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.

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