Friday, April 04, 2008



Walking down by the ‘Clay Banks’ along Englishman River I look up at the bottom of the steep bank that has been eroding into the water for as long as I can remember. Today, just a few spindly trees, teetering on the edge of the vertical drop, roots dangling in the air, top this massive clay monument. Half way down the 40 meter bank is the latest casualty, balanced at a strange angle, rootball exposed to the elements, waiting for the next heavy rains to dissolve the clay before this tree slides down into the river.

Over the last few years TimberWest has logged a massive clear-cut to the edge of this sheer drop-off. Island Timberlands has also been using feller bunchers to cut down the fifty year old tree farm that runs along Englishman River. The forest lands on the south side of the river are privately owned and therefore the BC Ministry of Forests claims no responsibility for ‘forest management’ and the BC Ministry of Environment leaves it up to the companies to do the right thing.

The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans does have jurisdiction along the river corridor and has considerable clout to prevent damage to the river. However, as is the case with many other rivers like it across the province, the DFO have approved this logging on the banks of Englishman River.

Directly across the river, is a large salmon enhancement project. Water has been diverted from the natural flow of the river, into man made channels that have been designed for rearing salmon. Local First Nations, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Salmon Foundation, BC Ministry of Environment, Human Resources Development Canada, Stream keepers, The Nature Trust of BC, and other agencies have all been involved in this ongoing project.

Salmon returns have increased but nothing like those prior to the 1980s when multi-national logging companies began to clear-cut 2nd growth forests/tree farms on privately owned land along the river. Englishman River continues to be listed as one of the most endangered rivers in British Columbia, due to logging and real estate development.

When Weyerhaeuser bought out MacMillan Bloedel in the late 1990s it took the Chief Forester of BC’s recommendation that the rotation of a tree farm be 80 years between harvesting, and cut it in half. 40 years is now the standard rotation time for logging on Vancouver Island by all the logging companies. Much of this land can be logged with feller-bunchers, which means that very few people are employed while vast tracts of land can be clear-cut in a very short time. Island Timberlands, TimberWest, and Western Forest Products own the majority of private land on Vancouver Island.

Many questions arise when managing land: Is the land privately owned, managed by the crown on behalf of the public, and have first nations been consulted? What are the most important values for this land? Should we see the land as forestry, watershed, recreational park, Jurisdiction is key, since much of the time several agencies are responsible and they do not always consult with each other, and plan management together.

Stream Keepers are planting trees to fill in gaps in the forest made by excavators as part of the Englishman River Watershed Recovery Plan. Over the past few years large logs (referred to as large woody debris) have been placed along the river and tied to trees and/or piles of blasted rock with steel cable. The hope is that these log jams will slow the flow of water and create pools, which will provide habitat for fish fry. In the process excavators removed trees and the under-story of brush in order to access the riverbanks. A few months after Stream Keeper volunteers had done their planting, at one site along the bank, excavators returned and crushed all of these seedlings.

Managing nature has been left up to government and private industry for many years in British Columbia. Each election changes the priorities and most initiatives are undertaken on a project-by-project basis. Many different agencies, working on their priorities, overlook the bigger picture in order to complete specific tasks. As a result complimentary projects are not united, and often one project fundamentally undermines another.

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