A proposed logging operation near Hummingbird Creek has unleashed a wave of protest by Swansea Point residents and others who don’t want to see history repeated.
The floodgates opened when Swansea Point residents Lois and Dave Schurek received a letter from Tolko Industries Ltd., dated Feb. 22, informing them of 11 cutblocks being proposed for the uplands above Swansea Point and the Schureks’ home, located on the east side of Highway 97A along Hummingbird Creek.
“This letter is being sent to you as a domestic water licence holder adjacent to our Crown land operating area and as part of our information sharing referral process…,” the letter states.
The Schureks, to Lois’ knowledge, are the only ones in Swansea Point to have received this correspondence.
“We only got the letter because we have water rights in that creek and they want to log that 7016 block… and it’s within 1,000 metres of our well,” said Lois. “If they had left that one off and only went for 10, they wouldn’t have had to notify us. So we’re the only ones that got notification and that’s our only way to object.”
The Schureks have since ignited a protest against the proposal, a response driven by memory of the large, devastating debris flows Swansea Point experienced in 1997 and 2012, as well as numerous smaller mudslides in the area, including one that occurred on Tuesday, March 14.
The Schureks say past upland logging operations contributed to those debris flows, and they don’t wish to see another.
“There is no question that we’re going to have this again,” said Schurek.
Tolko spokesperson Janice Lockyer said the letter received by the Schureks is part of a process that’s in its infancy.
“We are well aware of the concerns and we are looking at the geography of the area and all that stuff,” said Lockyer.
“I think what’s really important for people to understand right now is this is a very preliminary part of the process. We are working right now with a hydrologist and geotechs to start the modelling for this process. So we’re not even looking at hanging ribbons until next year. We have a lot of work to do before we even understand what’s going on there, or whether it will work or what kind of adjustments we’ll need to make.”
In response to Tolko’s letter, the Schureks are calling for a moratorium on all logging activity above Swansea Point. Others from the community who have since learned of the proposed cutblocks are doing the same.
“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” said Lois. “That’s not anti-logging. That’s a small piece of land considering all of the mountains in B.C. But it would certainly save a lot of lives.
“In 1997, there was 120 to 125 homes, now there’s 500. So when you say you’re going to put that many people in harm’s way – because it happens in the summer, these slides don’t happen in the wintertime when they’re empty.”
Jim Cooperman and Shuswap Environmental Action Society are also supporting the Schureks, stating it would be completely irresponsible to clearcut log the unstable hillsides above Swansea Point.
“Without tree cover, more snow accumulates on clearcuts and it melts faster, especially when it rains…,” said Cooperman. “Given the instability of this hillside, we can expect more slides across the highway and perhaps even more damage to private properties. As well, with climate change intensifying, there will be more intense storms that will further increase the potential for more landslides in the future.”
The Schureks’ certainty that logging practices contributed to past debris flows is founded in part on a legal action they took against the province and a logging company that had been working in the hills above Swansea Point prior to the ’97 debris flow. That disaster rolled through Lois’ elderly parents’ home and property while they were at home, and she said despite having physical ailments, they managed to survive the ordeal.
“I did my homework, in 1997 I rented an airplane, went up and took a look,” said Schurek. “Then we went up and filmed it in a rain storm. When I had that to show them, they just folded and said, ‘we’ll pay you, and we got it.’
“Trees absorb something like 60 to 70 per cent of the rainfall… We did huge studies when we won our case. The roots absorb it so it doesn’t get to the bedrock and the hard place and it doesn’t cause the (soils) to slip. You take them out and you’re going to have slippage constantly.”
The Schureks have sent their “Tolko package” of letters to Tolko as well as local politicians, including Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo. He passed the information on to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Resource Operations, according to spokesperson Dave Townsend.
Responding to a request for comment, Townsend said the watershed above Swansea Point is within Tolko’s industry forest licence and the ministry expects all forest licencees ensure risks to environmental integrity and public protection are appropriately mitigated in the planning process.
He said the ministry is currently aware of local residents’ concerns and will be in contact with them.
“Tolko advises that the planning process will take 12 to 18 months to complete and that no layout on the ground is anticipated for two years,” said Townsend. “The ministry has been assured that they are committed to continued communication with residents throughout the planning process.”