Stopping Island Timberlands, Saving Cortes Island

 Will logging of ancient forest be halted before it can begin?

November 28, 2012 (Cortes Island, BC)  Residents of Cortes Island have formed a blockade to stop the BC based timber company, Island Timberlands (I.T.), from beginning logging operations in one of BC’s last stands of old growth coastal Douglas-fir forest.  For over four years, community members have attempted to work with the company to develop an ecosystem-based approach to forestry.  As road-building equipment moves in, the community is now left with no choice but to stand in it’s path to defend these ecologically significant forests.

Yesterday, Island Timberlands trucks were stopped at a logging road gate by two protesters lying on the ground. Company personnel filmed the protesters, likely in preparation for an application for a civil injunction. The protesters did not respond to their questions and community members remained on the site until the end of the day.

Adjacent landowners were among the community members present. One couple explained that they have a water license on Basil Creek which runs through Island Timberlands’ property.  I.T. plans to log in the riparian area and within 30 feet of the wetland that feeds the salmon-bearing creek. They wrote to Morgan Kennah, Island Timberland’s Manager for Community Affairs, stating their concerns about water supply and contamination. “I thought I would get a letter from Morgan assuring me that my water supply would be safe,” the landowner stated, “but that never happened. I got no response.”  Another community member showed up with Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree to lighten the protesters’ spirits.

Leah Seltzer explained the situation in this way, “People are here because they want to make it known that the industrial forestry model doesn’t work for local communities and it doesn’t work for province. Island Timberlands will destroy ecologically sensitive ecosystems and leave nothing beneficial in its wake. We will be left with devastated ecosystems, a contaminated water supply and no long-term jobs. All the benefit is going to people who live far away and who aren’t aware of the cost of their profits to our community and our province.”

The threatened lands contain some of the last 1% of old-growth Coastal Douglas-fir forests, and, according to Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), are some of the most extensive stands remaining in the endangered "Dry Maritime" forests along BC's southern coast.  The forests also contain a number of documented threatened species and sensitive ecosystems.

At this time, I.T. has contracted several local workers but these jobs will only provide short-term employment.  More than 60% of I.T.’s raw logs are shipped out of the province to be processed overseas.  Standing exclusively to profit are I.T.’s corporate shareholders, which include Brookfield Asset Management and the BC Investment Management Corporation, the pension fund for provincial employees.

While I.T. claims to use sustainable forestry practices, long-time forest activist and Cortes Island land-owner, Tzeporah Berman, warns us not to be fooled: “The majority of their logging is traditional clearcut logging with devastating ecological implications that result in either a change of land use or a dramatically weakened and simplified ecosystem. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) that Island Timberlands touts does not ensure strong environmental standards and has little support from First Nations or environmental organizations.”

Cortes resident and Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler agrees.  “There’s no excuse for industrial-scale logging in these times,” he says. “Forward-looking and economically-viable alternatives exist that are based on community health and ecosystem health. Island Timberlands’ plans are a step backwards. Cortes Island is moving forward.”  Residents have sought Island Timberland’s participation in this kind of forestry model but have been met with disregard.

Community members hope that the situation will not escalate, and that I.T. will recognize that Cortes holds a rare opportunity to work with a willing community to create a forestry model that benefits everyone.  Until then, islanders will be standing in the way of the equipment, and keeping a close eye on any further signs of I.T. activity on the island.
Several participants are available for comment.

Photo credits: WildStands, Facebook

For Immediate Release

For more information, please contact:

(Please be advised, there is limited cell phone service on the island but we will respond to your calls as soon as possible.)

Media Liasons: 
Leah Seltzer, Educator, Cortes resident 

Zoe Miles, Cortes-raised activist 


Devonian Park Ancient Douglas-fir

A gentle trail leads to this fine specimen in Devonian Regional Park, Metchosin

Devonian Regional Park in Metchosin contains one tree in particular that makes me think of the primordial forest. Standing next to its wrinkly girth my mind is spring-boarded into the past.

During the Devonian period (417-354 million years ago), the North American and European land masses were situated at the equator. It is fitting that during the 'age of fish' that these land areas were mostly covered in a shallow sea.

However, by the end of the Devonian, the land was populated by ferns, horsetails, and the first seed plants appeared which produced the first trees and forests. In 2005 the world's oldest known tree species was identified as Wattieza

Gilboa, New York has the distinction of having fossils that represent the world's earliest forest. It was the "Devonian Explosion" and trees began to dominate the landscape.

The trail continues to a cobble beach on Parry Bay

Devonian Regional Park is a nature sanctuary situated in an area that eventually became covered in one of the planet's greatest forests.

While the tree featured in this post may 'only' be 500 - 800 years old, it is a link to the beginning of the Pacific Coastal Forest which started 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

Looking even further back, the forest in Devonian Park is the result of millions of years of evolution linking it to the Devonian Period and the initial colonization of the land by plants.

Visit and feel millions of years of nature's tinkering evidenced in every fern, horsetail, seed plant, and tree. 


Vancouver's Urban Streams See Biggest Salmon Returns In 80 Years

After decades of use and abuse, many former salmon streams in the Vancouver, BC area are again teeming with life. In one stream the returns are the biggest seen in 80 years as Chum return to rehabilitated waterways once again.

