Where is Ida?

I was playing hide and seek last week with a two-year-old. She kept trying to sneak past me by covering her own eyes, no doubt thinking “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me.” It’s a trick that every kid tries, but when we grow up most of us realize that not looking at something can’t make it go away. The provincial government doesn’t seem to have learned that yet.

Three years ago the Liberals’ infamous Tree Farm License (TFL) deletions allowed Western Forest Products to withdraw 28,000 hectares of its privately-owned land from three TFLs, without any penalty or compensation, as a favour for their buddies in logging and development.  Every day since that day environmental groups, First Nations leaders, conservation buyers and municipal politicians have been asking for the provincial government’s help to re-protect these areas. Even the Auditor General’s office chimed in with one of their most scathing reports in recent memory. But the province has yet to to acknowledge their mistake or accept any responsibility for fixing it.

With the TFL regulations removed, WFP immediately entered the development game. They applied to make subdivisions and started marketing land to real estate speculators.

Now, after countless hours of work, a solution has been found to the problem that was created by the 2007 TFL scandal. The Capital Regional District (CRD) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) have both presented visionary plans to protect our forests in perpetuity. It’s an exciting moment for communities on the Island who have been working day and night to protect their home.

Unfortunately both of these ideas require support from Gordon
Campbell’s government. And our local MLAs are still trying to close
their eyes and walk past the problem as if it doesn’t exist.

The Tree Farm License Act (TFL) of 1958 gave private logging companies renewable 21-year terms of access to crown timber, along with generous tax breaks, in exchange for following stricter harvesting rules. The system was criticized for the way it favoured large logging corporations over smaller operations; however, it was also an attempt to support BC’s forest industry by encouraging secondary manufacturing jobs throughout the coast with local processing requirements for harvested timber. As well, TFLs introduced the concept of “sustained yield” to BC’s forests, along with improved silvicultural and fire suppression practices.

The deal has been worth untold millions to large forestry corporations over the years and, although it allowed our public land to be pillaged, it also pulled smaller blocks of private forests under an umbrella of government regulation to protect them from even more severe exploitation.

It’s only in the past dozen years that companies have tried to get some lands released from TFL status-but only after public hearings and paying compensation to the people of BC.

So it was a shock to the entire community in January 2007 when, with no prior announcement or consultation, Rich Coleman, then Minister of Forests and Range, announced that he was removing 28,000 hectares of Western Forest Products (WFP) private land from TFLs 6, 19 and 25 without demanding any compensation. WFP retained its privilege of being able to harvest Crown timber, but was relieved of the regulations that previously controlled their use of their private land.  This was a boon for WFP, because it allowed them to start liquidating to pay off loans owed to their parent company, Bermuda-based real estate developers Brookfield Asset Management.

With the TFL regulations removed, WFP immediately entered the development game. They applied to make subdivisions and started marketing land to real estate speculators. Zoning bylaws in these areas had been written under the assumption that they would always be used for forestry, so there were no rules to control development: it was open season for urban sprawl on the high value land between Sooke and Port Renfrew.

Affected communities scrambled to create bylaws that would regulate how the area could be used. The process of creating these bylaws was an historic example of cooperation between community members, urban planners and municipal politicians that involved thousands of people. The final decision was to limit development in the area by enforcing 120-hectare minimum lot sizes.

The entire community breathed a sigh of relief when these were approved by the CRD board in February of 2008. But then Victoria MLA Ida Chong, former minister of Community and Rural development, refused-for two months-to pick up a pen and sign the CRD’s new democratically-created bylaws. They sat on her desk until days after WFP made applications to subdivide their land under the old rules. Only then did she approve the documents and respond to protesters as if she had no idea why they were upset with her.

To add insult to injury, WFP and the Association of BC Landowners
sued the CRD over a technicality in the voting process around the
bylaws-and won.

That voting process was created and recommended several years ago by the province, but when it was declared illegal they took no responsibility for helping to fix it. The region was floating in a grey area of outdated bylaws and an invalidated decision-making system. And local MLAs Murray Coell and Ida Chong were completely silent.

The community rallied together again in the fall of 2009 to produce another set of bylaws that effectively prohibited urban sprawl in most of the vulnerable areas. WFP’s response was to separate out the land in the few areas not affected by these new bylaws and market them to developers in small lots. They had also been aggressively logging the area.

Some of the most iconic coastal land in North America is on the chopping block for sprawling development. Parcels in Shirley, Jordan River, Jacob Creek and the coveted Muir Creek are up for grabs as a direct result of the province’s actions. Community members are shouting their concerns with everything from email campaigns to tree sits, but Ida Chong and Murray Coell are still pretending not to notice.

Although Chong, Coell and the rest of the Liberals have been ignoring the problem for years, other community leaders have emerged with visionary strategies to protect Vancouver Island’s forests. The CRD and the University of British Columbia have presented strategies to purchase large tracts of land for conservation purposes.

The CRD intends to purchase 2300 hectares of the former TFL areas from Sooke to Jordan River to protect them from urban sprawl.  Almost simultaneously the University of British Columbia announced its interest in buying all 24,000 hectares of WFP deleted TFL lands on Vancouver Island for research and teaching purposes and to resolve First Nations’ land claims.

Both of these proposals require assistance from the provincial government-but not much. The CRD needs the province to sponsor their efforts with a few million dollars. UBC simply requires the government to provide a loan guarantee to extend their borrowing limit.

Ida Chong has gone on record refusing to guarantee that the province will help with either of these proposals. Vancouver Island is one of the crown jewels of this continent. It is widely considered to be among the most liveable places in the world.  If offers the luxury of having urban centres in
close proximity to temperate rain forests, bountiful farms and incredible recreation areas.  This pristine environment has the ability to provide clean water, fresh air, local food and a stable economy for generations to come and
these are the priorities for which our local representatives should be advocating.

The environment here defines the character and identity of our communities and the TFL deletions have threatened to irreparably change that.  Conservation buyers, unions, First Nations, recreation groups, environmentalists and local politicians have made a massive combinedeffort to protect this Island. After three years of constant requests for help, local MLAs Murray Coell and Ida Chong are still playing
“If I can’t see you, you can’t see me,” as if pretending not to see the problem means it’s not really there.

We still have an opportunity to save this Island’s forests, but bids for development are rolling in, truck loads of logs are rolling out,
and the clock is ticking.

Where are you, Murray and Ida?

Comments are closed.

Send this to a friend