Local children speak out against logging of pristine B.C. forest on remote West Coast island
Families and educators on Cortes Island are intent on saving a special section of forest from upcoming logging, hoping to buy the land with a Children’s Forest Trust.
Nature can be a profound source of knowledge, inspiration and enjoyment for people both young and old. And for residents of the coastal B.C. community of Cortes Island, acknowledging this fact has never been so important.
- Hand-delivered petition urges Island Timberlands to reconsider logging of pristine B.C. forest
- Ancient Forest Alliance confirms vital old growth in threatened Cortes Island woods
- B.C. island mill owner makes the case for “ecosystem-based” forestry
- In rural B.C., diverging opinions on logging pristine forest
Cortes is in the midst of ongoing disputes over logging by Island Timberlands, a subsidiary of the international firm Brookfield Asset Management. While the company intends to log on several different privately owned properties, there are a few key pockets of IT’s land that youth on the island are particularly concerned about.
“We’re talking specifically about five parcels of forest land that are owned by Island Timberlands, which ring Carrington Lagoon in the heart of Cortes Island,” said Christine Robinson, a local resident and former teacher at the island’s Linnea School.
Robinson and her colleagues refer to these specified areas as the “Children’s Forest”, and they are the focus of a conservation initiative for the benefit of Cortes’ young people.
“It is our hope that [Island Timberlands] will hear the community speaking out in protection of these forest lands, and that they will allow us to seek purchasers out there and to purchase these lands from them,” Robinson explained, “so that the lands are actually owned here on Cortes, with the children of Cortes being the benefactors.”
Members of the community have started a trust fund in the name of the children, with the goal of obtaining the land from Island Timberlands. But any potential purchase would require several million dollars, so Cortes residents are getting to work now to get a fundraising campaign up and running.
According to Robinson, there are several reasons why the pockets of land included in the Children’s Forest were selected as a priority for purchasing. First, since they are located adjacent to the proposed Carrington Regional Park, these areas are seen as a natural extension to a region already designated for protection. The Children’s Forest is also especially important because of the plants and animals that reside within its boundaries.
“This is a traditional wolf and wildlife corridor,” Robinson said.
“If there was logging here it would completely disrupt that, and it would basically bisect Cortes.”
Thirteen-year-old Kiera Tsakonas explained what could happen if the area was clear-cut, forcing the wolves and other animals out of their territory.
“They’re going to want to move, and then they’re going to eat our dogs,” said Tsakonas, fearing for her family’s pets.
An addition, as recently documented by the Ancient Forest Alliance, the area is home to a number of rare old growth trees and related ecosystems. It also contains an important watershed, James Creek, which is a key habitat for local fish species like coho salmon and cutthroat trout.
Showing off his forest knowledge, 11-year-old Aedrin Bower pointed out that other plants and fungi would also be affected if Cortes forests were depleted.
“I pick mushrooms here with my mom,” he explained. “So there’s lots of interesting mushrooms you can see and stuff.”
Bower specifically mentioned rare mushrooms like the agaricon, which are known to have medicinal value for treating things like pandemic flu and smallpox. These mushrooms only exist on old growth Douglas fir and would be severely impacted by the removal of these ancient trees.
A community effort
Walking through the forest with a lively group of children from Cortes, it’s hard to ignore the energy and curiosity inspired by the island wilderness. Not only do these kids have a strong sense of attachment to the environment, they are also deeply concerned and engaged with the community and the important issues that affect their home.
Since the premise of the initiative is to protect this section of forest as a legacy to children and future generations, the kids on Cortes Island have been heavily involved in conservation efforts. With the aid of Robinson and Cortes biologist Sabina Leader Mense, the children produced and self-published a book containing art inspired by the “forest alphabet”.
“There were 33 students who chose a letter from the alphabet...and they used multi-media to represent that letter,” said Robinson.
“So for example, J is for James Creek. V is for voice. C is for Carrington Lagoon and its crystal clear waters.”
The project’s goal was to raise awareness about the issues, as well as to sell the book to raise funds for the children’s trust. In addition to the book, Cortes’ youth have worked on other art projects like clay face sculptures, and some have even written letters appealing personally to Island Timberlands CEO Darshan Sihota.
“I wrote a poem,” said 11-year-old Alma Huuskonen, describing a piece she recited at a public meeting in front of IT representatives.
Similar to the other childrens’ artistic works, Huuskonen’s poetry touched on the connection kids feel to their natural surroundings and acknowledged the vulnerability of the island’s wildlife.
Ryan Harvey, a Cortes parent whose children are part of the conservation efforts, hopes the Children’s Forest will be spared from Island Timberlands' logging plans.
“Our kids play here, this is where we mountain bike…there are so many different groups that use this area. It’s a space for inspiration,” said Harvey.
“It’s just about pure money, this short-sighted gain. It’s just a total shame,” he said.
Like Harvey, Robinson’s hope is to keep at least part of the forest alive for future generations. They understand that logging is a part of the island’s economy, and don’t expect Island Timberlands to cease operations altogether. But if the children and their parents could manage to save this one particularly special area, it would mean a great deal to the community.
“This is an idea which is meant to protect these forest lands in perpetuity for the children of Cortes, and their children, and their childrens’ children,” said Robinson.
“It’s a forest that’s meant to be preserved as it is now, which then gives the opportunity for all the people of Cortes—not just the children—to continue to enjoy it as they have for historical, cultural, spiritual and recreational value.”