The B.C. government, which opposes the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline because of the potential threat to the Salish Sea’s marine environment and its endangered killer whales, is putting those same waters at risk by approving logging in a sensitive watershed, a coalition of U.S. conservation organizations says.
The Skagit River system flows south from B.C. through Washington State and into Puget Sound, including waters that are critical to chinook salmon – the primary source of food for the southern resident killer whales.
“Washington State has spent hundreds of millions of dollars restoring one of the largest chinook runs in the Salish Sea. Why mess with that?” said Michelle Connor, past co-chair of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission. The jointly funded commission, established through a treaty between B.C. and the city of Seattle, is responsible for maintaining and protecting the watershed.
Over the objections of 15 U.S.-based conservation, recreation and wildlife organizations, logging began earlier this year in what has been dubbed the doughnut hole inside the boundaries of Manning Provincial Park, which borders Washington State. The permits were issued in 2015 for 39,000 cubic metres of timber on 67 hectares of land at the headwaters of the Skagit River. The doughnut hole is a small section within the park that is open to logging and mining, and it is the prospect of a copper mine in that region that has environmentalists especially worried.
Ms. Connor said B.C. is violating the spirit of the Skagit treaty, which was signed in 1984, by allowing logging in that watershed. “It definitely violated the letter and the spirit of the treaty," said Ms. Connor, who served as the U.S. co-chair of the commission for eight years.
She said logging is opening up the otherwise pristine valley to industrial development. There are 168 mineral claims in the area. "It violates common sense to be embarking on this, given what is going on the Salish Sea, particularly as it relates to the [southern resident killer whales].”
Ken Farquharson served on the Canadian side as a commissioner. He said this is the first time that concerns have been raised about the treaty in all the years since it was signed.
“This is more than just an issue over logging. What is being tested here is the treaty itself. This is a breach of the treaty," he said. The government agency B.C. Timber Sales approved logging without consulting first with the commission. “This came as an absolute shock to the commission,” Mr. Farquharson said.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has pushed to raise the issue ahead of a meeting that will take place Wednesday between B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.
Mr. Horgan and Mr. Inslee are meeting to sign a bilateral agreement on innovation, the latest in a series of conferences highlighting co-operation between the two jurisdictions. But conservationists on both sides of the border say Mr. Horgan’s government is undermining that relationship by allowing logging in a watershed that is critical to grizzly bear and spotted owl, as well as endangered bull trout in Washington State.
Mr. Inslee has identified chinook salmon recovery as a critical issue for protecting the endangered southern resident killer whales that reside in the shared waters between B.C. and Washington State.
Mr. Horgan, whose government has fought to block the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, raised the logging issue in a phone call with the Governor in early September, said Jen Holmwood, deputy director of communications for the Premier’s office. In that call, Mr. Horgan acknowledged concerns and promised to work on them.
But logging has continued this fall and Joe Foy, co-executive director for the Wilderness Committee, said the B.C. NDP government under Mr. Horgan seems unable or unwilling to listen to environmental concerns, from construction of the Site C dam to the creation of a liquefied natural gas industry. “Even a small area like the Manning Park doughnut hole, we just seem unable to change course,” he said. “The fix isn’t that difficult.”