Gambier Island sits in the heart of Howe Sound, a thickly forested, dark green hump of land surrounded by a blue ocean, just around the corner from the urban sprawl of Metro Vancouver.
Driving to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway, you see the stunningly beautiful island to the west as you pass through Lions Bay, with the peaks of Tetrahedron Provincial Park in the distance.
That view may change soon, however, if the provincial government goes ahead with plans to allow logging in two woodlots covering more than 3,000 acres on the northeast end of the island.
There are only about 200 full-time residents on Gambier, so the government’s logging plans haven’t met with loud resistance yet.
But that will change as word spreads about the wild treasure that is about to be lost on the doorstep of the city.
“If those two woodlots were logged, what we would lose is the natural beauty of that area and the recreational value,” says Peter Scholefield, president of the Gambier Island Conservancy. “We would lose a huge piece of undisturbed nature that’s easily accessible by boat and by trail and which is a prime recreational tourism resource.”
The vision Mr. Scholefield and others have is of a Gambier that is protected, so future generations can continue to experience the joy of getting away to a wild and natural place, only about an hour by boat or ferry from the city.
As Metro Vancouver continues to spread on the North Shore, and the corridor along the highway to Whistler gets more populated, the recreational values of Howe Sound will become increasingly important.
There are proposals to develop kayaking and hiking routes all around Howe Sound, which is undergoing a remarkable ecological revival (herring, whales, dolphins, salmon and crabs are all back) since water pollution problems from a pulp mill and mine were stopped. But it is hard to imagine Howe Sound developing to its full potential as an ecotourism destination under the guidance of a government that believes logging an island like Gambier makes sense.
In a letter to the Gambier Island Local Trust Committee, the Ministry of Forests explained that Gambier is on the auction block as part of a government initiative to expand the woodlot licence program. And in response to a question about whether old growth stands would be saved, the government replied: “There is no specific protection of any old growth stands but there is an option for the woodlot licensee to set these aside.”
An option. In other words, the province has put the protection of paradise in the hands of loggers.
No wonder Mr. Scholefield is upset. So, too, is Tim Turner, director of the Sea to Sky Outdoor School for Sustainability Education, who has posted a video on the Gambier Island Conservancy website that explores the “enchanted forest” of Gambier Island.
“This is the wild heart of not just Gambier Island, but Howe Sound itself. The possibility that this sanctuary of the spirit – the wildest, most solitude-and-silence-rich corner of Howe Sound – would be invaded and compromised is more than my heart can handle,” he states on the video.
Similar sentiments are expressed by those leaving comments on an online petition at Change.org.
“Gambier Island is a precious jewel of forests and ocean very close to Vancouver. We need to keep its huge value as a recreation area,” states Pat Whiting of Burnaby.
“A wilderness too close to Vancouver to mar by clear cut logging. Thousands of tourists will be shocked at our insensitivity to a pristine piece of nature so spoiled for profit,” writes Sharon Moxon of North Vancouver.
The government should be listening to these voices, because while Metro Vancouver will continue to grow, the unspoiled natural world surrounding it will not. Howe Sound could become to Vancouver what the 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area is to San Francisco. But to do that you have to protect the key pieces – starting with wild Gambier.