Forest Reserve Drive-by

In a protected forest reserve on Read Island, BC, coastal coho habitat faces off against logging trucks

Eve Flager & Maya Weichelt for Surge Narrows Forest Advisory Committee

A beautiful example of coastal coho salmon spawning habitat is suddenly at risk again, despite its protection within a community ecological reserve.

Back in 1993, people from Read, Quadra, Maurelle, Sonora, and Rendezvous Islands raffled art, peddled door to door, held dances, and sewed and sold reusable shopping bags. The three-year effort raised $78,000 for the Surge Narrows Community Association to purchase twenty acres of mature forest near the Surge Narrows Elementary School.

This plot, called the Surge Narrows Lot 309 Fish and Forest Reserve, was bought to protect the coho salmon spawning channels of Bird Cove Creek from the impacts of nearby logging. At the time, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ministry of Forests wrote letters of support for this progressive approach to balancing forestry and fisheries’ needs. The community was jubilant, and the purchase was supposed to protect the coho bearing stream for generations.

Now, a private land owner selling logs to Island Timberlands will run over a hundred logging truck trips beside the fragile spawning grounds. To do this, plans are to expand a 300m section of a single lane, gravel road running alongside and within two feet of the Forest Reserve’s coho bearing tributary. The road is not engineered to hold the weight of loaded logging trucks. On one side of the road is a steep rocky incline, on the other is the soft streambank. There is a very high risk of silt, mud, and rock sliding into the spawning channel gravel where it will smother incubating coho eggs.

The community requested the logs be transported by an existing, properly-engineered forest service road at the back of the property where the trees are felled. The contractor refused because he will have to haul the logs uphill. Nor will the contractor consider waiting until the “reduced risk work window” for coho in June to August, after the eggs are hatched into mobile little fish and potentially more able to survive damage to the creek.

In December, the Surge Narrows community blockaded the road, because the logging contractor had started road expansion with no plan and no permit. Building was underway when the community finally gained access to the Environmental Report for the road expansion. The Ministry of Transportation recently issued a permit for “commercial access,” regardless of risk to salmon habitat, and they have refused to supply a copy of the approved permit or further information.

Twenty-five years after the purchase of the Surge Narrows Fish and Forest Reserve, DFO offers no help – they will only act if serious harm is proven. The BC Ministries of the Environment and of Natural Resources have also waived responsibility.

History proves the devastating impacts of industrial accidents and how quickly they happen, yet no mandate for the “precautionary principle” exists in federal or provincial legislation. Furthermore, adherence to any standards or procedures is left solely up to the permit holder with no system for ensuring compliance.

The Surge Narrows community understands salmon stocks are in free fall, and that salmon are a foundation species on the coast, supporting everything from grizzlies to orcas to fisherfolk. The Lot 309 stream is a small but healthy salmon habitat. It is like hundreds of others in the Discovery Islands – many of which are already damaged or destroyed by logging activities. This one we are watching.

Surge Narrows Forest Advisory Committee and Surge Narrows Community Association have been representing these community concerns on Read Island.

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