Conservationists with the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Port Alberni Watershed-Forest Alliance stand atop Canada’s 9th-widest Douglas-fir tree, recently felled in a BCTS-issued cutblock in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni. (TJ Watt)

Loggers fall 800-year-old tree in one of the last old-growth forests in B.C.

Conservationists say old growth ‘hot spot’ threatened by new logging

  • May. 31, 2018 12:00 p.m.

Logging underway in Vancouver Island’s Nahmint Valley threatens one of the last prime spots of B.C. old-growth habitat and points to the NDP government’s failure to honour its election promise, says an Island-based conservation group.

Ancient Forest Alliance led a media tour last week to examine a freshly felled Douglas fir estimated to be 800 years old.

“This is a monumental screwup,” said Ken Wu, alliance executive director. “They’ve just cut down the ninth largest Douglas fir.”

Group researchers identified the living tree earlier this month as chainsaws buzzed with logging activity on surrounding mountainsides. They assumed the big fir was protected and were astonished to find it felled a couple of weeks later.

Wu said their concerns relate not only to the felled fir but to the area as a whole. Nahmint Valley, 40 km west of Port Alberni, is known as an all-too-rare “hot spot” of old-growth in the province.

He holds the NDP government directly responsible because the logging is administered by its own agency, B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS). BCTS has auctioned cut blocks that overlap areas of ancient old growth, the group contends. Extensive logging in the area began this spring.

Mike Stini, a Port Alberni conservationist, said he spoke with the mill owner responsible for the cut block and was told the contractor was specifically told not to fall the big Douglas fir in question.

“There are so few of the giant firs left,” Stini said. “We’ve got to do something.”

Giant firs and cedar are the crux of Nahmint habitat critical to species such as Roosevelt elk, marbled murrelet and northern goshawk. The picturesque valley is also a popular destination for recreationalists. Wu compared the felling of the fir to the slaughter of endangered elephants or the last of a species.

“It really is like blowing away the last remaining black rhinos,” he said. “The crazy thing is, most of the region is second growth.”

The Nahmint Valley is largely virgin forest yet there is plenty of second- and even third-generation forest available for harvest, he noted. In comparison, highly productive old-growth represents less than 10 percent of Island forests.

Not far from the site of the downed fir stands another that has been labelled the “Alberni Giant,” an even larger Douglas fir believed to be 800-900 years old. That tree remains protected in a zone designated for ungulate winter range. Other old growth is not similarly protected.

“This is not isolated,” said TJ Watt, a photographer who uses satellite imagery and provincial mapping to identify surviving old-growth trees. His work led him to the Douglas fir and others in the Nahmint.

“It’s happening all over the Island all of the time,” Watt said. “Old-growth logging is not a thing of the past.”

Trees several hundred years old, larger than those in Cathedral Grove, are still coming down in the face of the B.C. government’s new “big tree policy” established in January, the group said. They were told by regional staff of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations that the Nahmint cut blocks were laid out five years ago.

Forest Alliance posted photos of the felled tree on Facebook last week, triggering widespread condemnation unlike any the decade-old lobby group has seen.

“What has changed is not government policy,” Wu said. “The NDP government has exactly the same policy as the Liberal government. The change is in the moment because there are so many log exports and because there are second-growth alternatives. Businesses and people in general realize that we shouldn’t be logging the last of the remaining old growth forest. We can have all the jobs and keep all the old growth, too.”

They’ve met with Forests Minister Doug Donaldson on the issue and want to take the old-growth issue straight to Premier John Horgan since cutting contradicts the NDP pledge to adhere to an ancient growth model.

“We have raised the issue that the Nahmint really is a hot spot area and that they have to instruct B.C. Timber to stop auctioning old-growth cut blocks,” Wu said. “Certainly don’t place cut blocks in old-growth stands where logging is allowed. They don’t mandate a buffer zone and as a result they’re still logging 12-foot cedars.

“Hopefully there is some movement on the government’s part to change from the status quo,” he added. “They can’t take for granted the support of the environmental movement.”

A call to MLA Scott Fraser’s office was referred to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, which hadn’t responded by press time.

– Mike Youds/Special to Black Press

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