made during the tour event which, according to ELF, was attended by 40 people.

Muirhead denied making the remarks and given concerns ELF maintains regarding AN3A and other planned SCCF forest harvest activities, requested that an upcoming meeting proceed as scheduled.

Fall logging of AN3A planned

While the Ministry of Forests has not yet issued AN3A’s cutting permit, the application has been reviewed by the shíshálh Nation, Hansen told Coast Reporter. 

Pending permit issuance, Hansen said that opportunities to bid for work on the block will be issued, with road building anticipated to start around October and logging to follow. That plan is subject to timber market conditions. “The log market isn’t doing as well as we hoped and we would be looking to trying to time operations with possible upswings in the market,” he said.

Weather will also affect work plans. The prolonged drought on the Coast delayed SCCF’s logging plans in 2022 and is a consideration again this year. Should the area encounter heavy rains in the fall, those can also result in work postponements, Hansen noted.

Public communications in quarterly SCCF newsletters and other planned activities will come out once it is scheduled and closer to finalization. Hansen said the cutblock planning process is past the point where the organization would normally hold community outreach activities such as a “walk in the woods.” He said that SCCF’s board and Community Advisory Panel have been kept apprised of the status of area plans and by doing that he is confident they are engaging the community “in a more meaningful way.” 

Cutblock AN3A has been in SCCF’s operational plans since 2021.  An update of the plan covering the the period of 2022 to 2025, was provided to all community associations in the operating area and was available online to the general public. SCCF’s plans for 2023, which include work in seven areas with a total estimated cut volume of about 50,000 hectares, were also discussed at a public meeting hosted in November 2022. Two of those sites are near Trout Lake and the remainder are upstream from the Sechelt neighbourhoods, between East Porpoise Bay and Tuwanek. AN3A, above the Tillicum Bay area, covers 16.2 hectares. Ground-based harvesting of the site is expected to produce about 7,000 cubic metres of timber.

In its most recent operation plan feedback report posted on Aug.15, SCCF detailed that no public comments related to AN3A were received. The report said input received from ELF contained “inaccurate and misleading statements”  that could not be incorporated. The document also stated, “What we are able to take away from those [ELF] comments nonetheless, is that there are members of our community who are deeply concerned about the long-term health and wellbeing of our forest ecosystems and see them as intrinsically tied to the health and well-being of our human communities. These perspectives are valid and important.”

ELF raises slope stability, runoff concerns

Muirhead stated ELF has shared concerns with SCCF about “foreseeable issues with runoff” related to logging on AN3A  but that SCCF has not committed to undertake further investigation work. While the cutblock’s terrain stability assessment identified it as a low risk for landslides, ELF has requested a similar review be done on the slope below the block to make sure it will remain stable under rain-saturated conditions.

Hansen said that SCCF “stands by” the geotechnical assessment that was completed for the area, which included attention to the cutblock’s surrounding area. “There are no indications to show that there will be any concern of slope instability or downstream concerns” he stated.

In Muirhead’s view, “AN3A block planning is a mirror image of AN12,” a SCCF cutblock located in the Burnett Creek area. Following AN12 harvesting and the November 2021 atmospheric river events, a landslide occurred that moved about 2,800 square meters of trees, rock, and soil over a metre deep along a span of roadway 20 meters wide and 70 meters long.

A Ministry of Forests-sponsored report on that incident said it was “hard to say” if work done on AN12 triggered that event. It recommended that the ministry look at requiring logging area drainage systems that consider the effects of climate change.

In a January 2022 public response to that document, Hansen wrote, “The report will help reshape our SCCF management to move to improve and adapt our practices to respond to climate change with resilient roads and better water management.”

In reference to AN3A, he noted that the roads in the area are existing Forest Service Roads that have not been well maintained and have been seasonally deactivated by SCCF. Moving forward, the roads will be improved with culverts and better bases to allow for harvesting activities, and water bars to help capture rain runoff will be added. Those improvements will remain in place post-harvesting, to ensure the roads can be used by the public to more safely access to backcountry recreation areas.