Video footage of at least eight rare Roosevelt elk passing through a controversial cutblock in Nanoose has sparked a renewed call from environmentalists to halt logging in the area.
The Nanoose First Nation has provincial approval to log a 64-hectare block called DL 33, which environmentalists say is not only a rare coastal Douglas fir biogeoclimatic zone, but also proves as habitat for many species, including the elk.
Helga Schmitt,a Nanoose resident trying to save the forest from logging, caught the elk passing through the Crown property at about 3 p.m. Nov. 26. She said they were spooked by chainsaws heard in the distance on the video.
“The elk were only about 100 feet away from us and I happened to have my video camera with me,” said Schmitt. “They were spooked, there was a power saw running, and they were coming straight towards us. It’s not the first time we’ve seen them. I’ve been walking in these woods for 15 years, but now we have proof that this forest is an important winter range for them.”
The video footage can be seen on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWjox8Xh_vQ) or by searching elk, Nanoose Bay, DL 33.
Annette Tanner, spokeswoman for the Wilderness Committee, said the elk become more stressed as their habitat decreases.
“This particular forest is significant because it provides food for the elk in the winter,” she said. “When it snows, the snow knocks moss and lichen off the trees and on to the surface of the snow so they can eat it and obviously the threes also provide shelter. If there are no trees, there is no food source or shelter. The province knows this, it knows the elk are there, which is why we can’t understand why it would allow this forest to be logged.”
Tanner added that Roosevelt elk on Vancouver Island are allowed to be hunted, which makes them shy and elusive and difficult to come across. By decreasing their habitat, the animals become increasingly stressed as contact with humans increases.
Upon her return to the same site where she videotaped the elk just two days before, Schmitt said she was saddened to see that part of the forest was logged.
“They’ve taken down the trees exactly where I filmed and that is very, very heart-wrenching,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, they’ll just go somewhere else,’ but the reality is, they’ve nowhere left to go.”
Environmentalists point out that the coastal Douglas fir ecosystem itself is something that should be preserved, as it is found only in British Columbia in Canada and is increasingly subjected to logging because the vast majority of it is on private land.
Nanoose First Nation first began logging the site on Nov. 9 despite opposition from local residents, Regional District of Nanaimo and environmental groups.
Only six per cent of coastal Douglas fir forests are on Crown land and only 110 hectares have been protected along eastern Vancouver Island. Of that, only a small percentage is old growth forest.
The land, which is in a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve, is also known to be home to cougars, bear, elk and at least 41 species of birds.