To the Nanoose First Nation, District Lot No. 33 is a prime piece of forest in the middle of its traditional territory, rich with towering old-growth Douglas firs over which the band holds legal timber harvesting rights.
To neighbours, environmentalists and municipal officials throughout the region, DL 33 is a pristine example of the endangered coastal Douglas fir ecosystem found only in B.C.'s Georgia Basin and Washington State's San Juan Islands.
"I was absolutely shocked to find out our provincial government, which says it wants to protect these rare ecosystems, would hand over this area for harvesting," said Helga Schmitt, whose home borders the 65-hectare parcel of Crown forest land in the hills above Nanoose Bay. "It's the headwaters of Nanoose Creek and the watershed for the whole area. It's quite a significant and special piece of land."
When surveying ribbons began appearing on the property last fall, Ms. Schmitt made some inquiries and learned that the province issued a timber harvesting licence in November.
The timber licence, part of an "interim measures" agreement reached during treaty negotiations in 2008, allows the band to harvest up to 15,000 cubic metres of wood from the site over the next five years.
Staff with the public affairs bureau confirmed this week that the band has applied for a cutting permit but said there are "no immediate plans for logging."
"The cutting permit must be approved before logging can proceed," said Ministry of Forests communications officer Cheekwan Ho.
However, the mere prospect of a forest licence has generated plenty of concern among government officials in the region.
In January, the Town of Qualicum Beach passed a resolution calling for DL 33 to be protected from logging. The Regional District of Nanaimo followed suit with a similar declaration in February.
And in early April, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, which includes 51 B.C. municipalities, passed an emergency resolution demanding "proper public consultation" before the start of logging.
"We want due process served, but also given the sensitivity of the land … I think it's fairly well implied we want it protected," said association vice-chair Barry Avis, a Qualicum councillor. "I personally feel very strongly about that. There's so little of this land left."
Nanoose First Nation staff said Thursday Chief David Bob is not commenting on the band's logging plans and directed all inquiries to chief administrator Brent Edwards. Mr. Edwards did not respond to several requests for comment left on his voice mail this week.
Ms. Schmitt described DL 33 as a large elevated basin, a spongy, boggy wetland full of swamps and ponds. "You'd pretty much have to destroy the wetland to get in there with logging equipment," she said.
A Ministry of Forests report from 2006 identifies the "coastal Douglas fir moist maritime subzone" as one of the four most endangered ecosystems in Canada.
The ministry's integrated land management branch is reviewing a proposal to protect about 1,600 hectares of coastal Douglas fir habitat on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. However, ministry staff were unable to confirm what, if any, impact those discussions will have on the Nanoose Bay land.
Ken Wu, executive director of the Victoria-based Ancient Forest Alliance, said his group supports the principle that native bands have a right to harvest timber in their traditional territory, "just not in places with endangered eco-systems."
Ms. Schmitt said the province "put the band in an awkward position" by offering it such an eco-sensitive piece of land to harvest.
"First nations deserve to be compensated for their land," she said, "but this is sort of like asking them to kill something they've always held in high regard."
Special to The Globe and Mail
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