BCTS urged to spare old-growth forest

Two Sunshine Coast environmental groups want B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS) to scrap plans to auction 68 hectares of old-growth forest in Dakota Bowl on Mount Elphinstone.

Both Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF) and the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association (SCCA) are opposing the planned logging of five cutblocks on Elphinstone's upper slopes and last week requested the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) call on BCTS to cancel the timber sale.

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"Some of the last great ancient red and yellow cedars on the Sunshine Coast are threatened by B.C. Timber Sales' cutblocks in the Dakota Bowl," ELF wrote in its submission to the SCRD's planning and development committee. "Logging these areas will lead to the liquidation of this rare ecosystem where some of Canada's oldest trees can be witnessed."

SCCA chair Jason Herz said the high-elevation forest appears to be age class nine - more than 250 years old.

"These remaining enclaves of biodiversity are not replaceable within several lifetimes and should be managed accordingly," Herz said in the SCCA submission. "The amount of old-growth forest remaining on the Lower Sunshine Coast is extremely low and worth retaining for multiple reasons ranging from habitat to water quality to tourism."

One of the cutblocks -locally known as the Roberts Creek headwaters ancient forest - contains "the closest old-growth yellow cedar to Highway 101 and thus holds awesome tourist potential," ELF added. "Just one of many features found at this site is its high number of Pacific yews."

Contacted by Coast Reporter, BCTS -the province's timber sales division -confirmed the five cutblocks of old-growth forest are in its sales plans for this year.

However, spokesman Brennan Clarke said in an email response, "BCTS is still considering all the information and looking at options. The final decision to sell all, a portion or none of these blocks this year has not been made yet."

Both groups have called for BCTS to halt logging on Mount Elphinstone until a land and resource management plan (LRMP) is completed to determine "best uses" of the land.

Clarke said BCTS staff are aware of the requested 1,500-hectare provincial park at lower elevations, but noted the five cutblocks do not lie within the proposed area.

"BCTS has clear sales goals that must be met every year, complies with all legislation, has the legal authority to harvest within its operating areas and considers all available information in the formulation of its plans," Clarke said.

BCTS, he said, will continue to hold discussions with the SCRD, SCCA, ELF, First Nations, the Roberts Creek Community Association and mountain biking groups.

If the blocks are sold, Clarke said, logging would occur at the licencee's discretion.

"However, these cutblocks are at high elevations and must be harvested during the snow-free months," he said. "The licencee will have about two to a maximum of four years to complete the work."

The SCRD's planning and development committee gave its support in principle for a scientific study of the area encompassing the proposed 1,500-hectare park and agreed to resubmit a series of resolutions from 2011 to BCTS, including one expressing opposition to the logging of old-growth trees on Mount Elphinstone.

But the committee did not support the call for a moratorium on logging until a management plan is developed.

The SCRD recently finalized a communication protocol with BCTS, and "it's taken a long time to get to this level," board chair Garry Nohr said.

"I feel they're listening and they're trying to work with us, and to make it work we have to work with them, too," Nohr said. "We just can't say put a moratorium on all logging."

An LRMP would have significant benefits, he added: "In my belief, an LRMP would stop the bickering."

The committee also approved a series of staff recommendations on BCTS's latest operational plans. They included a request that BCTS contact adjacent property owners before harvesting a cutblock near the Pender Harbour landfill and one at the west end of Reed Road in Elphinstone. BCTS is proposing to harvest both cutblocks within the next three years, staff reported.

Directors also referred the Reed Road cutblock to the SCRD's agricultural advisory committee and agricultural area plan consultants for comment, as it lies within the agricultural land reserve.

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