A Vancouver Island company is preparing to log a chunk of old-growth forest near Port Alberni that was once protected as winter range for deer, according to conservation groups.
Island Timberlands, based in Nanaimo, recently began building a road into the area and is moving "full-throttle" to log the site, says the Victoria-based Ancient Forest Alliance.
The contested area, covering about 20 hectares, is about a one-hour drive from Port Alberni in an area some conservationists refer to as Juniper Ridge.
"It's not a big deal except when you're talking about the last of that type of area," Jane Morden, a spokeswoman for Watershed Forest Alliance, said Monday. The two groups are working together on conservation issues.
The area contains Douglas Fir, lichen-covered outcrops and juniper shrubs growing on thin soils that would take centuries to recover after logging. It is part of a group of sites that had previously been protected as a winter feeding range for species including deer and elk, Ms. Morden said.
Representatives from Island Timberlands did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Headquartered in Nanaimo, the privately held company controls about 254,000 hectares of forest lands, making it one of the major players in the industry on Vancouver Island.
The area now in question is part of a bigger patchwork of lands – about 2,400 hectares – that were protected as wildlife range until the province removed a total of 74,000 hectares from Tree Farm Licence 44 in 2004, Ms. Morden said.
A TFL is one way the B.C. government grants forestry operators rights to harvest timber on Crown land. Removing land from a TFL makes it subject to less onerous regulations and can free it up for sale or development.
A follow-up deal between the government and the former licence holder was supposed to extend protection for the 2,400 hectares that had been previously set aside but that agreement did not come about, Ms. Morden said. Since 2004, about 1,500 of the 2,400 protected hectares have been logged.
Conservation groups now want the government to buy or protect the 2,400 hectares, which are among lands now operated by Island Timberlands.
"The government removed the environmental protections on these lands – now they need to protect them," Ms. Morden said.
In an e-mail, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Forests said the province has "no plans to buy these private lands."
Wildlife management plans are part of certification standards implemented by Island Timberlands, the spokeswoman said, adding that there are about 10,000 hectares designated as winter feeding ranges on public forest land on southern Vancouver Island.
Watershed Forest Alliance and other conservation groups have proposed a $40-million-a-year, 10-year Parks Acquisition Fund, saying such a fund is needed to buy old-growth forests and other lands that are at risk of logging or development.