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Education key to coexistence: CanWel

CanWel executives say education is key to the Fernie community and forestry company coexisting peacefully.
CanWel Chief Forester Steve Williams and Vice President Jake Blackmore presented to Committee of the Whole at City Hall in Fernie on Monday. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

CanWel executives say education is key to the Fernie community and forestry company coexisting peacefully.

Vice President Jake Blackmore and Chief Forester Steve Williams delivered an update on CanWel’s harvesting plans at Monday’s Committee of the Whole (COTW) meeting in Fernie.

They also provided an overview of the company, highlighting reforestation efforts and the 2.2 million trees planted last year.

“The biggest thing that I think I took away from the meeting that Wildsight put together was I think we’ve got to somehow educate people that forestry isn’t bad,” said Blackmore, referring to a public forum hosted by Wildsight in February and attended by about 200 people.

“It’s renewable, we replant, we manage for water, we manage for landslides, we manage for steeper slope blocks. We spend a lot of money on engineering the roads to make sure that if it’s very steep we do full bench cuts, which is a very expensive program but we know we need to do a good job to keep the hillsides from sliding or anything else that comes from the logging process.”

Blackmore later reiterated his education message when Councillor Yvonne Prest asked how CanWel has responded to a challenge from a local teacher to go above and beyond the current provincial standard, which has been criticized for being inadequate and not protective of conservation and community values.

Blackmore responded with his own challenge, inviting the teacher to bring her class to plant a tree with CanWel so that he can teach them about the forestry industry.

“I think that’s what CanWel and... all forestry companies should commit to is (to) somehow educate kids,” he said.

“I’ve got little kids too and they come home one day from school, and they’re just like ‘forestry is so bad’, and I talk to them about it and tell them what we do and ‘oh wow it’s so good’.

“That’s what I think is going to have to happen in the industry… because in lots of cases, forestry companies do a very good job and they are held as you can see to a very high standard. But you’re never going to get a cutblock that does not look logged.”

CanWel has 250 employees across its operations, which include wood processing facilities and a sawmill, and specializes in steep slope harvesting.

The company owns 54,800ha of private timberlands, the majority of which is in the Elk Valley, with a projected Kootenay harvest volume of 300,000 to 400,000 cubic metres a year.

Williams said at a minimum, CanWel’s private land is managed to the Private Managed Forest Land Act and the Water Sustainability Act, which provide for soil conservation, water quality, fish habitat, critical wildlife habitat and reforestation.

The company works with Nature Conservancy Canada to protect important wildlife habitat, such as grizzly bear corridors, and more recently Wildsight to monitor logging and protect values.

CanWel is currently harvesting blocks near Hosmer and Cokato, according to Williams.

He said two blocks east of Fernie, near Coal Creek, have been laid out for harvesting in the fall/winter, however, market conditions will dictate future plans.

Blackmore added that the market for fir larch – a predominant species on the Fernie face – is very poor at present.

“Within two weeks we’ll be done in the Ridgemont area and so if that market doesn’t change, we won’t even be back next year,” he said.

The CanWel executives did not stipulate whether harvesting plans have been altered in response to concerns raised by Wildsight or the community in recent weeks.

Mayor Ange Qualizza requested the company provide another update if it does return to Fernie next winter.

She also asked if CanWel is prepared to work with the community on preserving high value areas, similar to what is being done in Columbia Valley.

“What is the appetite for CanWel to really come to the table and commit to working with the trails alliance, either with the Legacy Trail or preserving some of those high value opportunities that let us feel a bit safer,” said Qualizza.

Blackmore said CanWel remained committed to working with the Fernie Trails Alliance.

“Yes, we are committed to the trail network and preserving the trails,” he said. “… when we move onto a block, we try to make block boundaries around some of the trails.

“We’re committed to keeping those trails – we look at the proposals for new trails all the time – and to working closely with sharing our land with what you guys are trying to do.”

MLA for Kootenay East Tom Shypitka also addressed COTW prior to CanWel’s presentation, highlighting private managed forests as a key issue in his electoral district.

Shypitka said his office has been inundated with emails from constituents concerned about private land logging, which he acknowledged as a complex issue.

In response, the MLA consulted with the Managed Forest Council and confirmed “they are doing everything by the book”, adding that “there are a lot of things holding companies accountable”.

Shypitka said he believes the conversation should move to the relationship between logging companies and communities, describing CanWel’s COTW presentation as a “good start”.