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Establishment of Whistler old-growth areas draws criticism

Areas encompass 7,061 hectares of forest protected from logging


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Last month, the provincial government announced the establishment of 27 old-growth management areas (OGMA) in the Whistler area that will protect old-growth forest from commercial logging.

The areas encompass 7,061 hectares of forest and all lie within the Whistler Landscape Unit. They represent approximately 18 per cent of the Crown forested land within that landscape unit.

"The establishment of old-growth management areas helps protect the biological diversity of old-growth forests by ensuring that stands from different ecosystem types are protected and land use objectives are met," read a Ministry of Forests release. "These areas are excluded from commercial timber harvesting, which helps preserve plant ecosystems, wildlife habitat and cultural values."

But local ecologists and environmental groups have criticized Victoria for, in some cases, establishing these OGMAs in areas that have already been protected from timber harvesting.

"We were disappointed that there wasn't more of a net reduction in the forest available for logging within the Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) through the old-growth management process," said Claire Ruddy, director of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.

Originally, the OGMAs were slated to sit within the boundaries of the CCF, where no more than 21,000 m3 of timber is permitted for harvest each year, before Victoria switched gears and asked the protective areas to be based on Whistler's landscape unit, which stretches beyond the community forest.

"A lot of those OGMAs have ended up being outside of the boundaries of the CCF or on the periphery of the CCF, so in a way it means (the province) is not limiting access to the forest for logging," said Ruddy. "A number of them also overlap existing protection mechanisms, like wetlands, which wouldn't have been logged anyway."

Provincial policy dictates that no more than 19 per cent of the old growth within the landscape unit be protected from commercial harvest, and, as CCF board chair Jeff Fisher explained, that ratio can be achieved through a number of different protective mechanisms.

"There is policy from the provincial government on how you (identify) the OGMAs, and they are supposed to double up on other constrained areas (like protected wildlife habitat) that meet the criteria for old growth," he said. "The idea is not to protect an additional 19 per cent of old growth, but to make sure there that you have at least 19 per cent in your landscape."

Another challenge is the landscape inherited by the CCF after decades of heavy logging makes it more difficult to reach the forest's annual allowable cut.

"In terms of the area where there is timber with economic value, a lot of the easy stuff has already been logged," said Ruddy. "So what we have now is a lot of mature second growth, which we're still waiting to become old enough to be able to have an economic return if we're out there logging it.

"It would be great to see the community forest progress towards a stance in the future where we're more about managing those areas that have previously been logged as opposed to going into new areas that haven't."

The Cheakamus Community Forest is managed using an ecosystem-based approach (EBM), which encourages protecting forests based on a variety of values, including environmental, recreational and cultural. Now, the non-profit society governing the forest, which is comprised of representatives from the RMOW and the Lil'wat and Squamish First Nations, is in the process of setting aside additional swaths of the CCF from harvest.

"Some of the areas that were potentially going to be established as OGMAs, but didn't make the cut this time around, will become EBM reserves in the next process," Fisher noted.