Metchosin Coun. Andy MacKinnon holds a tape measure around a massive tree near Gordon River

Metchosin Coun. Andy MacKinnon holds a tape measure around a massive tree near Gordon River

Metchosin councillor eyes next step in old-growth discussion

Tourism, biodiversity points outweigh forest jobs, jurisdictional arguments at UBCM convention

B.C. municipal leaders have thrown their weight behind a call to halt the logging of Vancouver Island’s remaining publicly owned old-growth forests.

Metchosin Coun. Andy MacKinnon, who spoke passionately at last week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in favour of the resolution he helped formulate, said the aim is to transition to a logging economy based solely on second-growth rather than the continued cutting of remaining old-growth.

With more than 9,000 hectares of old-growth forest being logged every year, he said, “if we want to make decisions besides logging [those areas], we best do it in the next two, three, five years.”

He said in a place like Port Renfrew, for example, “the old growth forests have considerable value to the tourism industry and the economy.”

But it’s not just anti-logging advocates calling for a change to the way forest companies and the province harvest timber, he added. A resolution passed by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce called for increased community input on what happens to old growth forests around their towns, with an eye to the tourism factor.

“Certainly there is an economic argument to be made for [keeping them],” said MacKinnon, a retired professional forester and biologist who worked on the B.C. coast and Vancouver Island for 30 years.

A UBCM committee had previously recommended sending the resolution back to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities to be dealt with, rather than be voted on at the UBCM convention in Victoria. But MacKinnon managed to get it back on the UBCM agenda, he said, by arguing persuasively that “this was more than a regional issue and that this had financial, social and ecological consequences for the entire province, and Canada.”

The resolution wound up passing by a significant margin when voted on by UBCM delegates on Sept. 28.

Vancouver Island has about 840,000 hectares of old-growth forest out of 1.9 million hectares of Crown forest, according to government statistics, and only 313,000 hectares are available for timber harvesting.

Most of the old-growth is shielded in existing parks and protected areas, including the fully protected and specially managed areas of the Clayoquot Sound International Biosphere reserve.

MacKinnon claims that the government includes stunted trees higher up mountainsides in its old-growth totals, and that’s not the areas advocates want to see protected. “What people are actually fighting for is the big old trees,” he said, such as the ones already protected in areas like Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew, and Cathedral Grove near Port Alberni.

The people who were against the call to stop old-growth logging on Crown land were also passionate in their arguments.

Campbell River Coun. Charlie Cornfield was among the UBCM delegates who opposed the resolution. “We come from a forest-dependent community,” he said. “Most on Vancouver Island still are, although some may not realize it.”

He said a review of old-growth logging plans would be wise, but called it a regional issue that should not be championed at the provincial level by UBCM.

North Cowichan Coun. Al Siebring added that UBCM delegates should stick to issues under municipal jurisdiction, such as provision of roads, water and sewer and fire protection. “We wonder why so many of the resolutions we send to senior levels of government get blown off,” he said. “It’s because we’re not sticking to our knitting.”

With the resolution passed and the request to be officially made to the province, MacKinnon noted that while increased eco-tourism may be a selling feature to stopping old-growth logging, doing so would go a long way toward further protecting the biodiversity in those areas.

Among other resolutions passed at the UBCM convention last week:

– View Royal’s call for the province to push the RCMP to reinstate auxiliary constables to previous levels of community policing, and

– a resolution urging B.C. to regulate AirBNB-type online accommodation sellers to ensure a level playing field with conventional operators in the sector.

– with files by Jeff Nagel