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Cheakamus Community Forest proposes old-growth areas for protection

Concerns remain over forest's reliance on old growth for Whistler Naturalists' founder

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Several areas of the Cheakamus Community Forest's (CCF) old growth may be saved from logging if a proposed management plan is accepted by the province.

In accordance with the province's Old Growth Management Area (OGMA) program, the CCF launched its Old Forest Protection Plan to identify and register old-growth areas for protection. The process is still underway, said CCF chairman Peter Ackhurst, and is expected to be finalized in February.

"The idea was to identify where some of these areas were and to save them," Ackhurst said. "We don't have a huge amount of area we need to use for logging. The logging is a small amount over the next 20 years. Foresters think in long time periods, and we're only going to log a small percentage of the old-growth areas, but there is some."

Whistler has numerous old-growth forest areas, including the Ancient Cedars, parts of Whistler Mountain and parts of the Callaghan Valley.

No more than 19 per cent of the Cheakamus forest's total area can be set aside as OGMA under current legislation, and, according to CCF forestry consultant Stirling Angus, foresters only operate on eight per cent of the total land base.

"We're trying to ensure with Old Growth Management Areas that we can identify some potentially unique or special areas that can be set aside," he said.

Whistler Naturalists founder Bob Brett, who's also worked extensively on compiling an old forest tree inventory in the CCF, said he would "definitely" have liked to have seen the old-growth area selection process go differently.

"I would prefer to see us move away from old-growth logging and start looking for opportunities to manage second growth forests for other aims, including reducing fire risk but also accelerating the return to old forest conditions in those second growth (areas) by thinning and other measures," he said. "So I'm not sure the OGMA process is the way to go."

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who sits on the CCF board, has previously suggested the province grant Whistler a 20-year reprieve from logging requirements so commercially viable growth can return.

Brett also took issue with the OGMA process because a number of the areas set aside for protection, like in the 19 and 21 Mile watersheds, are essentially no-cut zones already "because there would be such an uproar in the community" if they were logged. Other old-growth areas are inoperable for loggers, or are currently protected as riparian areas or wildlife reserves.

"Any sort of old forest conservation measures should be a higher percentage of the land base and be real deletions from the operable forest land base rather than areas that aren't going to (be logged) anyway," he said.

The CCF's current economic model, Brett added, is too "narrowly based" on generating a certain volume of timber each year, which he said doesn't adequately support community values, like biodiversity and wildlife protection, tourism, recreation and maintaining water quality.

"The job of the Community Forest and the job of OGMA is to represent community interests in more of a broad spectrum I would argue than what is currently considered," he said.

Brett's research this year confirmed 2012 findings that trees aged at 1,000 years or more are quite common in the Brandywine and Callaghan Valleys, both active logging areas where, he said, very little old growth has been proposed for protection. He wants to see tree age data play a larger role in the CCF's future considerations. The old forest inventory project was funded in part by over $10,000 from the Community Foundation of Whistler.

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