‘Failure of Professional reliance’: Nahmint logging broke rules, investigation claims

Mike Youds, October 24, 2019

Andrea Inness, foreground, stands atop a 700-year-old Douglas fir in the Nahmint Valley, where the B.C. government plans to continue logging old-growth forest. (Mike Youds photo)

Port Alberni, BC — 

Logging of ancient fir trees in Nahmint Valley is expected to continue despite investigations that point to violations of old-growth protections by the government’s timber auction agency.

Why?

“That’s the way it’s always been,” said Brandy Lauder, Hupacasath First Nations councillor and natural resource manager.

Lauder doesn’t expect any great consequence from an ongoing investigation of Nahmint logging by the B.C. Forest Practices Board and wasn’t surprised to learn the results of internal investigations by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“The only way this is going to change is if (Premier John) Horgan himself gets involved and says this is going to stop,” Lauder said. “Otherwise it’s just going to carry on.”

Reports on internal investigations, one by the ministry’s Compliance and Enforcement Branch (CEB), were obtained through Freedom of Information requests from the Victoria-based conservation group Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA). After visiting Nahmint logging sites in 2018, the group lodged a series of complaints against B.C. Timber Sales, the ministry agency responsible for auctioning timber cut blocks in Crown forest.

The CEB investigation concluded the Nahmint forest stewardship plan doesn’t comply with old-growth biodiversity protections in VILUP, the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan, and warned of long-term impacts on a land base designated as a special management zone.

“Our assessment suggests that the Nahmint demonstrates failure of professional reliance at maintaining publicly agreed upon values and priorities,” the report concludes.

While there has been some consultation with First Nations over logging in the Nahmint, Tseshaht and Hupacasath have been negotiating with the province for greater authority over forest management in the valley, unceded territory 30 kilometres south of Port Alberni. Tseshaht is aiming for a cedar management strategy and share decision-making as part of talks around a reconciliation agreement. Ucluelet also considers Nahmint part of its traditional territory.

“It’s constant negotiation,” Lauder said.

While some limited protections are in place for sacred sites and cultural values, they fall far short of expectations in a valley cherished by all, one of few left unlogged until recent years.

“They’re only protecting what is non-operable,” such as steep-slope trees that would require heli-logging, Lauder said. “It’s really restrictive when they try to do this.”

According to forest ministry figures, there are 250 ancient trees protected within the Nahmint’s old-growth forest and 2,760 hectares of the valley will be left in its natural state.

Special management zones require an all-encompassing plan for biodiversity, all that needs protection in the valley, the “monumentals” as well as the trees that will grow to be monumental and the plants and animals that rely on them, Lauder explained.

In August 2018, Hupacasath council called on the provincial government to halt logging, a call echoed by environmental groups. Chief Councillor Steve Tatoosh raised concerns about unnecessary harvesting of old growth in contradiction of the NDP’s 2017 campaign promises, undermining government-to-government consultation.

Last week, Green Party MLA Adam Olsen raised the Nahmint controversy in the B.C. legislature.

“Two separate investigations appear to have found that B.C. Timber Sales are auctioning off cut blocks that are violating their own rules,” Olsen said. He raised the report’s recommendations to halt logging and put future logging plans on hold in the Nahmint. “Yet the logging of this pristine valley continues with no end in sight.”

Responding to the criticism, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson defended the government’s track record. Donaldson cited the province’s legacy tree policy, which they promised to strengthen after AFA raised public objections to old-growth logging in the Nahmint. An old-growth strategic review panel will be travelling the province to report back next year with recommendations on strategic policy, he added.

“Staff in my ministry are currently working as part of a working group with First Nations and staff from B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS) to legalize old growth management areas (OGMA) in the Nahmint Valley,” Donaldson said. “This involves using new and up-to-date information and incorporating other important values including legacy trees and large cultural trees to ensure additional protection.”

Lauder said the OMGAs in their current form don’t fully represent the biodiversity that needs to be protected. AFA contends that the Nahmint investigations confirm too much old growth forest is being logged in the valley, a practice they say extends across B.C.  

“Legalizing the OGMAs would essentially allow BCTS get away with years of non-compliant logging in the Nahmint Valley,” said Andrea Inness of the Ancient Forest Alliance. “But it’s not enough to ensure that future planning is compliant with B.C.’s outdated, pro-industry laws. There is an urgent need for sweeping changes to B.C.’s forest system, starting with legislation that prioritizes biodiversity and ecological integrity over timber supply.”

FLNRO maintains the internal investigations found no violations.

“The CEB investigation did not conclude there was a violation,” a ministry spokesperson stated, responding to questions via email. “The investigation into compliance with the Forest Stewardship Plan was identified as being outside of the scope of the CEB investigation.”

Referring specifically to OMGAs, BCTS maintains that the draft Nahmint landscape unit plan achieves VILUP requirements for old-growth ecosystems, biodiversity, wildlife habitat and cultural trees valued by First Nations.

Despite the apparent contradiction and an ongoing review by the B.C. Forest Practices Board, BCTS plans to auction an additional 490,000 cubic metres of Nahmint trees next spring, overriding the government’s own protective order and the area’s special status.

“The Nahmint Valley was never intended to be logged like they are,” said Bryce Casavant, a Port Alberni resident who conducted the CEB investigation and later left the forests ministry.

The valley was specifically designated a special management zone, he said. “Those intentions of conserving that area have not been abided by.”

Non-compliance and over-harvesting are fairly regular occurrences throughout the coast, but this case was different, Casavant said. Nahmint Valley is one of only two areas in B.C. designated as special management zones in recognition of the need to preserve biodiversity and old growth. He concluded that OMGAs are out of date and inadequate for ensuring old-growth biodiversity.

Despite a decade of logging, there may still be time to properly protect the valley’s old growth in keeping with the land use plan, Casavant said. The forest practices review is scheduled for completion by year’s end.

“They don’t point fingers,” Inness said of the forest practices board. “They will do a thorough job and they will make recommendations.”

Results will be made public, Donaldson said in the legislature last week.

AFA, meanwhile, continues to call for an immediate halt to logging in the Nahmint and other old-growth “hot spots,” urging the province to modernize its land-use planning in partnership with First Nations.

What they hope not to see is more ancient giants levelled in the Nahmint Valley.

“This is unacceptable,” Inness said. “The B.C. regulatory system was already failing to protect biodiversity.”