The Fernie Mayor will personally meet with CanWel executives in response to mounting community concern about clearcutting in the area.
It follows a public forum hosted by conservation group Wildsight in Fernie on February 7, where hundreds of people gathered to discuss private land logging, with one eighth of the Elk Valley in private hands.
LOOK BACK: Fernie to host logging meeting on February 7
Mayor Ange Qualizza has joined forces with Fernie resident Sylvia Ayers, who suggested a stakeholder group at the forum as a way to improve community participation in logging plans.
They have scheduled an initial meeting with CanWel Vice President Jake Blackmore and Chief Forester Steve Williams, which Qualizza hopes will lead to greater trust and understanding between the two parties, and eventually a resolution.
“At the end of a public engagement session, I think sometimes it’s a very common goal that we want to keep the conversation alive,” she said.
“There’s a lot of passion around the community. It was a very important event for our community, so this meeting was about trying to keep that energy going and keep the conversation at the forefront because regardless of the fact that CanWel is practicing logging on the right side of the law, I think what we know is that we want to make sure that we’ve got good neighbours, good corporate neighbours that protect our sight lines and our watershed, so that’s one of the goals of these meetings is to start building that relationship.”
Similar concerns have been raised in Nelson, where there are plans to clearcut land adjacent to Cottonwood Lake Regional Park and the Nelson Nordic Ski Club.
In December, the Regional District of Central Kootenay was negotiating with the landowner to buy the land, while a crowdfunding campaign has raised over $50,000 to provide seed funding for grant applications.
Qualizza wasn’t prepared to talk about the City acquiring private land, citing fiscal responsibility. However, she acknowleged the growing momentum in Nelson.
“I think that kind of community momentum is exactly what you need for these things and I think that getting a group of people pulling in the same direction to preserve that opportunity would be a great idea,” she said.
At Monday’s regular meeting, council endorsed a Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) resolution calling on the Province to amend the Private Managed Forest Land (PMFL) Act and regulations to bring them in line with those on Crown land.
Currently, the Act does not consider community needs or connectivity for wildlife, leaving places such as the Elk Valley at the mercy of logging companies.
The UBCM resolution also asks the Province “… to provide local governments the authority to require owners of PMFL to undertake annual consultations with local governments to share information and opportunity regarding long term disposition or development intentions for land adjacent to municipal boundaries”.
Following council’s endorsement, the City of Fernie will forward the UBCM resolution to the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments for consideration at its annual general meeting next month.
“The idea is that if we vote as a local government association area in favour of a resolution, we put more emphasis on it when it gets to the AGM and it’s an important part of the process,” Qualizza told council.
Fernie residents have also taken it upon themselves to put pressure on the Province.
Wildsight Elk Valley Conservation Coordinator Randal Macnair said the public forum was a great success.
“More than 200 people showed up and (there was) lots of interest from a broad spectrum of the community, lots of information shared,” he said.
“I think people felt concerned yet satisfied by the end of it and certainly the level of concern has ramped up considerably. We’ve been copied on many of the letters to the Minister (of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development) and there have been dozens and dozens so far, so the community is really expressing their concern and the importance of this issue to Fernie and the Elk Valley.”
LOOK BACK: CanWel defends logging practices
Wildsight’s own relationship with CanWel was renewed by the public forum.
According to Macnair, Wildsight’s Conservation Coordinator Eddie Petryshen has raised site-specific issues around water quality, habitat, wildlife connectivity and community concerns, such as trails and visual quality objectives (VQOs).
“Eddie has reengaged with CanWel to give them our input,” said Macnair.
“They’re under no obligation to adhere to it but we’ll see what happens.”
Macnair believes the revival of a stakeholder group, as originally suggested by Ayers, would take engagement with CanWel “up a notch”. However, he admits the likelihood of the company meeting VQOs is “thin”.
“They’re going to be moving onto steeper slopes, they’re going to be moving into more and more visible areas,” he said.
Wildsight is encouraging residents and community groups to continue putting pressure on the Province to reform private land logging regulations.
Earlier this year, the Province announced a review of the private managed forest land framework. A Ministry spokeswoman has confirmed more details will be forthcoming in early spring.
“The reality is in Fernie and adjacent to our community in the Elk Valley, they’re moving at a blistering pace,” said Macnair, referring to CanWel.
“The rate of logging that they’re undertaking is highly unusual… You’d never see this rate of harvest on Crown land, it’s a blistering pace and the community being involved is one of the best things as far as having hope to slow that down and make any change.”
Emails can be directed to: Hon. Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development – FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca; cc: Hon. John Horgan, Premier – firstname.lastname@example.org; Phil O’Connor, Executive Director, Managed Forest Council – email@example.com; Tom Shypitka, MLA Kootenay East – tom.shypitka.MLA@leg.bc.ca; Adam Olsen, MLA, Green Party Spokesperson on Forestry – Adam.Olsen.MLA@leg.bc.ca; Ange Qualizza, Mayor of Fernie – firstname.lastname@example.org; Wildsight – email@example.com.