A locked gate prevents access to a logging road on Mosaic Forests land in 2017. (ELENA RARDON/ Alberni Valley News)

A locked gate prevents access to a logging road on Mosaic Forests land in 2017. (ELENA RARDON/ Alberni Valley News)

Pilot project aimed at keeping access open to Vancouver Island back country

Trial access plan in Alberni could provide template for other Mosiac forestry roads and properties

Many Vancouver Islanders consider access to the Island’s back country part of their birthright.

But in many cases it’s not, it’s a privilege granted by a co-operative neighbour, and one that has been jeopardized by misbehaviour.

In an effort at preventing one of Vancouver Island’s largest forest companies from locking its gates to the public, a new working group has been formed to provide public access to private forest lands in the Alberni Valley.

On Tuesday March 2, Mosaic Forest Management and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) announced they had entered into an agreement, in partnership with the province, to work together to prioritize and explore public access opportunities to areas within or adjacent to Mosaic-managed private forest lands in the Alberni-Clayoquot region.

READ: Logging companies close gates, deny access to backcountry

READ: Solutions discussed for backcountry access issues in Alberni

Through this agreement, a working group has been established and a pilot project has been identified.

The pilot project, which is expected to launch later this year, will allow increased public access on a trial basis to Scout Beach and Lowry Lake. Both of these are provincially-managed recreation sites that are accessed via Mosaic’s privately-owned roads.

Mosaic is evaluating road design, signage and other modifications that will allow the public to safely use this industrial road. Once safe parameters are established, says Mosaic, regular public access through this corridor will be initiated.

The working group will evaluate the results of the pilot project. If it is deemed a success — with no illegal dumping, vandalism or risks to the forest — the working group will start to evaluate access solutions for other areas, too.

“This agreement presents a positive path forward for all parties as we look to facilitate safe and responsible public enjoyment of Mosaic’s private managed forest lands,” said Jeff Zweig, Mosaic’s CEO, in a press release. “The working group establishes a much-needed forum to mutually address the challenges we face in opening private lands to the public.”

Josie Osborne, the MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim, said backcountry access is “extremely important” to residents of the Alberni-Clayoquot region.

“Through this partnership agreement, the province is helping to increase people’s access to campsites, trails and day trip destinations in or near managed forest lands,” she said.

John Jack, the chair of the ACRD board of directors, agreed.

“People choose to live in the Alberni-Clayoquot region in large part because of the area’s natural beauty and the opportunities to enjoy nature and the outdoors,” he said. “The ACRD sees this agreement as a significant step toward resolving public concerns related to backcountry access to sites within or adjacent to private lands, and we look forward to working with Mosaic and the province to find solutions that support recreation opportunities.”

RELATED: City of Port Alberni jumps into locked gate fray

Over the past few years, residents of the Alberni Valley have expressed concern about the lack of access to recreational land surrounding the Valley. The ACRD first reached out to Mosaic back in 2019 with the intention of drafting a tri-partnership agreement with Mosaic and the province in order to provide public access.

Mosaic currently offers weekend public access to some areas of its private managed forests, but according to Mosaic, this access is limited by issues related to legal liability, wildfire risk, safety concerns related to forestry operations and industrial traffic and costs associated with illegal dumping and vandalism.

Up-to-date information about public access can be found at www.mosaicforests.com.

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