Stream rehabilitation projects since the 1990's are starting to pay off and salmon are being seen in waters previously degraded and suffering the effects of insensitive development and pollution.

Many projects, often run by volunteers, have improved gravel spawning beds, restored stream bank vegetation to prevent erosion, and added ladder improvements and Large Woody Debris to expand available habitat. Culverts are often a barrier to fish movement, and projects also remediate these blockages.

How much money do developers and logging companies add to these restoration projects that clean up the messes made as a result of their environmental exploitation? I would expect the answer is "little to none". As usual, the private sector gets the profits, and the public sector (the rest of us) pays to repair the damage.

But it sure is good to see that we can atone for their sins, and bring the salmon back.

Read more here.


Ayum Creek Habitat Restoration - Salmon And Large Woody Debris

Large Woody Debris put in place during Ayum Creek stream restoration

Ayum Creek is a good salmon stream, and like all good salmon habitat, it contains the trunks of large trees. In the creek assessment world these large trees are known as LWD, or Large Woody Debris, and their contribution to salmon streams is significant. The structure they provide is critical to the chum, coho, stealhead and trout that call Ayum creek home.

In less than 100 years of industrial logging in British Columbia, the majority of salmon-bearing coastal waterways went from pristine to extinct, threatened, or uncertain status. Prior to 1988, coastal streams were clear cut logged right to their banks. This starved the streams of the large, mature fallen trees (LWD) which are the primary structuring element in the habitat.

Once affected, degraded waterways can take decades or centuries to recover naturally. It would take about 100 - 200 years alone for the trees to grow large enough for what is required in a maximally functioning salmon stream. That is why stream rehabilitation projects often bring in mature trees (in the form of large logs) from elsewhere, and place them in strategic locations.

This LWD complex is anchored into the bank of lower Ayum Creek, and creates a deep, stable
pool that benefits spawning and juvenile chum and coho salmon

The loss of the large old-growth trees in stream channels with their massive rootwads as anchors, is the type of structure that cannot be easily duplicated in degraded riparian areas. It is the roots of fallen old growth trees that anchor the trees in place against the pressure of swollen winter waters. This is why cables anchoring woody complexes to streamside trees and instream boulders are used in restoration projects in leu of roots. 

The role wood played in providing the structures that salmon need was not established until the 1980s. At that time old growth trees and fallen LWD complexes were found to be of primary importance in, and along, salmon streams. They create structures that result in stable stream banks, deep pools of still water, and places for juvenile fish to hide from predators.

Bridge over Ayum Creek on the Galloping Goose Trail, looking west toward Sooke
Logging had other impacts including increased erosion, road failures, and landslides, all of which increase the sedimentation of salmon streams. Culverts blocked the free flow of fish, and wood was removed from streams as routine practice.

Ayum Creek was affected by development and industrial activity from the earliest days of Sooke. On the land logging was a mainstay of the community, and on the water the salmon fishery was heavily exploited. The Ayum Creek watershed had been used for thousands of years by the T'Sou-ke 1st Nations, but now just a few decades after colonization and industrialization, it had become degraded like so many other coastal waters. The salmon run was in peril.

Now much of the Ayum Creek watershed lies in protected regional park reserves. Their mandate focuses on preservation and enhancement of the natural environment of mixed forest and a biologically rich estuary.

Part of the enhancements over the years have included watershed restoration projects, one of which has been the placement of LWD complexes in the creek to mimic the structure of fallen old growth trees that used to grow along the banks.

Something must be working, because there are some nice salmon returning to Ayum Creek every year, including the 2012 run.

Not only do the trees benefit the salmon, but the opposite is true as well. The nutrients that the salmon provide to the stream environment will enhance the growth of the nearby forest, ensuring future LWD for the fish. Those same nutrients are also important for the growth and survival of juvenile salmon.

Bigleaf maple leaves fall on Ayum Creek Bridge
In 1994 British Columbia implemented the Watershed Restoration Program to reverse habitat losses associated with past and new forest harvesting. This program helps to accelerate the restoration of affected watersheds, but will do little if not accompanied by making waterways off limits to future logging in perpetuity.

Watershed protection is the preferred, cost effective choice over watershed rehabilitation. It is just one more reason to protect our old growth forests, as well as the second growth forests that now dominate most coastal watersheds. Intact watersheds provide services that result in excellent water quality and habitat for salmon and many other living things.

Including humans.

Getting There

From Victoria, take the Old Island Highway/Highway 14/Sooke Road toward Sooke. Just before town look for Ludlow Road on your right. Turn here to hike to the bridge, or continue past Ludlow to turn left off the highway to park and hike to Sooke Basin via the forest trails.

Ayum Creek Regional Park Reserve currently has no services as nature preservation is the key here. There are several trails between Highway 14 and Sooke Basin, and the Galloping Goose Trail crosses a section of the park north of the highway.

Some of the lower Ayum Creek salmon habitat restoration can be viewed from the bridge on the Galloping Goose Trail where it crosses the creek. Looking toward Sooke Basin one can see both the LWD complex put in place, as well as the huge fish that hang out in the pool it created.

Limited parking is available on Ludlow Road, then walk west towards Sooke along the Galloping Goose to get to the bridge. To hike the lower creek to Sooke Basin, park on the south side of Highway 14 along the edge of the park reserve.