Logging of pristine BC island forest to begin in January by Brookfield Asset Management
Island Timberlands will start logging on Cortes Island this January, according to Wayne French, Operations Planner for IT. Cortes Islanders are seeking signatories to a petition to prevent the logging.
Cortes Island is known for its balance of remoteness and accessibility. Serviced by ferries, float planes and water taxis, getting there still takes effort. People stay long enough for the island to take hold in their imaginations. Many come for inspiration at the Hollyhock Conference Centre, for practical farming guidance at the Linnaea Farm Ecological Gardening Programme, or to rent beach and lake side vacation houses. The year round community of about 1000 people is known for its warmth, creativity and deep civic engagement.
The island’s extensive trails lead to rich lagoons, hidden lakes, ridgeline vistas and the few stately old growth stands that earlier generations of loggers graciously left to live. Bush walkers quickly find the sense of belonging within nature’s integrity which emanates from undisturbed places. Wolves, red legged frogs and other rare and endangered species rely on these rarely visited places.
The island’s best forests are privately managed by a company called Island Timberlands (IT). IT's parcels encompass swaths of woods that bisect the island from east to west. They hold the healthiest forests, the biggest trees and the island’s central water recharge area.
The eastern IT parcels abut the Klahoose First Nation reserve and contain significant old growth remnants that are slated as the first area of IT's planned operations. The IT parcels at the center of the island hold the Blue Jay Lake watershed, where water flows slowly past ancient trees into a giant swamp at the island’s epicenter.
IT has announced plans to clear a two hectare swathe directly through this area to “build a road.” The western parcel edges Carrington Lagoon, a favorite of hikers and picnickers and the destination of an annual pilgrimage for hundreds of twenty somethings. Local organizers call this parcel the Children’s Forest and are fundraising to add it to the Carrington Lagoon Park. IT also owns Whaletown Commons, another beloved parcel for which the community and Regional District have raised enough funds to purchase at an independently appraised fair market value. IT has refused to sell for less than twice the appraised value.
Cortes Island in the witness box
“It’s Cortes Island’s turn in the witness box,” biologist and resident Sabina Leader Mense told the Vancouver Observer during a recent interview. “Industrial logging of private managed forest lands in the face of community opposition has occurred all over Vancouver Island and neighbouring Islands. Now it’s our turn to provide testimony to the true corporate ownership of these lands and the inadequate forest practices for environmental protection."
The privately managed forest lands on Cortes Island have been considered “socially inoperable” for decades, due to staunch local opposition in the form of blockades and the community’s hard work on solutions that would protect ecosystems and provide much needed forest-based employment for the long term. For example, the Cortes Initiative of 2001 was a joint proposal by the Klahoose First Nation, Weyerhaeuser and the Cortes Ecoforestry Society for joint sustainable management of the Island’s private and Crown forest lands. The new yet long sought Cortes Community Forest Co-Operative could offer a solution along similar lines.
Three factors have contributed to the threat to Cortes Island forests and the transformation of other treasured forests into exported logs and ravaged landscapes targeted for residential development. First, huge multinational corporations use BC’s privately managed forest lands for premium shareholder return. Second, the BC Liberals have left private forest lands virtually unregulated. Third, raw log (and job) export are radically increasing.
BC forest and Brookfield Asset Management
Brascan, which became Brookfield Asset Management, bought 635,000 acres of fee simple timberlands in BC from Weyerhaeuser in 2005 for management by its subsidiary, Island Timberlands. Weyerhaeuser bought those lands from MacMillan Bloedel in 1999. MacMillan Bloedel originally bought the Cortes Island lands from a local logger for under $30,000.
In the sale of MacMillan Bloedel to Weyerhaeuser, the provincial government imposed the condition that Weyerhaeuser negotiate in good faith with the Cortes Island community for a satisfactory solution for the island’s private forest lands. This requirement has not been met by IT.
BAM has corporate offices all over the world and a board of directors that includes Jim Pattison and a tar sands CEO. It has $110 billion in assets under management and delivered an annual return of 23% from 2000 to 2010. Following the purchase of Weyerhaeuser, BAM divided the private and public forest land assets, closed the mills, and restructured the management of private forest lands for faster harvest and more export of raw logs.
BAM touts IT as the second largest private timber lands holding in BC and the second most valuable private timberland estate in Canada. That value is not just trees. BAM is known as a real estate management company and when IT talks to Cortes Islanders, it is often Chris Dawes, the real estate manager, who shows up.
