Ainsworth breaking gentlemans agreement in Bonanza Finger
Conservationists who were concerned about the future of the South Chilcotin Mountains thought things were bad when the Liberals announced a review of the newly created provincial park earlier this fall.
But things just went from bad to worse over the past two weeks.
In that time, it has come to light that Ainsworth Lumber has been clearcutting in the Bonanza Basin, the scenic gateway to the park.
"In 20 years of conservation work I've never seen a thing as rotten as this and it can't go unanswered," said Joe Foy, director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
Foy said that Ainsworth is not breaking any laws by removing trees from an area of between 40 and 80 hectares in size. But he said they are breaking an unwritten agreement not to touch the area until the Liberals make a final decision about the park's future in March 2002.
"It was a gentleman's agreement between the government and the conservation community," said Andrew Milller, a staff wildlife biologist with the WCWC.
"There was a deliberate move to go in and essentially sneak the wood out," he added.
The South Chilcotin Mountains Park was only created last March, one of the final legacies of the NDP government.
This past fall, Stan Hagen, the minister of Sustainable Resources, said the 71,000-hectare park would be subject to another review. It would remain a provincial park however pending the March decision.
The area that is currently being logged is the Bonanza Finger, on the cusp of the park and only 9 kilometers away from its main attraction, Spruce Lake.
In a conciliatory move during previous negotiations, environmentalist agreed that Bonanza Finger would not be in the park but would be off-limits for logging. They conceded to allow mineral exploration in the area.
Once it was discovered that Ainsworth was cutting down trees there, Foy said there was a huge breach of trust in the negotiation process.
"It's pretty obvious that Ainsworth and the provincial government have absolutely no desire to protect the beauty of this area," he said.
At the end of November, government officials met with conservationists and assured them that there would be no logging in places like the Bonanza Finger during the interim period, said Foy.
But when he went to the site on Dec. 19, he found about 20 logging trucks moving the trees to the mill, approximately 120 km away.
He also said that there were between three and four trees cut down every minute.
"They're vandalizing one of the most beautiful places... trying to wreck an area and push it towards not being protected."
Due to the time of year, and the government's recent announcements, conservationists were taken off guard.
"It's an observed trend that right before a major holiday hits, when there's snow on the ground, the logging companies take advantage of contentious areas," said Miller.
Despite what they see as a betrayal in the negotiation process, Foy said this latest development has only fuelled his commitment to fight for the protection of the South Chilcotin Mountains Park even further.
"What this has done for me is that I am absolutely committed to work as long and as hard and for as many years to see this area protected," he said.
The logging company has made sure that there can be nothing more done to the area at the moment as all the trees there are gone.
The New Year will be a different story, said Foy.
"We'll be talking to anyone who wants to listen. The gloves are off."
There is a video and pictures of the clearcutting on the Wilderness Committee's Web site at www.windernesscommittee.org