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  • Hummingbird Lake area of primary forest (logged)


    David Broadland
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    The 2001 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan, which included Quadra Island, was a decade in the making and was supposed to resolve conflicts on publicly owned land between logging and other values. An example of how the objectives of that planning have been undermined is illustrated by the logging of old forest at Hummingbird Lake.

     

    IN JULY 2019, on a hike just east of Newton Lake on Quadra Island, my wife and I came across a logging operation on the north side of Hummingbird Lake. It was a Sunday, and work was paused. From previous visits to Hummingbird Lake and from research on where past logging has occurred on Quadra, I knew this was what is known as “primary” forest: no roads had ever been built and there had been no previous logging. Such areas—undisturbed by industrial activity—are now exceedingly rare in places that have significant human populations living nearby, including Quadra Island.

    The old-growth forest contained many large, veteran Douglas firs that had survived previous natural disturbances, including 1925’s large fire that burned much of Quadra Island with varying intensity. Since that fire, a mix of hemlock and fir had grown back between the big, old Douglas firs, which had continued to thrive. This forest is in the CWHxm2 biogeoclimatic zone and, coast-wide, the remaining old-growth forest in this zone is at 9 percent. Below 10 percent, forest ecologists say, biodiversity is at high risk.  

     

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    The logging road Okisollo Resources punched through an old-growth forest north of Hummingbird Lake in 2019

     

    Finding a logging operation in this extraordinary place was disappointing. This was exactly the type of forest that was supposed to have been left undisturbed under the provisions of the 2001 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan’s Higher Level Plan Order. Quadra Island had been included in that ground-breaking attempt to end the heated conflict on Vancouver Island between logging and other values. One of those values was conservation of biodiversity. In Quadra’s case, the VILUP gave biodiversity conservation a higher priority than timber extraction. And that boiled down to protecting the remaining old-growth forest (>250 years old) and managing logging so that there would always be at least 25 percent of the area covered with mature forest (>80 years old).

    The fact that Quadra Island was the only non-Vancouver Island area to have been selected for a Special Management Zone is testimony to the land use planners’ understanding—25 years ago—of the high level of non-timber values present in Quadra Island’s forests, and the strong interest in the community to protect those values.

    On the day I visited the site, the logging company, Okisollo Resources of Ladysmith, were in the process of cutting the younger hemlock and fir that had grown up since the 1925 fire. Except for some old-growth felled to build the logging road, the old firs still stood. The operation seemed poised to take out everything but the old fir vets, a practice that has been employed throughout SMZ 19 by TimberWest to meet the old-forest obligations of SMZ 19.

     

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    The old-growth forest in the midst of being logged by Okisollo Resources

     

    This practice—cutting between the old trees—doesn’t actually protect biodiversity, according to forest ecologist Rachael Holt, even though that is the intent of the old-forest provisions for SMZ 19. But it appeared that Okisollo Resources was, like TimberWest, going to leave most of the big firs—about 50 of them remained—spread over a 3-hectare cutblock. I estimated another 5 to 10 had already been cut to build the roads. That many old firs on that small area is as dense as any old-growth stand I have ever found on Quadra Island.

    About a month later, I was able to obtain a satellite image that seemed to confirm that Okisollo had left the veteran firs. It showed most of the big trees not in the roadways—now about 45 of them—had been left. In the satellite image below, the west end of Hummingbird Lake is visible at the bottom. This beautiful little lake is a short distance east of Small Inlet Provincial Park and close to the southern edge of Octopus Islands Provincial Park. Neither of those parks has a comparably-sized area of old-growth forest within its boundaries.

     

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    Satellite image of Okisollo Resources cutblock just north of Hummingbird Lake, on Quadra Island, in August 2019


     

    RETURNING TO THE SITE about 9 months later, we found that all but 5 of the old Douglas fir vets in the cutblock had been felled. A number of big logs still lay beside the road. The growth rings of one of those showed it had been about 370 years old when cut. The tight-grained log was sound and appeared to be high quality wood.

    The Ministry of Forests’ Harvest Billing System, which records the volume logged and the stumpage paid for trees cut on Crown land, shows that Okisollo Resources likely paid about $3800 in total stumpage for the 50-or-so old-growth Douglas fir trees it felled in August of 2019. That’s roughly $75 per tree.

