Friday, February 18, 2005

WEYERHAEUSER LOGGING AROUND HAMILTON MARSH - Will Brookfield's Timberlands continue?

Weyerhaeuser has started Timber Cruising at Hamilton Marsh by marking off the forest that they will cut down in the near future. Somehow the Regional District of Nanaimo, which put this sensitive wetland area on a priority list back in their 1995 Parks plan, has failed to protect this ecosystem. Supposedly some sort of negotiations are underway to protect something but the process is being rushed through before anything is made clear. This may seem very confusing and that’s because it is. However, the end result of all this will be the destruction of Hamilton Marsh as we know it.

For six years I was transported on a bus to school through the forest that stood between Coombs and Qualicum Beach. Many times I rode my bicycle along this windy stretch of road and enjoyed the “Sleepy Hollow’ effect created by the tall trees, swampy pools, giant ferns, and thick underbrush. On several occasions I followed the trails into Hamilton Marsh on guided tours where biologists and bird watchers pointed out many species of birds and vegetation. Since then I have continued to visit Hamilton Marsh with friends to check out this unique open water ecosystem which attracts an abundance of waterfowl. One year the ice was thick enough for locals to skate, many people showed up from Errington, Coombs, Hilliers, and Qualicum Beach. A community treat provided by nature.

Hamilton Marsh is a unique environment because it includes a large body of open water which is surrounded by a wetland forest. This marsh performs several important tasks for the surrounding region. It helps to filter, slow down, and store groundwater that flows into French Creek. In doing so it helps to regulate the flow of water into this Salmon rearing creek which supports a salmon enhancement-program as well as providing drinking water for residents downstream. During times of drought and times of flooding, this wetland helps to regulate the flow of water, acting like a sponge that is essential for the watershed around it.

Hamilton Marsh provides a habitat for a wide variety of birds, amphibians, insects, and mammals. Studies have shown that dragonflies are of particular interest due to their abundance and variety of species. Many people enjoy the trails that have been established by volunteers over the years. Members of the public are under the impression that government bodies at several levels have already protected this environmental jewel that is an important part of ‘our’ backyards. Information should be available from your RDN representative: or contact the Chair of RDN Regional Parks Plan Select Committee Larry McNabb (250) 753-2792

Today, much of the wetland forest around Hamilton Marsh has been destroyed by Weyerhaeuser. A stroll down the ‘old Coombs cut-off’ reveals clear-cuts, burn piles, and devastation all around. Weyerhaeuser claims to practice sustainable logging which they call Variable Retention but what do they really care about ‘our’ backyard? Since 1999, when the Canadian company MacMillan-Bloedel was bought by the US logging giant Weyerhaeuser, thousands of workers have been laid off on Vancouver Island. I have seen logging of the most heinous destruction, thousands of acres of land have been logged and flogged for development, the export of raw logs has increased dramatically, log sorts have shut down, helicopters have poured thousands of tons of chemicals into our watersheds, and today Weyerhaeuser is attempting to sell all of its Canadian assets to Brascan. An investment company that deals primarily with real-estate, hydro-electric dams, and nuclear power plants.

On a much smaller scale I have watched two different wetland forests near my home in Errington transformed from shady wooded areas into virtual deserts after Weyerhaeuser logged these parcels of land for development purposes. Small pools, surrounded by a dense understory of ferns and lush undergrowth, held water into the autumn after even the driest summers. The moisture retained by these wetland forests helped to maintain the water table and provided life to a variety of flora and fauna. Today this same area is devoid of trees and the discharge of water during the rains becomes so intense that the soil is washed downhill, silt makes its way into the salmon rearing streams below. Under the heat of the summer sun this same land becomes cracked and the wind helps to parch the soil, turning the area into dry wasteland devoid of life.

Friday, February 04, 2005


Is nothing sacred? When is a wildlife reserve truly protected and for how long? Locals worked hard for many years to protect the Englishman River estuary for the good of birds and other wildlife that depend upon that wetland. In 1993, through the Pacific Estuary Conservation Program, the Parksville-Qualicum Beach Wildlife Management Area was established. This victory was a direct result of local citizens who cared, lobbied, rallied, camped out, protested, and persevered.

First Nations once prospered along this coast and centered much of their lives around river estuaries including the Englishman River estuary. In the 1870’s Europeans came to the area and began to farm the Parksville flats and altered the natural flow of water with dikes. They were reminded of the true forces of nature in 1918 when the highest tides of Spring met with seasonal flood waters of the Englishman River. 150 head of cattle were washed out into the Georgia Strait never to be seen again.

In the early 1970’s a stone dike was built, without the approval of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, along the Englishman River to hold back flood waters from washing over privately owned land. Several development proposals followed including a golf course, condominiums, and a RV resort that would encompass the entire area known as the Parksville flats. From the 1980’s on people worked hard to bring on board government and private agencies, raising almost three million dollars to buy out developers, in order to create a wildlife reserve on the Parksville flats.

The first action taken by Nature’s Trust, a not-for-profit organization which manages the Englishman River Estuary on behalf of all those who worked towards its protection, was to return the wetlands to tidal circulation. This included breaking the dike and removing a bridge over the renewed tidal channel that separates the Wildlife Reserve from the Surfside RV Resort and the Community Park. Tidal flow has returned to the flats and a buffer has been established between wildlife and a dense concentration of people. A delicate balance has been established to protect habitat for everyone.

In December of 2001, as a member of the Arrowsmith Ecological Association, I attended a meeting, which was closed to the public, where Glen Jamieson made a power point presentation of his proposed interpretive centre on the Parksville flats. Representatives from Nature’s Trust, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, BC Ministry for Water, Land, and Air Protection, Arrowsmith Watershed Coalition, and Canadian Wildlife Service listened to yet another proposal to develop the wetlands.

Many of those present expressed a great deal of concern about bringing thousands of human visitors to a sensitive estuary ecosystem reserved as habitat for birds and other wildlife. Jamieson finally admitted that his plans involved building a bridge over the same tidal channel where Nature’s Trust removed a bridge in order to protect the wildlife reserve from the direct and negative impact of tens of thousands of people.

Surfside RV Resort has a lot to gain with a bridge, which would effectively expand their backyard. Surfside has already altered the nature of the estuary with a massive stone causeway along the beach and mudflats. Crowds of people from the community park would gain easy access to the wildlife reserve. How would this affect wildlife?

All of the organizations who opposed Jamieson’s plans at that initial presentation were noticeably absent from recent negotiations. They must be consulted before continuing with development plans because they can provide insight into the well-being of this wildlife reserve. If you have an opinion please contact Parksville Mayor Randy Longmuir 954-4661or e-mail:

Millions of migratory birds stop in the Englishman River Estuary to feed alongside several species of resident birds such as King Fisher and Eagle. Many birds nest in this lush, sensitive, and very limited ecosystem. All of these wildlife activities are made possible because this area is protected, primarily from human activities.

Birders from around the world make Oceanside a destination to bird watch and photograph wildlife in this picturesque environment, notably during the Brant Festival. They spend money locally but are here for the birds. The concept of an interpretive centre to educate the public about the sensitivity of endangered ecosystems and the wildlife they support is honourable, but cannot come at the expense of the very ecosystem we hope to preserve. The birds? I think they just want to be left alone.