According to naturalist and journalist Briony Penn, it is no surprise BC has become the target of global capital:
"Who could resist British Columbia, a great little banana republic on the doorstep of America that meets all those great investment criteria? Safe? For sure, there are no Zapatistas here. And cheap? Once you’ve creamed the forest off the top, you have free real estate that can be sold. Moreover, we have a provincial government that seems easily swayed by corporate investors," Penn told VO.
In fact, IT and other BC timber companies are major contributors to the Liberal Party of BC which, under Gordon Campbell, obligingly removed what little protection existed for privately managed forest lands.
Friends with benefits: multinationals and BC's Liberal government
The Provincial Government deregulated privately managed forest lands at the behest of the multinational corporations which provide huge campaign contributions. Prior to 2002, the Assessment Act and Forest Land Reserve Act helped to reduce the impact of urban development and rural settlement on privately managed forest land. The BC Liberals repealed the FLR Act in 2002 and replaced it with the Private Managed Forest Land Act (PMFLA ) in 2004. Douglas Harris of the UBC Faculty of Law has described the act as “a highly flexible, industry‐friendly Act, which does not prohibit activity on forest land, but provides incentives to forest land owners who comply with its provisions.”
PMFLA sets out very general “objectives” for soil conservation, water quality, fish habitat, critical wildlife habitat and reforestation with no compliance review by provincial government foresters. Oversight is provided by a Council which has been criticized as too closely connected to the logging industry owners, resulting in a form of self-regulation.
Research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows forest liquidation rates that have resulted in:
- Logging at more than twice the rate that forest industry auditors say can be sustained threatens the environment and economy alike;
- Trees logged at younger and younger ages;
- Successful petitions to the provincial government for forest companies to pull their private holdings out of Tree Farm Licences to avoid regulations aimed to ensure sustainable management;
- Douglas fir logging, in particular, at a near liquidation pace, with one company’s entire “merchantable” stock slated for depletion in 25 years.
- A high level of waste of usable wood
- Loss of jobs because trees are no longer delivered to coastal mills
- A huge increase in raw log exports from BC’s coast, 62 per cent of which come from private forestlands
- Tens of thousands of hectares of private forestland being readied for sale as real estate developments or other “higher and better uses.”
The liquidation of private forest lands means that communities lose essential wildlife habitat and vital ecological services that include drinking water, carbon absorption, erosion and flood control, micro climate stability, and salmonid protection. The present rate of forest liquidation also ignores the long term value of the high end market for BC’s legendary wood by favouring quantity over quality.
Cutting BC's forests: faster, faster, faster
In 2010, BC log exports increased by more than 50%. More logs were shipped to China than during the previous 20 years combined. In the first three months of 2011 alone, BC’s coast exported 40% or 1.3 million cubic metres of logs, a 300% from the same period in 2009.
Liquidating BC forests to sell lumber to China
With such huge powers at play, it seems possible that all of BC’s private forest lands will be liquidated and sent to China. We clearly need a new paradigm for privately managed forest land. Many communities have protested mightily against the depredation against their water sheds and favorite places: Port Alberni, Cowichan Valley, Port McNeil, Cathedral Grove, and Nanaimo, to name a few. Such protest can seem more like art than strategy, giving expression to communities’ aspirations moments before they are bulldozed under.
But BC's forests have no political voice other than ours. We need to converge for more effective advocacy both for our home forests and for a new paradigm for private forest land management. Our tools include: protests (in January, Cortes Island will be a good place to stand up for forests); fierce opposition to the rezoning of forest land for real estate development; strategic voting through organizations such as the Conservation Voters of BC; complaints to the Association of BC Professional Foresters for unethical conduct; letters to government and corporate officers (see below) and public advocacy journalism that holds individuals responsible for their corporate actions.
Oh, yes, and signing by the thousands on petitions to protect locally and ecologically significant forests.
Protect Cortes Forests:
- BAM CEO Bruce Flatt: send to both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
- IT CEO Dashan Sihota: send to both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Reform private forest land management:
- Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson: email@example.com
- Premier Christy Clark: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graph below: Forest Management for Global Shareholders
Read more Vancouver Observer coverage of this issue:
- MTV's The Buried Life, Zoe Miles and corporate behemoth Brookfield Asset Management stand off over trees
- MTV "Avatars" follow Zoe Miles to Brookfield Asset Management
- Will Brookfield Asset Management trash a beloved Cortes forest for cash? Linda Solomon interviews Zoe Miles: video
- Sending a message to Brookfield Asset Management on Bay Street: "Hands off BC's last old growth trees"