    Those trees definitely met the ministry’s definition of “old” (greater than 250 years of age) and, under the provisions and intentions of SMZ 19, should have been left standing.

     

    2047747386_HummingbirdLake(logged)June2020.2.jpg.70ac5e60467e0f4115a21892b90e4a94.jpg

    View of the cutblock at Hummingbird Lake in June 2020. This is the same area as is shown in the drone photograph at the top of this page, which shows the abundant wood left in the cutblock.

     

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    Logs left behind by Okisollo Resources showed the old-growth had been around 370 years old

     

    The requirements for biodiversity conservation stipulated for SMZ 19 were that at least 9 percent of the entire area of Okisollo’s Woodlot Licence tenure should be left as old forest (greater than 250 years of age), and at least 25 percent of the area would be covered with “mature” (greater than 80 years of age) forest. These were the levels of old and mature forest for areas where an “intermediate” level of biodiversity conservation was the objective. Okisollo’s Woodlot Licence tenure was one of the few areas on Quadra Island where the “at least 9 percent” might have been achieved.

    Given the history of extensive logging on Quadra Island since 1880, establishment of SMZ 19 meant conserving all remaining old forest since less than 10 percent of the area in the zone is covered by old-growth.

    The specific strategy to reach the required percentages of old forest and mature forest recommended by the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan for Quadra Island was to “maintain existing old forest in the zone, as well as second growth with [a] high portion of veteran trees...”

    That was the strategy that extensive land use planning had determined should be applied to the 3 hectares where Okisollo Resources had just cut about 50-60 large, old Douglas firs and all of the younger trees between them.

    But since SMZ 19 was created in 2001, the Campbell River District office of the Ministry of Forests had slowly but surely introduced more and more Woodlot Licence Program tenures into the zone, a form of tenure that is immune to the objectives for old and mature forest established by the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. There are now 11 Woodlot Licence tenures in SMZ 19, occupying roughly half of the zone—each of them virtually free to ignore the requirements established by the plan.

    Okisollo Resources was granted such a tenure in 2010, 9 years after SMZ 19 had been created and 6 years after regulations for Woodlot Licence tenures had been rewritten so that they didn’t have to meet government objectives for old and mature forest. This repeated location of Woodlot Licence tenures in a Special Management Zone has the appearance of the Ministry of Forests intentionally undoing land-use planning.

    Following our discovery that Hummingbird forest had been felled, I filed a freedom of information request for the record of communications between the Ministry of Forests and the forester responsible for the planning and approval of this cutblock. I have often heard the logging industry claim that a company has to satisfy dozens of stringent regulations before it can cut old-growth forest. This seemed the perfect opportunity to find out what those regulations were.

    The records provided by the ministry showed that the company’s forester—who is also a principal of Okisollo Resources—advised the ministry in an emailed “notice of commencement” that, “There are scattered [fir] vets in the block, as well as evidence of fire.” The forester also provided a brief description of the ecological community in the understory.

    The response from the ministry was: “Thank you for the NOC. Please be advised that in order for me to add the cut blocks to Woodlot CPs; you need to send the following information (as noted below) which shows both Gross & NAR hectares.”

    That was it. There was no information exchanged between the ministry official and the company forester that would have allowed the ministry to assess whether “scattered vets” might actually be a rare stand of old forest adjacent to two provincial parks that had next to no old forest themselves. All that mattered to the ministry was the gross area that would be cut.

    The biodiversity and other objectives stipulated for SMZ 19—and for all the other 20 0r so SMZs scattered around Vancouver Island—are still legally in effect. In 2021, the Forest Practices Board reported on a complaint regarding logging by BC Timber Sales in SMZ 13, which is in the Nahmint Valley on Vancouver Island.

    In its report, which was critical of BC Timber Sales, the board wrote, “The public needs to be confident that objectives established in land use plans will actually be carried through and implemented in forestry operations.”

    It is difficult to see how the Quadra public can have confidence that “objectives established in land use plans will actually be carried through and implemented in forestry operations” in SMZ 19.

    By transferring land in SMZ 19 into the Woodlot Licence Program, the Ministry of Forests was knowingly undoing the protections that had been worked out by 10 years of land-use planning undertaken in concert with the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Mines. Those protections were intended to end “the War in the Woods,” as it was called back then.

