Forest auction put on hold near Port Renfrew

Eric Plummer, May 22, 2019

Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner and photographer TJ Watt stands beside a massive redcedar measuring 10 feet, nine inches in diameter in one of the cutblocks that was proposed by BC Timber Sales near Port Renfrew. (TJ Watt photo)

Port Renfrew, BC — 

An outcry from local interest groups was followed by the province postponing the auction of old-growth in Pacheedaht territory near Port Renfrew.

The Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce was temporarily relieved when BC Timber Sales announced that it would not be selling 109 hectares of Crown land on May 8. Instead the provincial agency that auctions public land for forestry opted to delay the sale of the seven cutblocks near Juan de Fuca Provincial Park to allow for the consultation with a stakeholder in the area. BC Timber sales did not specify who this stakeholder is, but media reports have identified Soule Creek Lodge, which relies on the region’s natural serenity and environment for tourism.

The Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce uses the region’s old-growth trees, including its renowned Avatar Grove stands, as a key marketing tool, labelling the town as “Canada’s Tall Tree Capital.” Besides a handful of tourism operators, the chamber also acts on behalf of the Pacheedaht First Nation’s forestry businesses.

“We remain hopeful that the absence of notice of a future auction date will mean this old-growth forest will be allowed to remain standing for the foreseeable future,” stated President Dan Hager in a press release issued by the Ancient Forest Alliance. “We are mindful there are members of our business community and communities of Port Renfrew and the Pacheedaht Nation who could’ve potentially benefitted from the short-term economic activity of this timber sale. However, we have learned from our Avatar Grove experience that the long-term economic benefits of tall-tree tourism are substantially greater than the comparatively brief economic activity created by old-growth logging.”

Whether the land is logged or not, the results of what BC Timber Sales decides to do with the cutblocks could be heard on the provincial political scene, as B.C. Premier John Horgan represents the region as the MLA for the Landford-Juan de Fuca riding.

And the postponement of the auction came two weeks after the Forest Practices Board determined that the province’s enforcement of legislated standards is too weak. In April the provincial agency that acts as a watchdog for forestry practices identified that the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development hasn’t been doing enough to ensure the compliance and enforcement of standards set under the Forest and Lands Act.

“We conclude that the public cannot be confident that government’s [compliance and enforcement] framework is achieving the intended result of promoting licensee compliance with legislation,” stated Forest Practices Board Kevin Kriese in a media release. “The evaluation found a number of weaknesses in the design and implementation of the program to address the complexities of forestry legislation and inadequate public reporting, from a lack of appropriate performance measures and targets, to issues with staffing and training.”

Meanwhile the FPB is auditing the work of Pacheedaht Anderson Timber Holdings, a limited partnership involving the First Nation that manages Tree Farm Licence 61 between Port Renfrew and the Jordan River. This is not related to the BC Timber Sales cutblocks in the region, but one of several random examinations that the forestry watchdog performs each year across the province.

“We randomly select a forest district and then within that district we look and see who’s active, what’s been happening, and we’ll choose our audit out of that,” said Darlene Oman of Forest Practices Board communications. “We are looking at all of the activities that were carried out over the last two years within the tree farm licence. All of the forestry, roads, harvesting, silviculture, replanting and fire preparedness activities during that two-year period.”

A final report is expected within a year.