Wayne Crowley vs. TimberWest

Beginning in 2006, following clear-cutting in the Beaufort Range on private forestlands owned TimberWest—the largest private landowner in BC—heavy rains caused flash floods, which carried heavy siltation and debris down into the Alberni Valley. Drinking water was contaminated, a boil-water advisory was issued, and several landowners suffered severe property damage. The impacts of this event continue to be felt to this day.

One local property-owner, Wayne Crowley—a former logger and road-builder in the forestry industry—was hardest hit by this disaster. To this day, whenever there are heavy rains, flooding and debris run down from the clear-cuts above his property, washing out his roads, contaminating his local water supply, and piling gravel upon his lands.

The Private Forest Land Council (PFLC)—the industry-led body that oversees logging on private lands—determined that the cause of the damage was some drainage culverts that were too small, which became blocked with debris and washed out onto Wayne's property. Wayne, who was a professional road-builder in the forest industry for decades, also claims that TimberWest's shoddy road-building practices were partly to blame for the washouts.

Another possible factor could have been that the act of clear-cutting on steep slopes has been proven to increase the chance of landslides by up to ten times. Clear-cutting removes the water storage capacity of the soil, causing rainwater to run down in greater volumes, causing greater erosion. However, the PFLC diminished the impacts of these other factors in their final report, focussing solely on the insufficient size of several drainage culverts.

Eventually, the Private Forest Land Council fined TimberWest the maximum amount of $25,000. TimberWest also paid Wayne an additional $35,000 to put the matter to rest. But Wayne refuses to give up until true justice is served. Wayne claims that the roads above his property have not yet been fixed and are still causing problems to this day. TimberWest has never accepted full responsibility for its actions and Wayne is looking for accountability.

In this video, Wayne takes us on a tour of his property to show us the damage that's been done. Photos taken from around the time of the initial event illustrate the destructive power of the flash flooding that continues to plague his land. And the MLA for Alberni-Pacific Rim, Scott Fraser, who has been involved in this situation from the beginning, provides his own insights on this story and the systemic failure that allowed it to occur.

Powell River & Island Timberlands

Powell River has been fighting for its urban forests, which are slated to be logged by Island Timberlands.

I.T. has been at the forefront of many forestry conflicts on the west coast of British Columbia, from Cortes Island to Port Alberni to Powell River. Communities are uniting to oppose the logging practices of Island Timberlands, which is the second largest landowner in BC, with over 235,000 Ha. of private managed forestland on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the Sunshine Coast. I.T. is majority owned by the BCIMC, the arms-length investment firm of the BC government, which invests all the public sector pension funds. The BC Teachers' Federation, whose pensions are invested in I.T., recently filed a motion to oppose I.T,'s more controversial logging practices in the Alberni Valley.

UPDATE: After I.T. did not respond to the concerns of the community, stemming from their logging in active bird-nesting season, activists from the Powell River Forest Coalition blockaded I.T.'s machinery and forced the company to withdraw from the area. With the coming of fire season, the company has not yet resumed its operations, but could return in the fall. We will continue to follow this situation closely.

The Ancient Forest Movement of BC

BC's Ancient Forest Movement is a diverse coalition of First Nations and settler communities, youth and elders, unions and businesses, which is united against industrial scale logging of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and the coast of BC.

They're fighting for the conservation of high priority forests on private lands owned by TimberWest, Island Timberlands and others; the curtailment of raw log exports; and investments in sustainable second-growth forestry and secondary industries that will create jobs for British Columbians, while allowing the forests
to mature and regenerate.

In order to achieve these goals, the Ancient Forest Alliance is calling for a $40 million per year Park Acquisition Fund for the next ten years (for a total of $400 million), which will allow the province to purchase these priority lands from private timber companies and restore them to the commons. They would also like to see the protected areas that were deregulated in 2004 by the BC government reinstated, such as those that were previously set aside for deer and elk winter ranges.

And in the meantime, they want the timber companies to back away from logging these high conservation value forests, such as old growth and community watersheds, until the funds can be raised to purchase these lands.

Communities from Cortes Island, Quadra Island, Powell River, Roberts Creek, Port Hardy, Parksville, Port Alberni, Port Renfrew, Kwakiutl territory, Hul'qumi'num territory and Victoria are standing together under the banner, "No Community Stands Alone."

Join the movement!



Port Alberni & Island Timberlands

In order to understand what's at stake on Cortes Island and elsewhere on BC's coast, one has to travel to Port Alberni to see what's already been lost.