    The Forest Practices Board—the independent watchdog which is supposed to be there for the public interest when logging operations go awry of regulations—has recently confirmed that it isn’t going to do anything to rectify the problem on Quadra Island.

    Soon after my second visit to Hummingbird Lake, Quadra Island resident Rod Burns filed a complaint with the Forest Practices Board, raising the issue of Okisollo Resources cutting old forest. The Board undertook an investigation; in June 2022, the board issued its findings.

    The report stated, in short, that Okisollo Resources had complied with “legal requirements.”

    The investigation, however, clearly did not establish the actual facts of the case. The report admitted that no investigators had actually visited the site, yet it authoritatively described the old forest there as “scattered old trees,” just like Okisollo had described it to the ministry.

    I contacted Forest Practices Board Chair Kevin Kriese following release of the report. Kriese clarified that it was the Board’s understanding that only 10 trees had been cut, a number Okisollo Resources apparently did not disagree with. As mentioned above, however, between 50 and 60 old trees were cut. Without having done an independent on-site assessment of what forest had been there before the logging—easily ascertainable by counting stumps—the Forest Practices Board report lacks credibility.

    But the Board’s report did contain an interesting paragraph outlining why Woodlot Licence tenures aren’t expected to manage for old growth values and, more importantly, what became of the legal responsibility for meeting the requirements of SMZ 19. It stated:

    “When members of the BC Legislative Assembly first debated [The Forest and Range Practices Act], the Minister of Forests discussed the exemptions in section 13(3) of FRPA. The Minister explained that it is not practical to regulate old-growth forests on the small scale of a woodlot licence. Instead, government regulates old-growth forest management at the landscape level. For the Quadra landscape unit (Figure 1), which covers the woodlot licence and tree farm licence 47, this means that the holder of the tree farm licence addresses the legal requirements to manage old-growth forests under their forest stewardship plan. Again, the woodlot licensee is exempt from following government’s objectives for the retention of old-growth forests.”

    There are two things about that statement that I would draw your attention to.

    First, the Board’s conviction that old and mature forest are being managed on Quadra through the “Quadra landscape unit (Figure 1)”—will be news to the local district office. No such plan exists. It has been promised for many years—a promise going right back to the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan days, but it has never materialized into the public realm.

    Second, the Forest Practices Board report puts all of the legal responsibility for ensuring that the provisions for old and mature forest in SMZ 19 are met on TFL 47—which is tenured to TimberWest (aka “Mosaic Forest Management”).

    The physical area of SMZ 19 is exactly the same now as it was in 2001—approximately 16,000 hectares. But now, instead of the requirement for managing for old and mature forest being spread over the entire area of SMZ 19, that responsibility now falls entirely on about half of the original area of SMZ 19, the area occupied by TFL 47.

    It has been pointed out to TimberWest that if the entire legal responsibility for providing the spatial requirements for old and mature forest falls to them, they are almost out of room to log on Quadra Island.

    TimberWest’s response has been to claim that it will “coordinate” with the Woodlot Licence tenures to ensure the requirements of SMZ 19 are met.

    Does this make sense in terms of protecting the public interest? No, of course not. Such “coordination” would require, as TimberWest has admitted, that TimberWest negotiate with some of the other Woodlot Licence tenure holders to put some of their old and mature forest in permanent reserve so that TimberWest could keep cutting on TFL 47. But that would only happen, of course, if some entity existed that could reliably ensure such legal agreements were actually made and were enforced.

    The Ministry of Forests, obviously, has no interest in seeing such an agreement in place. Its actions over a number of years precipitated this bizarre, unworkable situation in the first place.

    It will take concerted public involvement and vigilance to ensure that the minimal biodiversity conservation provisions set up for Special Management Zone 19 are implemented. While were at it, it’s time to raise the level of biodiversity conservation from “Intermediate”—as set out for SMZ 19—to “High.” That would be more in tune with what we now know about the collapse in biodiversity and the need to conserve forests to mitigate climate change.

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  • The map below is TimberWests account of forest by age class on Quadra Island. It doesnt indicate all of the old forest that has been confirmed by the Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project, but most of the areas shown in brown are areas of old forest (>250 years).

  •   Return to the Discovery Islands primary forest survey page  

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