Letter expresses Upper Clearwater concerns

Proposed cutblocks near Wells Gray Park could affect mountain caribou recovery and other values

Map of Upper Clearwater highlights the portal viewscape - the terrain visible from the road to Wells Gray Park.

Map of Upper Clearwater highlights the portal viewscape - the terrain visible from the road to Wells Gray Park.

Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter to Don Kayne, CEO Canfor:

Dear Sir:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Wells Gray World Heritage Committee, a small but active group dedicated to furthering the candidacy of British Columbia’s fourth largest wilderness park for designation as a World Heritage Site: http://wellsgrayworldheritage.ca/.

We commend you on your recent letter to the Vancouver Sun (16 July 2012), in which you caution the B.C. government to think carefully before opening up protected areas to logging. In the same letter, you go on to assert that Canfor will not support actions that overturn landscape objectives set through public planning processes unless there is full public consultation and support. We will not support actions that impact parks or critical habitat for species at risk.

Unfortunately these assertions are difficult to reconcile with actions currently being taken by planners at Canfor’s Vavenby mill. It is our position that efforts to establish several large cutblocks near Wells Gray Provincial Park bring Canfor into conflict with two of your stated commitments, that is, to public process and species at risk. Further details are posted at: www.waysof.net/upper_clearwater_alert/home

Disregard for Public Process

In 1996 the B.C. Ministry of Forests entered into a mediated, consensus-driven public process with the residents of Upper Clearwater. The end product of this three-year process was a document entitled Guiding Principles for the Management of Land Resources in the Upper Clearwater Valley, now regarded by many as our valley’s Magna Carta for forestry practice. The intent of the Guiding Principles is clear: in exchange for community endorsement of three woodlots (1,350 ha) in Upper Clearwater, valley residents are entitled to expect that logging on Crown land within their viewscape will henceforth be restricted to small, discrete incursions for removal of insect- or beetle-killed trees.

The Guiding Principles were signed into effect in November 1999 by the Ministry of Forests District Manager. Apparently in light of subsequent events around the mountain pine beetle, MoF has lately taken the position that the Guiding Principles endorse massive salvage logging in our valley. This is not true. For one thing, such an interpretation would leave Upper Clearwater residents with no concessions after three years of negotiations: an impossible situation. And for another thing, it flies in the face of unanimous agreement by the main architects of the Guiding Principles (including RPFs, loggers, woodlot license holders, a lawyer, and Thompson Rivers University faculty) that this public process is now being betrayed by the same Ministry that initiated it. These points have been brought to the attention of your Vavenby planners.

Disregard for Species at Risk

You will be aware that British Columbia’s dwindling mountain caribou herds are now designated as threatened in Canada, and that B.C. has accepted provincial, national and international responsibility for their recovery. Different from moose and deer, which benefit from young forests, mountain caribou need old growth. The increasing prevalence of young, regenerating forests across their range since about the 1960s has worked against caribou in several ways, notably by reduced winter forage (tree-dwelling hair lichens) and increased predation by wolves and cougar, otherwise sustained by browse-enhanced populations of moose and deer.

Early in the 1900s, some 90,000 ha of mature and old forest in southern Wells Gray was lost to wildfire. The sudden disappearance of so much oldgrowth – and its subsequent replacement by young forests over an area three times the size of the Bowron clearcut – had a devastating effect on the park’s caribou herds. A century later, however, the situation is beginning to turn around as these same forests now enter the late seral stage and gradually acquire the attributes of old growth. As this process continues to unfold, Wells Gray will inevitably become less productive for moose, deer and their predators, and more productive for mountain caribou. Some biologists are now cautiously optimistic that the Wells Gray herd may actually achieve a degree of spontaneous recovery in the decades ahead – a situation not expected to occur elsewhere.

Many of the cut blocks proposed by your Vavenby planners are situated in an area of low snowfall and hence high potential as winter habitat for moose and deer. Introducing progressive clearcuts in this portion of the Clearwater Valley will permanently return forest succession to an early seral stage, thereby promoting healthy predator populations during a period when Wells Gray’s mountain caribou might otherwise, as I say, be expected to recover.

Forestry planners are accorded tremendous power to affect downstream outcomes. To take a literal example, earlier decisions to clearcut on the same slopes targeted by your Vavenby planners are largely responsible for five major flash floods between 1997 and 2001, each marked by a bridge washout and subsequent road closure lasting up to a week. The downstream cost to B.C. taxpayers has been in the order of $7,000,000 for bridge replacement alone. It is our view that the “downstream” costs of transforming Upper Clearwater’s viewscape – Wells Gray’s main portal – from wilderness into clearcuts will be very much greater still.

According to latest figures, proximity to Wells Gray Park injects more than $20,000,000 into the community of Clearwater each year. The Wells Gray World Heritage Committee joins me in calling upon Canfor to urge closer alignment between your Vavenby planner’s proposal and the needs of valley residents, mountain caribou, and a thriving wilderness tourism industry. At the same time, we also call upon the Honorable Terry Lake, Minister of Environment and MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson, to establish a moratorium on industrial timber extraction within the Upper Clearwater viewscape (see map) until such time as a comprehensive, province-wide discussion on its best and highest use can be undertaken.

In closing, it seems appropriate to draw attention to a few of the positive initiatives now underway in our valley. One of these is a collaborative effort by Upper Clearwater residents and the Land Conservancy of British Columbia to create a wildlife corridor linking the two southern arms of Wells Gray: www.waysofenlichenment.net/wells/corridor_project. Another is the Wells Gray TRU Wilderness Centre now being constructed by Thompson Rivers University, and intended to promote learning and research about forest ecosystems. Both of these projects offer considerable scope for partnerships with forward-thinking companies like the one you recently portrayed in the Vancouver Sun.

Trevor Goward, spokesperson

Wells Gray World Heritage Committee