British Columbia: Forest Destruction endangers lives of documentary workers

A desperate 9-1-1 call by a Parksville city councillor may have saved
the life of a freelance filmmaker trapped on a small island with a
helicopter plucking out huge trees around him. “I was running as
quickly as I could through the slash, but my access kept getting cut
off by dropped logs.

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Parksville City Councillor, Chris Burger, his eight-year old son and
two local filmmakers had to run for their lives and dive under logs in
the thick waste-high understory of what was once a pristine oldgrowth
forest on a small island in the Englishman River upstream of
Rathtrevor Provincial Park.

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Photo Credit: Scott Tanner – felled 350 year-old Douglas-fir in
foreground, standing Douglas-fir, skycrane- ready with undercuts at
stump level and felled 500-year old habitat tree in background.

On Sunday afternoon an Island Timberlands’ skycrane helicopter
suddenly appeared and began removing the massive 300 – 500 year old
giant Douglas-fir trees from this tiny island in the Englishman River,
where the group had been hiking. “Councillor Burger, his son and two
well-known local filmmakers, Richard Boyce and Phil Carson, were
hiking on the island, located approximately 1 km from the provincial
park, explains Annette Tanner, Wilderness Committee spokesperson.

“They were assessing and documenting the damage to the oldgrowth
forest on the island, located in the middle of the Englishman River
just a brief 15 minute walk from Englishman River Provincial Park.
Over $2 million has been spent on salmon habitat restoration in this
officially designated community drinking watershed for the city of
Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanoose, French Creek and surrounding
communities.” Parksville, BC – “The island’s oldgrowth Coastal
Douglas-fir forest was one of the best examples of the most endangered
forest ecosystem in the province,” continues Tanner. “Only 110
hectares of this oldgrowth forest ecosystem type, which occurs along
the east coast of Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands and the Sunshine
Coast, have been protected in the entire province.”

“Past generations of logging companies have respected this rare island ecosystem and surrounding river riparian zone by not harvesting within these buffer zones. Island Timberlands clearly has little or no respect for
community values such as community drinking watersheds or fishery
habitat protection,” concludes Tanner. Burger, his son and Carson
managed to find a route out of the logging area, but Boyce remained
trapped. Burger phoned 911, imploring the operator to contact the
logging company immediately. Shortly afterwards, the helicopter left
and Boyce was able to scramble out unhurt. Island Timberlands
spokeswoman Makenzie Leine said there was signage on the road, but
there are no defined trails into the area, so it is not possible to
post signs everywhere.

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Comments (1)

peacefromtreesFebruary 19th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

By Richard Boyce

My last article sparked interest by Parksville’s City Council, who wanted to know more about the effects logging by Island Timberlands would have on the public drinking water supply. As a result Councilor Chris Berger asked me to take him on a hike to see an island in the middle of Englishman River.

The next day city council unanimously adopted an emergency resolution stating: “Therefore be it resolved that the City of Parksville strongly objects to this ongoing logging activity and urges the Provincial Government to take immediate action to halt all logging in proximity to the Englishman RiverŠ”

Sunday afternoon I headed up the BC Provincial Park’s service trail past the warden’s cabin, and onto the regularly used Hammerfest mountain biking trails with Councilor Berger, his eight year old son, and Phil Carson of the Arrowsmith Parks and Land-Use Council. A long established agreement with private landowner, Island Timberlands, allows public access to this popular recreational area.

We expected there would be no logging work on Sunday, particularly given the amount of noise complaints by local residents to Island Timberlands. We saw no signs warning the public of active logging.

After winding down the steep slope, on well established switch-backed trails, we crossed the river on a enormous windblown log. We stopped on a massive stump to count 600 rings of this Douglas fir tree that had been felled and cut into three long chunks near the bank of the one hectare island.

Federal and provincial governments have spent millions of dollars rehabilitating the Englishman River, one of the most endangered rivers in BC. Through the BC Investment Corporation 25% of Island Timberlands is owned by BC Government employees via their pension funds. Since 2005 profits from this logging company have been stored off-shore in Bermuda by Brookfield Asset Management in order to minimize taxes paid in Canada.

I began making my way towards the tree where I had photographed a bear inside its den a few winters ago while the other 3 members of my party headed towards the small channel which separates the island from the tree farm that surrounds the Provincial Park. Suddenly I heard this thundering roar and looked up to see a massive helicopter hovering just over the tree tops directly above me.

I ran down a 60 meter log and leapt off the far end into a tangle of bush and debris. I was able to take cover behind the bear den tree where I turned to see the helicopter breaking off a giant tree with its massive claw attached to a steel cable. The intense downdraft from the helicopter blades was hurling giant branches and debris to the forest floor with great force.

The helicopter flew away with the massive log, providing a window of opportunity for me to head for the river but the helicopter returned in very little time, cutting off my escape. The claw broke off a cedar tree directly in front of me. My path was blocked several more times, since the extraction of trees appeared to be random, giving me no opportunity to escape.

After about 20 minutes the helicopter flew away and didn’t return so I was finally able to clamber down a steep gully and wade through the smaller of the two channels that make this an island. From there I made my way into the relative safety of the tree farm where I heard voices calling me. Councilor Berger had called 911 when he reached the relative safety of the tree farm because he realized that I was trapped on the island and in extreme danger.

We waited half an hour before a logger from Canadian Air Crane finally showed up. He admitted that he hadn’t swept the logging site before the helicopter started working. He explained that he regularly can’t keep up with the helicopter and therefore he doesn’t sweep the logging area for people as is required by the Workers Compensation Board.

Island Timberlands made no public announcements that dangerous heli-logging operations would be going on 7 days a week, dawn until dusk, in close proximity to the Provincial Park, putting the public at great risk.

Today 99% of coastal old-growth Douglas fir has been logged, and a multinational investment corporation is destroying the watershed which is clearly not protected my forestry laws. Its time to change the laws.

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