Clearcutting the Watershed at Tahsis

by Anne Cameron, Tahsis, B.C.

Web exclusive

Tahsis is a small village of less than three hundred year-round residents situated at the end of an unpaved road.  We’re an hour and a half from Gold River, we have a health clinic which sees a doctor every Tuesday and Thursday, but we have no bank, no vet, no dentist, no cell phone service and not much of anything, really.

We used to have several mills and a highly paid unionized work force, but the mills closed, the company sold off everything and now our foreshore and waterfront are fenced off, the land contaminated, and unfit for human habitation.  We usually see twelve to fifteen feet of rain per year and that rain, of course, is steadily leaching the unknown contaminants into the ocean, a fact which doesn’t seem to bother anybody, not even Fisheries.

On Monday 24 September 2013 a large number of Tahsis residents gathered in the gym of the local Recreation Centre to listen to a representative of Western Forest Products explain the company plans to log an area less than a half mile from a residential area.  Understandably, the residents were very concerned as the company plans to blast and build an access road, bring in heavy logging equipment, and haul out truckload after truckload of mostly cedar.

The Company representative reassured us we had nothing to worry about.  The company, we were told, had sent in a geologist who walked the area and could assure us all there won’t be a landslide in spite of the fact there has already been one in that area.  Not to worry, the area is now stable.  And will remain stable in spite of the blasting and heavy traffic.

We were told that decades ago a forest fire raged through the area and was so hot it even burned the “diff” and thus degraded the soil.  The result of this is that the cedar growing there now is of poor quality, stunted and even twisted and deformed.  The Company plans to clear-cut it, haul it away, then send in the tree planters to replace it with Douglas Fir which,we were told, is much better suited to the elevation and the climactic conditions.

In my opinion, if that were true Nature would have put Douglas Fir there instead of cedar.  But cedar doesn’t really mind the degraded soil, cedar can grow almost hydroponically in the monsoons which flood this place nine months of the year.

We were told not to worry about blowdown, it won’t happen, even though those monsoons come with hurricane-force winds which can and have toppled fences, knocked over storage sheds and ripped the roofs off houses and trailers.

At the end of an hour and a half of reassurances we were thanked for attending this informational session, and, oh by the way, this is phase one in a five year plan which will see Western Forest Products clear-cutting to the river and to McKelvie Creek.

McKelvie Creek is our water supply.  Our children drink water from McKelvie Creek.  It is also a valuable spawning resource and the Salmon Enhancement Society volunteers have worked long and hard to improve the fish resource, they have a hatchery, and every year release thousands of young fish. Their success can be seen every summer when we’re flooded with sports fishers who come here in pursuit of salmon, halibut and cod.

Western Forest Products hasn’t always been a good corporate citizen and there was a slight rumble a few years ago when it was revealed that Rich Coleman, then Minister of Forests, was the brother of the vice president of Western Forest Products , a company which was selling to developers land in a tree farm license they held.  Now, I’m not sure and I can’t seem to find out if Western actually OWNED that land or if they just had tenure, but in any event,they sold it and Rich was transferred from that portfolio to a different one and any suggestion of conflict of interest was quickly quashed.

Let me be perfectly clear that I have no argument with any logger on this Island.  Loggers get up at ungodly hours, haul on work clothes, eat breakfast, grab their lunch pails and caulk boots and head out to the slopes to be there at first light.  In all kinds of weather they work at body-numbing jobs which they do well.  They do not choose the area to be logged, they do not have a voice in deciding policy, they just get up, go to work, and do their jobs efficiently and well in one of the most dangerous industries.  Nearly sixty loggers died in this province last year, two of them near Tahsis.  Many others sustained life altering injuries and almost all of them ache because of the work they do.  I have a lot of respect for loggers and I am well aware this village wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for logging and the attendant sawmills which grew because of the forest.

But this village does exist now.  We are here.  In spite of the inconveniences and the lack of some of the purported benefits of modern life, we are here and our children drink the water from McKelvie Creek.

Surely to heaven there is no need to bore you with a rant about the importance of drinking water!  Surely it is evident that without drinking water all life would perish.  Our very bodies are comprised of mostly water.

To think any company or corporation would even think of clear-cutting a watershed flies in the face of all reason.  Our watersheds should be protected from all industrial activity in perpetuity.  That is self-evident and,to me, indisputable.

Many people are upset because this first phase of clear-cutting the cedar is going to leave huge visual scars on the landscape and ruin the view, which is one of the last things remaining on which to build an eco-tourist base for economic development.  I can’t get too fraught over that aspect.  I was born on this Island, I grew up here, I’ve learned how to look past the waste, destruction, and ugliness and seek the stunning beauty of that which was left because it was too risky or too expensive to slaughter.

I accept logging.  I do not accept clear-cutting, there are better ways to harvest the forest, there’s no need to denude mile after mile and turn what was one of the most productive rain forests to a wet desert of bare rock.  And I do not accept or tolerate the idea of logging any watershed.

The tree planters will go in, do their jobs, and the young trees will cover the worst of the ugliness in a few years.  We might even take advantage of that and have tours of the re-forested area, to demonstrate there is hope even after clear-cutting.  Western might smarten up a bit and allow or even encourage people to go in after the clear-cutting to turn “slash” into firewood.  “Ya never know”.

But we do know that clear-cutting in a watershed is a stupid idea.  It will negatively impact the fish habitat, it will evict the deer, bear, and elk who live in the valley, and it will damage the drinking water  of our children.  Western Forest Products is risking a corporate black eye worse than any they’ve encountered in the past fifteen or twenty years.

This province needs to move immediately to protect all watersheds from industrial degradation.  If money is the only measure of worth then we can make more of it by bottling and selling good, clean drinking water than will ever be made by clear-cutting the watershed.  After all, we get twelve to fifteen feet of rain every year, our monsoon is a guarantee that water is a renewable resource.  Western has other areas available for clear-cutting, they do not need to desecrate watersheds and make enemies of people who just, flat out, do not trust the slick reassurances such as those given to us at the public meeting.  They cannot guarantee the land won’t slip and there was no mention made of Western promising to pay for any damage their blasting, road building, and clear-cutting will cause.  They did not offer to buy out those home owners who will have to endure the noise and ground shaking the road building and subsequent logging will bring, they have not offered to pay for damage to any business adversely affected, and , facing as we do the evidence of mess left behind by this company in the past, we have no reason to trust the words and reassurances of the representative who spoke so soothingly to us at the Public Meeting.

They have to learn to listen to those most affected by their corporate decisions.  I’m not against logging, I can accept clear-cutting although I do not like it.  I can co-exist with Western Forest Products but I cannot just do nothing if they are going to go into our watershed.  I’ve heard some idiotic ideas in my life but this one really does take the cake!

Watershed Sentinel Original Content

5 Issues/yr — $25 print; $15 digital