Port Alberni, historically a logging and port town, is currently undergoing intensive logging by Island Timberlands. One might not see it from the main highway, but as soon as you get into the back country logging roads, clear-cuts span from horizon to horizon. It's an awful sight. However, the company likes to point to the fact that everything they do on their private, fee simple lands are totally legal. But how did one private company come to own hundreds of thousands of acres of forestland around Port Alberni, including its Watershed?

All photos from TJ WATT

In 2004, the BC Liberal Government allowed US logging company Weyerhaeuser to remove its private lands from Tree Farm License 44 around Port Alberni, (for a deeper exploration of how these lands became privatized, please check out "The Great Land Grab"). This eliminated many of the environmental protections that were put in place under the public system, some of which included protections for deer and elk winter ranges on McLaughlin Ridge, deemed by government scientists to be some of the last and best habitat left in the region. In total, 2400 hectares of land lost environmental protections in this deal.

Today, these same lands have passed onto logging giant Island Timberlands (IT), now the second-largest landowner in BC (second to TimberWest, who is also logging in the area). Island Timberlands, formerly a subsidiary of investment firm Brookfield Asset Management, is majority owned by the BC Investment Management Corporation – the arms length investment firm of the BC government that manages public sector pension funds. This means that teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and all government employees in BC have their pensions invested in Island Timberlands. Their primary business model is exporting raw logs to markets in the US and Asia, where they can fetch the best timber prices.

Despite Port Alberni's long history as a logging town, there is opposition to Island Timberlands' logging practices. Their culture of vastly over-harvesting, high-grading the last of the old growth, logging in watersheds, and exporting the logs abroad, does not sit well with even some of the most veteran loggers. Thanks to the leadership of the Watershed Forest Alliance and the help of the Ancient Forest Alliance, the Teachers Federation (whose pensions are invested in IT, remember) have passed a motion to oppose IT's logging on Horne Mountain above Cathedral Grove. The Port Alberni city council has also added its name to the list of voices calling on IT to halt its logging in the community watershed.

Ultimately, the only thing that will protect these lands is if they are purchased and protected by covenants. The environmental groups would like to see Island Timberlands stop logging in the most contentious areas – which add up to only 1% of Island Timberlands' land-base – as a sign of good faith and to give them time to fundraise to purchase these lands. But the only institution with pockets deep enough to be able to afford to make this large of a purchase is the BC government – the same government that created this mess. And thus far, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson, has shown little or no interest in righting past wrongs.

Having traveled to these places numerous times and talked to people in the community, who are desperate to see these lands protected, I can attest to the passion and dedication of this small band of citizens who are leading this movement in Port Alberni. I can affirm the sacredness and uniqueness of these tiny pockets of ancient forest that remain. And I can testify to the extent of the carnage that is rampant on Island Timberlands' forestlands. I am encouraged by recent statements made by the Teachers Federation and the Port Alberni city council to give some heed to the future of their forests, their forestry industry, and their drinking water. However, it seems that the stronger the opposition becomes, the more intensely Island Timberlands resolves to continue with business as usual. What BC needs is a dedicated fund to purchase and protect endangered ecosystems on private lands before they are logged. Otherwise, they will fade out of existence forever.

Read more about the Ancient Forest Alliance's campaign to create a BC Park Acquisition Fund. 

Learn more about the Ancient Forest Movement in BC or become a member of the AFA.

Learn more about Island Timberlands' logging in Port Alberni and support the Watershed Forest Alliance.

Hul'qumi'num First Nations & the "Great Land Grab"

Robert Morales represents the six Hul’qumi’num First Nations (Cowichan, Chemainus, Penelakut, Lyackson, Halalt, Lake Cowichan), whose territories span the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island.

These lands were almost entirely sold off by the Federal government in 1887 to coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, in order to finance the construction of the E&N Railroad from Nanaimo to Victoria, which enabled BC and Vancouver Island to join confederation and become part of Canada.

To this day, there are Hul’qumi’num elders who still don’t know how that happened, how they lost their rights to the land. The Hul’qumi’num First Nations never ceded these lands and were never consulted or compensated. Over the years, the lands have changed hands many times amongst various corporate owners. Today they are mostly owned by the “Big Three” private timber companies: TimberWest, Island Timberlands, and Hancock Timber, who are extensively logging the last of the old-growth on these lands and flipping a good portion for real estate development.

