CanWel has sown the seeds of acceptance among a group of Fernie high school students concerned about logging.
The forestry company hosted a tree planting event with Roxanne Esch’s Grade 7 class from Fernie Secondary on Tuesday, May 14.
Addressing the group of students gathered on Coal Creek Road, CanWel Vice President Jake Blackmore explained that trees are a renewable resource and the forestry industry uses sustainable practices, while supporting livelihoods in the Elk Valley.
“We committed to doing something that would educate this Grade 7 class because their teacher reached out at the Wildsight forum to challenge us to do something better,” Blackmore told The Free Press as the group walked up the road to the cutblock where they would be planting.
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“I feel like what’s missing is education and teaching kids about what we do, and how we reforest the land after. How we plant it, how we design the roads; I think it’s a good first step in the education process for anyone that’s interested.”
Clearcut blocks, such as the one students worked on, are replanted one year after they are harvested as per stocking standards for managed forests, said Blackmore.
All of CanWel’s land in the Elk Valley is managed forest, which means it is regulated by the Private Managed Forest Land Act and subject to standards that are set out and enforced by the Managed Forest Council.
By signing up to the managed forest program, CanWel commits to managing their lands for long-term forest production and using sustainable management practices that protect key public environmental values.
These values are important to the students, who peppered CanWel staff with questions about their practices, such as managing erosion and impacts on wildlife, and waterways.
Chief Forester Steve Williams explained there are reserve requirements to keep trees around streams and rivers that are fish bearing.
“A big river like the Elk River will have a minimum of 30 metres left on either side of it, in lots of cases more… smaller, in-block streams will have a 10-metre reserve,” added Blackmore. “Yes, there are buffers left on all fish bearing streams.”
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Teacher Roxanne Esch said part of the Grade 7 B.C. curriculum is human impacts on the environment and students have been learning about issues such as deforestation and habitat fragmentation.
“They all understand that they use paper, they use toilet paper, they use resources,” she said. “However, they’ve learned there are better ways to do things and when they look out the window of their classroom, and they see a big clearcut east of town, they go ‘why are they doing that?’
“So I challenged CanWel to basically pick it up, are you doing the best you can environmentally? Are you doing the best forestry practices? And my class is challenging you to do better, to not necessarily as Mr. Blackmore gave it the spin to educate, it was more, can you look at different forestry practices that might be more environmentally sustainable?”
Students found the chance to talk to CanWel executives helpful and took to the cutblock with great enthusiasm, armed with tree planting bags, shovels and native tree species.
“I thought that they didn’t really check (for wildlife) and they just cut it all, but now that I know they do check, it kinda makes me feel better about it; that they’re not just ruining habitat,” said Sonna Qualizza, 13.
“They actually leave it there so that it can still live,” added her identical twin sister Haley.
“I’m also worried about the creeks and stuff, about the erosion… that all the mud will just slide into the creeks, I was worried about that,” continued Sonna.
“But they leave some area for trees to stay but I’m just wondering if it’s the same with creeks without fish.”
Students were directed by career treeplanters Kathy and Reines Korn from Brinkman and Associations Reforestation Ltd. Kathy said typically, cutblocks are planted with 1000 stems per hectare.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what goes on in the block and a lot of people think that the survival isn’t that great. But it is usually generally pretty good,” she said.
Kathy has been treeplanting for 20 years, also contracting to companies such as Canfor and Teck Coal. She shared her views on the logging industry.
“Everybody feels that it’s taking away from their play,” she said. “I ride my bike up here too, we live in Fernie.
“It’s not though, it’s the same thing as the Ridgemont trails. All of those trails, they did get logged a number of years ago and now they’re coming back. It’s either that or it’s fire that destroys them.
“The misconception is that… they’re (forestry companies) not following the proper rules and they are.”
Blackmore and Williams also got their hands dirty during the treeplanting event, showing the students how to replant the block.
“I am super excited about how eager the students are to learn and how excited they are to see that what looks like a messy logging site is actually a good planting site for future forests,” said Blackmore.
“I think it’s super important for other forestry companies to follow suit and to get into the classrooms… kids are so susceptible to information, if they learn the proper way that they can see the benefits of it, for the fire protection and for the new forests, and for future jobs.”
Esch recognized that forestry’s impacts on communities and the environment is a complex socio environmental political issue.
So, have her concerns been allayed? “Some yes, some no but I think it’s always good to keep the door open for discussion and dialogue, and learning.”
Esch believes the same standards and regulations on Crown land should apply to private land, declaring that if there’s a higher standard, whatever the industry, it should be met.
That’s exactly what the City of Fernie hopes the B.C. Government will do, calling for stronger regulations and standards via a resolution endorsed by the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments, and put forward to the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
The City also wants local governments to have the authority to require private land owners to undertake annual consultations with them.
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“If they are successful in changing the rules then I guess that’s how we have to change our practices,” said Blackmore when asked about the resolutions.
“We already do public consultation, we meet with the mayor and council regularly, so a lot of things that are being asked then we already do. I would say we do what’s above and beyond minimum standard already.”
CanWel is currently logging at Josephine Falls and Sulphur Springs near Elkford. At this stage, the company has no plans to return to Fernie amid wet conditions and a weak market for fir and larch – the predominant species in Fernie.
However, at some point, logging will resume.
Setting up a community consultation group has been suggested as a means to keep residents informed about CanWel’s activities in the area.
The company has instead decided to deliver updates via a quarterly newsletter, which will provide information on production and future harvesting plans.
Blackmore emphasized that CanWel is still open to selling land of public interest.
“If there are certain areas of the land that people don’t agree with being harvested… there’s an opportunity for different groups or the City or anyone interested to buy that land and preserve the forest that’s out there,” he said.
“I’ve thrown that out at the Wildsight forum and Committee of the Whole meeting, and that’s still an option for anyone interested, that feels passionate about a certain piece of land and wants to conserve it.”