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Future of ecoforest uncertain

Proponents of Wildwood forest are concerned about a potential sale to private interests.

The 31-hectare site, located in Cedar, was sold by sustainable logging pioneer, the late Merv Wilkinson, to The Land Conservancy in 2000, with the expectation it would remain in the public domain. However, due to about $8 million of debt, the non-profit land trust is looking to sell.

Many consider Wildwood a prime example of sustainable forestry.

“It’s representing what we could’ve been doing, particularly in the Douglas fir ecosystem zone, where there’s less than half a per cent left remaining that hasn’t been clear cut or somehow cut, but this shows an example how it could’ve been done sustainably,” said Bruce Hepburn, site coordinator for Friends of Wildwood, the non-profit dedicated to its preservation.

The Ecoforestry Institute Society manages Wildwood and according to spokeswoman Kathy Code, it’s an inalienable property under land conservancy bylaws, and there are restrictions on who it can be sold to. The Land Conservancy doesn’t have the right to sell to private interests. Wilkinson wanted to keep it public for sustainability education purposes, Code said.

“We would be happy if the property was transferred to another charity … To allow it to go into private hands, that’s no guarantee that any arrangement would be held in perpetuity,” said Code.

She said the society offered “several hundred thousand dollars” to help the conservancy. John Shields, conservancy director of operations, said it wasn’t an unconditional offer, so it wasn’t something his group could accept.

Shields couldn’t identify the potential buyer, but the person worked with Wilkinson and is interested in protecting Wildwood.

“I think as far as the objective public is concerned, they’ll understand that TLC is following up on its commitment to Merv, that it has found, and is working with, somebody who was part of Merv’s crew [and] imbibed his understanding,” said Shields.

He said due diligence has been done.

“We’ve seen the forest management plan that is proposed for Wildwood, which is clearly going to continue Merv’s practices on the site and we think any objective, experienced ecoforester would likely agree with us, that this is a good plan for Wildwood,” Shields said.

The sale would need the approval of a B.C. Supreme Court judge to be finalized.

reporter@nanaimobulletin.com

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