Robert is in the unenviable position of having to reach consensus with six different First Nations, while at the same time dealing with the logging companies and both levels of government to try and recover some remedy for what’s been lost. Through internal working groups with Hul’qumi’num leaders, elders, women, and youth, Robert has been entrusted to speak on behalf of these six nations with one voice in their Treaty negotiations with the Governments of Canada and British Columbia.

However, negotiations hit a wall every time because the Federal Government refuses to consider any sort of expropriation, resource sharing, revenue sharing, or any other possible scenario with regards to private lands for the purpose of settling Treaties. When a First Nation sits down at the table with the government to talk about Treaties, the first thing they say is that they are talking about Crown land, not private land. But for Hul’qumi’num, there is very little Crown land within their traditional territories. 85% of their territory is comprised of private E&N rail lands.

Reaching an impasse in their negotiations with the Federal government, Robert and the Hul’qumi’num Nations have had to seek justice outside of Canada. In 2007, they brought a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the basis that Hul’qumi’num’s human rights had been violated, specifically their right to property, and that there were lasting damages still being felt to this day as a direct result of the privatization of these lands. Despite Canada’s objections that Hul’qumi’num had not yet exhausted all their legal remedies in Canada, the IACHR agreed that there were no effective legal remedies in Canada, as no Canadian court had ever recognized indigenous peoples’ rights to property. They are still awaiting a decision on this matter, which will determine whether Hul’qumi’num’s human rights have been violated.

The Klahoose First Nation & Community Forestry

In October 2013 it was announced that the Klahoose First Nation and the Cortes Community Forest Co-Op had been jointly awarded a Community Forest tenure on Cortes Island, which will constitute the majority of the Crown lands on Cortes. 

Their plan is to net out of the equation sensitive ecosystems, riparian zones, areas with very thin soils, and groves of old growth—and do selective, ecosystem-based forestry on what remains of the land base.

This kind of thing has been done before. Eco-forestry gurus Merv Wilkinson and Herb Hammond have proven that one can manage a forest over the long-term, extracting timber and turning a profit, while not harming the overall ecosystem-health or productivity of the forest. But in order to build a forestry economy for the people of Cortes Island, this will also require training the youth and building the infrastructure that will be necessary to mill and process the timber that's being harvested. This will take time and some logs may leave the island, perhaps even the country, in order to maintain the integrity of the business model. But their dream is to eventually curtail log exports and keep the logs on Cortes as much as possible—or at least within BC.

James Delorme, current chief of the Klahoose First Nation, is committed to developing a sustainable economy for his people on Cortes. The band recently purchased an Alaska mill for milling lumber for their own use and for sale off-island. Young people are coming to him asking to be trailed in logging, milling and woodworking, so that they can become involved in the various Klahoose logging operations, both on and off Cortes Island. James sees forestry as being a crucial component of the Klahoose economy that aligns with traditional values.

But the grand plan goes way beyond just the Community Forest. It also involves their small community woodlot on their territory on Cortes, which is separate from the community forest. They recently harvested some trees from the woodlot and, despite grumblings on the island, they were not at the receiving end of any sort of protest actions from the non-native community. They also have a Tree Farm License on their mainland territory, where they are doing larger-scale forestry; they have aquaculture operations in the waters around Cortes; and they have got several tidal power projects up Toba Inlet.

Despite some head-shaking from the locals about their use of industrial practices, revenues from their power-generating projects allowed them to build a new community facility for their band. Aquaculture provides fresh seafood for Klahoose families. And in terms of forestry, they are working a land-base that is orders of magnitude smaller in scale than that of Island Timberlands. They are employing Klahoose men and women and using at least some of the wood to build homes for their members. And the remaining logs are mostly being sold for use in our own bio-region. (However, the band council has been deafeningly silent on the Island Timberlands issue, when they were once the ones leading the blockades against MacBlo in the early 90s. I am very curious to know what has changed in their views since those days.)

So while the Klahoose have been criticized, I have to point out that in the case of their TFL up Toba, this is their traditional territory and if anyone has a right to harvest the timber, it is them. And ultimately, Klahoose members and their descendants are going to have to live in the area for generations to come, whereas the big logging companies can simply flip the land for real-estate once they can't grow any trees anymore, so the Klahoose have a far deeper interest in developing a truly sustainable economy than Island Timberlands.

