The sounds of chirping birds and croaking frogs have been replaced by chainsaws as a controversial logging project begins in the biodiverse Nanoose Bay Forest, also known as DL33.
Beginning Nov. 9,the Nanoose First Nation was approved by the province to log one-quarter of the 64-hectare parcel of Crown land. That approval came despite protests from local communities, the Regional District of Nanaimo, and environmental groups like Wilderness Committee, because the lot is home to a rare coastal Douglas fir forest and wetland ecosystems called a Douglas fir biogeoclimatic zone.
Annette Tanner, spokeswoman for the mid-Island chapter of Wilderness Committee, said the First Nation has the right to log the area through its successful application, but blames the provincial government for allowing it to be logged in the first place.
"We're hoping that the provincial government will reimburse the Nanoose First Nation monetarily for the cost they would have received from the property and start moving ahead very quickly to conserve whatever areas are still remaining, not only on Crown land but also on private land," said Tanner.
Six per cent of coastal Douglas fir forests are on Crown land and only 110 hectares have been protected along the eastern part of Vancouver Island. Of that land, a small percentage is old-growth, including DL33.
Across B.C. the province controls about nine per cent of remaining coastal Douglas fir forests, about 23,500 hectares, and so far has protected 7,600 hectares. The ecosystem is not found in any other part of Canada.
The Nanoose land is home to cougars, bears, elk, at least 41 different species of birds, including the red-listed purple martin, and extensive wetlands.
The Wilderness Committee has worked to protect rare coastal Douglas fir forests since the mid-1990s, and worked for more than two years specifically to protect DL33, which sits in a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve. It has sent observers daily to the logging sites to ensure no further damage is incurred to other trees or sensitive areas when big trees are cut down.
"We have people there watching," said Tanner. "Both to ensure the Crown land and nearby private land aren't damaged any further than they are already being damaged."
Nanoose First Nation has applied for an injunction to keep the observers away.
Brent Edwards, a Nanoose councillor who oversees the band's forestry portfolio, said the tenure in question is second-growth forest, and the band has made every effort to consider the environmental impact and the safety of the protesters.
"We were shut down the first and second day by protesters and we haven't been able to get a full half-day in yet," said Edwards. "The injunction is really for the safety of the people who are there in the forest during the logging process. We have to sort through self-proclaimed experts and our own experts, then take a look at the real big picture and the real big picture is we're neighbours with these people and to move forward, we don't want to put anybody in danger."
The injunction could be granted as soon as Friday (Nov. 25).
Edwards added that the logging licence was not challenged in court and the band has met or exceeded all environmental regulations for the cut block, which will not be clear-cut.
Coastal Douglas fir biogeoclimatic zones have been all but eliminated on the east coast of Vancouver Island because much of it was on private land, a result of the E&N Land Grant, a requirement for inclusion into confederation in the late 1800s. A small percentage remains on public land, which has increasing pressures on it, and is the only available option for logging for First Nations.
"We see ourselves as an economic generator for the region and this logging project is a part of that plan, and the money derived from the operation will be used for community priorities," said Edwards.
Nanoose First Nation is currently building a $2-million health facility, has built 30 new houses for its members, improved infrastructure, and built a tertiary sewage treatment plant as part of a five-year economic development plan.
As part of its stewardship strategy for the coastal Douglas fir forest ecosystem, the province identified 1,600 hectares of Crown-owned forest for potential protection. But the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations issued a tenure for DL33 before the proposed protection order was approved.
That was a mistake, said Tanner.
"The whole issue has been trying to inform the government that 'wait a minute, you forgot to include the Nanoose Bay Forest because it is a CDF'. The government wasn't quick enough to acknowledge their error and to correct it, and issued a licence in the meantime to log it."