Shawnigan Lake area director calls for tougher zoning controls to regulate logging in watershed; tells Cowichan Valley, British Columbia officials that basin has been denuded of much of its water-retaining forest, needs 'drastic resoration job'

Wendy Lisney

Wendy Lisney

Feb 20, 2013 – Cowichan Valley Citizen

DUNCAN, British Columbia , February 20, 2013 () – Shawnigan Lake area director Bruce Fraser sounded the alarm Feb. 13 that his watershed area was losing its forest cover at an alarming rate.

In a presentation at the CVRD board meeting, Fraser urged his colleagues to consider what actions might be taken by a regional district to preserve this necessary part of the Valley's ecosystem.

Showing directors some aerial photographs, taken at intervals, Fraser stunned his audience.

"In the past 15 years or so we have logged, cleared and gravel-pitted most of the Shawnigan Lake basin. Our basin has been denuded of a lot of its water-retaining forest. There will be no mature forest left there very soon," he said.

What does Shawnigan Lake face over the next few years?

"A drastic restoration job," Fraser said, pointing out that such roadblocks as fragmented jurisdiction, the problem of private ownership of forest land, and the cumulative effect of what's happened already mean that "massive biological reparation" is needed.

The area director said he was grateful that at least the Shawni-gan Watershed Roundtable exists, although it was difficult to get some of the people who should be involved in such talks to even come to the table.

His board table colleagues immediately grasped the concerns.

Saltair's Mel Dorey asked if there were not regulations covering a sustainable cut that governed logging but Fraser replied that these only applied on Crown land and restricted clear cuts.

The problem, Fraser said, is that no one is looking at the cumulative results or the "pernicious" side effects of all these clear cuts, which include mud-boggers, illegal firing ranges and other destructive and hard-to-control illegal uses of cleared forest land. North Cowichan's Jon Lefebure asked, "Do we have enough controls through zoning?" Fraser shook his head.

"We have so little control. Our zoning process is not strong enough," he said, telling the board he saw a need for more rigorous control mechanisms to be built into any re-worked zoning.

He also called for efforts to include consideration for the visual effect of clearcutting as well as its effect on the watershed.

Loren Duncan, whose area of Sahtlam, Glenora and Cowichan Station also includes lots of forested land, said he was concerned that some private land owners are getting tax breaks for supposedly reforesting their logged-off land while not actually doing it.

"If they don't get those lands reforested, they are taking money out of the hands of the regional district," he said, suggesting assessors could be asked why this is not reflected in property assessments.

"There used to be pretty strict rules about forest land use but the Liberals ripped them up. Tree farm licences used to be managed. Now all private land has been removed from TFLs and handed over to corporations. It's a free-for-all."

Fraser said there were drawbacks to constant reforestation, too.

"It can lead to a single mono-crop that can be more susceptible to pests and weather. And you put into short-term industrial rotation," he said.

Cobble Hill director Gerry Giles said that when the subject has come up before at bodies such as the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, there's been almost unanimous support for action.

"It's a big issue across the province. We should be pursuing it again. We should look into this at the Electoral Area Services Committee," she said.

South Cowichan Lake's Ian Morrison, whose vast area includes large tracts of forest land, said, "it's incredibly disturbing that huge holdings are beyond our control for all intents and purposes." He echoed Duncan's concerns about people side-stepping the spirit of the reforesting regulations and added, "there is no will, no desire in other levels of government to address these issues."

Tim McGonigle of Lake Cowi-chan said, "the frustrating fact is that forestry does exist and that jurisdiction is mainly federal. It's an archaic system that may be part of the problem."

Malahat/Mill Bay's Mike Walker said there is no doubt that there is a difficulty with private forest land owners.

"They are just multi-national corporations now who think: let's go to the regional district and say it's not sustainable. They come to us to redevelop the land."

Walker said the speed of today's logging practices makes the situation even more urgent.

"They can go in and clear 50 acres in a morning and then they're gone."

Fraser concluded that the dilemma now facing the CVRD is that the kind of logging going on now is "terminal".

That means within two or three years most of what is left will be proposed for subdivision.

Directors will have to decide whether they want to lock the land into business-as-usual forestry or allow subdivision where they may exert a measure of control.

Either way, it's no easy choice, but it demands action, Fraser said, adding "it's 11: 59 in the Shawnigan watershed."

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