Sale a threat to Merv’s dream?

Supporters of Wildwood Ecoforest worried that may be the case, but TLC says Wilkinson’s vision will be protected

  • Mar. 16, 2015 8:00 p.m.

Merv Wilkinson’s property may be up for sale, but his legacy is not.

That’s the response from the Land Conservancy of B.C. in response to widespread concern about the potential sale of Wildwood Farm Ecoforest to private interests.

The 31-hectare site, located in Yellow Point beside Quennell Lake, is legendary in forestry circles for the sustainable logging practices the late Wilkinson cultivated there since 1938.

Wilkinson sold the property to The Land Conservancy in 2000, with the expectation it would remain in the public domain.

But now, weighted down with about $8 million in debt, the non-profit land trust is now looking to sell.

In the wake of media attention generated by the proposed sale, director of operations John Shields issued a statement on the TLC website last week with a commitment that its promise to Wilkinson will be upheld.

“TLC’s proposed sale will protect that legacy; the sale includes a covenant and forest management plan that outlines how the 32-hectare site will continue to be run the way Merv ran it,” the statement reads.

“To ensure due diligence in this regard, TLC is having the proposed forest-management plan reviewed by independent experts in the field.

“Although TLC is no longer in a position to own Wildwood, we will protect the property for the future through a restrictive covenant on the title. The board of directors and I will keep our promise to Merv.

Many consider Wildwood a prime example of sustainable forestry.

“It’s representing what we could’ve been doing, particularly in the Douglas fir ecosystem zone, where there’s less than half a per cent left remaining that hasn’t been clear cut or somehow cut, but this shows an example how it could’ve been done sustainably,” said Bruce Hepburn, site co-ordinator for Friends of Wildwood, the non-profit organization dedicated to its preservation.

The Ecoforestry Institute Society manages Wildwood. According to spokeswoman Kathy Code, it’s an inalienable property under land conservancy bylaws, with restrictions on who it can be sold to. Wilkinson wanted to keep it public for sustainability education purposes.

Code said The Land Conservancy doesn’t have the right to sell to private interests.

“We would be happy if the property was transferred to another charity. To allow it to go into private hands, that’s no guarantee that any arrangement would be held in perpetuity,” said Code.

She said the society offered “several hundred thousand dollars” to help the conservancy. John Shields, conservancy said it wasn’t an unconditional offer, so it wasn’t something his group could accept.

Shields couldn’t identify the potential buyer, but the person worked with Wilkinson and is interested in protecting Wildwood.

“I think as far as the objective public is concerned, they’ll understand that TLC is following up on its commitment to Merv, that it has found, and is working with, somebody who was part of Merv’s crew [and] imbibed his understanding,” said Shields.

He said due diligence has been done.

“We’ve seen the forest management plan that is proposed for Wildwood, which is clearly going to continue Merv’s practices on the site and we think any objective, experienced ecoforester would likely agree with us, that this is a good plan for Wildwood,” Shields said.

The sale would need the approval of a B.C. Supreme Court judge to be finalized.