And lastly, while our culture has been built from cashing in the natural wealth of native lands, it is unfair  to say that First Nations should not have the same opportunity to develop their own culture or make use of their own resources. If you look at the Hul'qumi'num peoples on Vancouver Island, where the vast majority of their lands were privatized and are now owned by big timber companies, most people are dependent on Federal aid for survival. But the Klahoose, who have regained control over a good portion of their territories, are now working towards the ultimate goal of all this economic development, which is to gain independence from the Federal Government. One can only hope that their connection to the land and traditional knowledge will prevent them from making the same mistakes that we did.

Klahoose & Cortes Island Obtain Community Forest

In a historic announcement, the Klahoose First Nation and the Cortes Island Community Forest Co-Op have been granted a Community Forest tenure on 3,700 acres of so-called "Crown" or public land on Cortes.

Their application was rooted in using the most scientifically advanced and socially acceptable methods of forestry, which have been developed to the highest standards of sustainability for the Great Bear Rainforest.

This comes as timber giant Island Timberlands wants to log thousands of acres of private forestlands on Cortes in an industrial model, which would clearcut large swaths of land and sell the raw logs mostly to the US and Asia. Cortesians have been concerned that this model will affect their drinking water, tourism industry, old-growth forests, and quality of life. In response, I.T. has held several public consultations and has made a few concessions to their logging plans, but the plans remain largely unchanged.

In November 2012, Island Timberlands moved to begin logging on Cortes. Cortes activist group, Island Stance — feeling that their concerns had not been adequately addressed — blockaded the entrance to I.T.'s Basil Creek property for several days, until Island Timberlands agreed to return to the negotiating table. They have not returned to attempt to harvest their timber since.This community forest tenure will give the Cortes Island forestry partnership a chance to demonstrate how they want forestry to be done on Cortes Island. They now embark upon a long, hard road of developing a forest stewardship plan that is in line with community values, in an open, transparent way. This process will test the resolve of all those involved with the Community Forest to maintain the delicate partnership that has been forged between the Community Forest Co-Op and the Klahoose First Nation. The partnership will also have to juggle financial and ecological integrity, in order to develop a truly sustainable community forest.

Tosh Harvey: A Young Forest Guardian

I first met Tosh Harvey on a winter excursion through the Children's Forest, an area of forest near Carrington Bay that is owned by Island Timberlands.

I was immediately struck by how at home this boy was in the forest. His eyes weren't looking down at his feet, but were darting around all over the place on the lookout for forest critters and edible mushrooms. He wasn't the most talkative kid, but I could tell he had a deep intelligence about him that came from spending his life climbing over logs, building fires, growing food, and playing in the trees. 

I bumped into Tosh's parents one magical evening on Marina Island, just off the coast of Cortes. His whole family was kayaking at dusk and came out to the island to watch the sun go down. It happened to be the solstice and the night of the super-moon. From a narrow strip of sand jutting out from the island known as Shark Spit, we howled as the sun dipped below the horizon, and fell silent when we turned around to see the full moon rising almost simultaneously. I've never had a more intense feeling of being on a giant orb rotating in space. 

It was around this time that Tosh's mom Lovena approached me and asked if I would consider interviewing her son Tosh for my film. She said he has a lot to say and will surprise me with his passionate insights. I wholeheartedly agreed, and came the following morning to interview Tosh. As you will gather from the video, this forest child absolutely blew my mind. You can tell when kids are just regurgitating things they've heard their parents say. Tosh did not give me that impression at all. These were all conclusions he had reached of his own accord.

Him and his friends were also building an entire village in the woods from sticks and grasses. They had homes, a cafe, and a sports arena. And man, what a tree-climber this kid is. I've never seen someone get up to the top of a tree so quickly, or swing from limb to limb with such ease. After filming him and his friends play for a while, Tosh went to help his dad Ryan chop wood for the fireplace. As Ryan and Lovena had been in a horrendous car accident a year ago, they were still recovering, so Ryan chopped wood with a mechanical splitter. 

Perhaps the most emotional part of the interview was listening to Tosh talk about his parents' accident, and how the community rallied together to bring them food and support them during this rough time. The conclusion that Tosh drew from this experience was that despite the powerful forces they are up against in the fight with Island Timberlands, he knows they are going to win because they've got love on their side, while IT are only after money.

Timber & Tourism: Discovery Islands

In July, I had the honour of taking a ride through the Discovery Islands with sailor and tour guide Mike Moore on his converted fishing boat, Misty Isles.

Mike makes his living taking travellers on guided tours through the Discovery Islands, where he provides a passionate commentary on the forested isles, diverse marine life, swirling tidal rapids, and conspicuous forestry activity in the region. On this particular journey, we were joined by Vancouver Observer contributor Carrie Saxifrage, who wrote this outstanding article.

