Political leadership needed to resolve Cortes Island’s “War in the Woods”

Conservationists renew call for BC Liberals to commit to restoring and expanding a “BC Park Acquisition Fund” to purchase and protect endangered forests on private lands.

Photos by TJ Watt

The conflict over the past week between local Cortes Island residents and Island Timberlands over the company’s contentious plans to log endangered forests has conservationists renewing their call for political leadership in BC to resolve the “War in the Woods”.

Last week, local residents on Cortes Island repeatedly blocked Island Timberlands’ attempts to begin logging. Earlier this week the company withdrew its workers from the island and have postponed pursuing a court injunction against the protesters for one week while negotiations resume with Cortes residents.
“What is needed now is leadership from the BC Liberal government to help resolve the War in the Woods by committing funds to purchase endangered ecosystems on private lands, including old-growth forests on Cortes Island and throughout the southern coast where communities are fighting Island Timberlands’ old-growth logging plans,” stated Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director.

“The province hasn’t had a dedicated annual fund to purchase and protect private lands in years, despite that fact that for every $1 invested in new parks in BC, another $9 is generated in revenues in the provincial economy, according to studies. Island Timberlands also has an obligation to log according to community, ecosystem-based forestry standards on Cortes Island.”  
The Ancient Forest Alliance is calling for a $40 million annual BC park acquisition fund, which would amount to about 0.1 per cent or 1/1000th of the province’s $40 billion annual budget.

Over 10 years, $400 million would be available for purchasing critical habitats on private lands throughout the province. The last time the provincial government had a dedicated land acquisition fund was in the 2008 budget. A similar battle on Salt Spring Island over a decade ago between local residents and a logging/development company was resolved through funding from the provincial, federal and regional governments and local citizens to purchase the endangered lands around Burgoyne Bay and on Mount Maxwell.
Park acquisition funds already exist in several Regional Districts in BC, including the Capital Regional District (CRD) in the Greater Victoria region, which has a Land Acquisition Fund of about $3.5 million each year. The CRD has spent over $34 million dollars since the year 2000 to purchase over 4500 hectares, including lands at Jordan River, the Sooke Hills, the Sooke Potholes, Thetis Lake, Mount Work, and Mount Maxwell on Salt Spring Island, to expand their system of Regional Parks.
“While private land trusts are vital for conservation, they simply don’t have the capacity to quickly raise the tens of millions of dollars needed each year to protect most endangered lands before they are logged or developed —only governments have such funds,” stated TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner and photographer.
Logging giant Island Timberlands, which owns about 260,000 hectares of private forest lands on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, is entangled in battles with communities throughout the region. The company is also one of the largest exporter of raw, unprocessed logs to foreign mills in the USA and Asia. Currently, the Chinese government is looking to buy a major stake of Island Timberlands through the China Investment Corporation, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, and is expected to close a $100 million deal with the company soon.
Contentious old-growth forests and endangered ecosystems owned by Island Timberlands include (see beautiful photos in the following links):

Old-growth forests are vital for supporting endangered species, tourism, recreation, the climate, clean water, wild salmon, and many First Nations cultures. On Vancouver Island, 75 per cent of the original, productive old-growth forests have already been logged, including 90 per cent of the most productive old-growth forests in the lowlands where the largest trees grow. Well over 90 per cent of the old-growth “Dry Maritime” and Coastal Douglas-fir forests on BC’s southern coast have already been logged.


See the Ancient Forest Alliance’s petition for a BC Park Acquisition Fund and a recent newsletter.

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