News

Timber tussle near Chase

By Cam Fortems,
Kamloops This Week

Residents of a rural area near Chase are clashing with a forest company, a fight foresters predict will become more common as companies log timber closer to homes.

Homeowners in the area known as Ptarmigan Hills, located off Chase-Falkland Road about 10 kilometres south of Chase, say they were stunned to learn Tolko Industries Ltd. is planning three cutblocks in their area. The forest has not seen bulldozers or feller-bunchers in nearly a decade.

Marjorie Hamilton, who owns Ploughman’s Lunch restaurant in downtown Kamloops, said there are 20 water licences in the area, noting residents have dire concerns about their supply.

In 2005, Tolko signed a planning document called the Chase Creek Retention Plan. Residents assumed the deal protected their watershed.

Late last year, residents learned the company had notified stakeholders it was planning new cutblocks in the forest.

“They’re saying, ‘We’re not exactly sure where the cutblocks are,” Hamilton said. “Tolko doesn’t communicate — period.”

Chase Creek feeds into the South Thompson River at Chase.

The watershed has been heavily logged, in part due to mountain pine beetle. It is prone to high loads of silt that plagued Kamloops taps until the water-treatment plant was completed and has in the past blown out its banks in lower areas.

Another long-term resident, Laurie Payne, said the area cannot be logged without threatening water supply.

“The conflict here in our community is that Tolko Logging  Company wants to cut trees in the watershed that sustains the community beneath Ptarmigan Hills, a watershed that has watered the local people for close to a hundred years.”

Henry Cornelson, one of the residents who was part of crafting the 2005 retention plan, said Tolko’s plans came as a shock.

He said the retention plan “gave the community some comfort level.

“This is as much harvesting as is going to be done chasing the beetle,’” he said of residents’ understanding.

“Now, eight years later, we get a surprise.”

Cornelson acknowledged the retention plan is not a legal document.

Tolko’s woodlands manager, Murray Wilson, said the company is proud of its work on the retention plan, saying the it focused on “what we’ll keep, rather than what we’ll log.”

But, he added, the planning document was a work of its time — and conditions have substantially changed.

“We came out with the concept of a retention plan. The community was concerned about pine beetle,” Wilson said.

“There was lots of pine and people were concerned about what the area would look like . . . It was a plan — and plans always change.”

What is different nearly a decade later is the mountain pine beetle fight is all but over. Companies have already chewed through mid-elevation stands of lodgepole pine devastated by the beetle.

Now they’re returning to areas of fir, timber  often located near settlements.

Wilson said Tolko is closely following  B.C.’s forest laws as it moves out of high-elevation plateaus full of dead pine to more traditional logging in areas of housing, recreational areas and resorts.

“We’ve been logging, just like everyone else in the Southern Interior, mountain pine beetle.

“Now we’re back in the interface area where everyone lives. You’re probably going to see more of it.”

Lumber prices remain high as the U.S. housing market recovers from a historic bottom reached after the 2008 recession.

Complicating matters further, a non-replaceable forest licence has been granted to Adams Lake Indian Band, which has not communicated with residents about its plans.

Independent consulting forester Chris Ortner agreed residents will notice more logging close to communities.

“Absolutely. Companies want green wood,” he said. “This time of year, you go for fir.”

And those Douglas fir stands are often in areas where people recreate and live.

“Interface logging has always been a problem [for neighbouring residents],” Ortner said.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations estimated Tolko’s probable harvest at 120 hectares.

It referred other questions to Tolko.

Cornelson said changes in forest legislation mean corporations are no longer responsible for consultations and planning of the past, instead relying on their own foresters and engineers without oversight from the former B.C. Forest Service, which has been disbanded.

“There’s a broken trust between a community, the forest service and the licensee,” Cornelson said.

Hamilton said the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Development has agreed to bring in a hydrologist to look at the area.

Tolko’s Wilson said logging is unlikely to occur this year, but planning will continue.

“You’ll see more regular harvesting,” he said.

“We’ll be out of the high plateau areas.”

But, residents say they’re not dropping the fight.

 

“Though we are small, we will fight to the end for our water,” Payne said. “So please leave and go home. It is beautiful, clean water that we value above all.”

 

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