Mike took us up to Maurelle Island to see the log dump and logging road that BC Timber Sales recently punched in. Logging is slated to begin this fall. This operation will be happening in the Lower Okisollo channel, one of three yet unblemished corridors that the Discovery Islands Marine Tourism Group has been fighting to protect for its tourism value. Despite acknowledgement from the provincial government’s tourism wing that this area deserves a “higher use plan”—followed by a staunch denial from the Ministry of Tourism that any specific plans had been made—they have been unwilling to intervene in any forestry activity that is already in progress.

With regards to Maurelle Island, it would appear that the BC government has been negotiating in bad faith. The decision seems to have already been made, regardless of what local tourism operators—who contribute millions to the local economy—have to say about it. But this story points to a larger phenomenon. As our political leaders fail to address the concerns of tourism operators and other stakeholders in the forest, a grassroots movement is beginning to emerge. Island and coastal communities are uniting on an unprecedented scale, with a common vision for a more diverse and holistic forest economy that cultivates multiple forest values—not just timber value.

Cortes Island Ancient Forest #4: The Whaletown Commons

Purchase is fundamentally the only legitimate solution that currently exists within the framework of our society to shift private lands back into public hands. 

Once we accept that fact, the next logical step is to determine what the price is going to be. But it is at this point that Cortesians have hit a huge stumbling block. In order for the price of any given piece of forestland to be determined, there are two factors that must be considered: the first being the actual value of the property, and the other being the value of the timber on the land, based on market prices.

A perfect case study is the Whaletown Commons on Cortes Island—60-acres of forestland that the community has been trying to reclaim since the 1990s, and is now owned by Island Timberlands. The Commons retains much of its old-growth characteristics, including giant firs and cedars, an incredible diversity of bird species, and a small stream running through the middle where cutthroat trout come to spawn. This area is also located in close proximity to the Gorge Harbour Marina, where many visitors come to Cortes by boat, which makes this forest a perfect destination for hikers that don’t have a vehicle to get around the island. 

The Whaletown Commons Society was formed specifically to fundraise and lobby for the purchase of this small parcel of land. The Strathcona Regional District (SRD), recognizing the ecological and recreational value of this area, hired an independent appraiser to calculate the value of the land and timber for the area known as the Whaletown Commons. The total that they came up with was $583,000 for the land and timber combined.

The SRD put $500,000 on the table—alongside the remainder that was raised bythe Whaletown Commons Society—and offered to purchase these lands from Island Timberlands, in order that they could become a regional park. Despite only having paid approximately $100,000 for these lands from the previous owners in 2005, I.T. rejected the offer and countered with over $1.5 million—almost three times the appraised value of the land and 15 times what they had paid for it. This discrepancy between the two parties’ land valuations, according to IT’s director of planning and forestry, Bill Waugh, is that the SRD had used domestic timber pricing in their metric, whereas Island Timberlands is in the business of raw log exports, which fetch much higher prices on the international market.

The Strathcona Regional District formally withdrew its offer and refused to pay more than the fair market value of the land based on domestic prices. What started off with great excitement about the prospect of finally regaining control over the Whaletown Commons, ended in disappointment and uncertainty yet again for the people of Cortes. However, the funds still remain available for the purchase if Island Timberlands decides to change its mind. And so they have no choice but to play the waiting game until either Island Timberlands decides they want to sell, or that they want to log.

But there are some folks on Cortes who are strong proponents for a little-known tool in the local government’s arsenal—and that is Eminent Domain. This is where a government may expropriate private lands for the benefit of the public by forcing the landowner to sell at the appraised value. This technique has been seen most often in public works projects, such as the building of roads, mines, or oil and gas pipelines. Most recently it is being seen in Texas, along the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands crude to refineries on the gulf coast. But there are no known cases that I have found of Eminent Domain ever being used for the creation of a park. And thus far, the Strathcona Regional District has not considered being the one to set that precedent.

Perhaps what is so subversive about this idea is that it questions the sanctity of private property. While landowners get paid, they are being forced to sell against their will, which opens up a whole can of worms about the powers of government, the rights of private landowners, and what we choose to value in our society. But if timber companies are going flaunt the very real needs of the communities they work around; if they are going to continue to disregard the effects their logging has on soil and drinking water; and if they are going to make it as difficult as possible for communities to purchase these forests for the purposes of conservation—then perhaps it is a can of worms that is worth opening.