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Environmental groups allege TimberWest has significantly increased logging of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Garth Lenz

Environmental groups have accused TimberWest of speeding up logging in the Great Bear Rainforest before tougher regulations take effect – an allegation the company denies. The province notes TimberWest is meeting legal requirements.

Sierra Club B.C., Greenpeace and ForestEthics Solutions alleged Thursday that TimberWest has significantly increased its logging of the Great Bear Rainforest in recent years. They said satellite imagery suggests TimberWest logged more than 4,400 hectares of rain forest between 2009 and early 2015. The environmental groups also accused TimberWest of going over its annual allowable cut and called on the company to freeze operations in the region.

"This is happening in the southern-most part of the Great Bear Rainforest, with a history of logging, very little old-growth remaining, and species that depend on old-growth," Jens Wieting, a forest and climate campaigner with Sierra Club B.C., said in an interview.

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Domenico Iannidinardo, vice-president of sustainability and chief forester for TimberWest, denied the accusations. He noted a Forest Practices Board audit released in February found the company complied in all significant respects with the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Wildfire Act.

"While harvest levels fluctuate over time, throughout this entire process, TimberWest has deferred and continues to defer cut blocks that may be considered sensitive when the new land-use orders are released some time this year," he said in an interview.

"That's voluntary. It's a commitment the company has made, it's a commitment the company has maintained."

Mr. Iannidinardo said the company is willing to review its plans with interested parties.

A spokesperson with B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, in an e-mail, said "TimberWest is complying with the legal requirements currently in place, which include 2009 land-use orders that reflect ecosystem-based management and protect 50 per cent of the range of old-growth forests in the Great Bear Rainforest from logging."

The spokesperson said harvest levels in B.C. did go up following the global economic depression.

The environmental groups had called on the province to stop issuing cutting permits to TimberWest, but the spokesperson said the ministry has no authority to do so since TimberWest is meeting legal requirements. The spokesperson said Minister of Forests Steve Thomson "strongly encourages" the company and the environmental groups to meet and discuss the concerns that have been raised.

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Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council, which is comprised of seven member First Nations and deals with resource issues, said he does have some concerns about TimberWest's practices. He questioned whether the company "understands the importance of social licence."

"I don't want to call it overharvesting, but it seems like they're trying to get a lot of logging in place before a stricter or more sustainable regime comes down," he said in an interview.

The B.C. government, First Nations, the forest industry and environmental groups first announced a plan to protect the Great Bear Rainforest in February, 2006. But while 50 per cent of the rain forest has been off-limits to logging since 2009, plans to protect a further 20 per cent have languished.

The government spokesperson said ministry staff are "making best efforts to send out the land-use orders for public review and comment within the next month."

"After the public review and comment period, the land-use orders are finalized, incorporating the feedback received. Then they will come into effect under the Land Act," the spokesperson said.

Mr. Smith said he hoped the new policies would be in effect by late fall.

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