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The battle for old growth

Community forest means more control, but logging goes on



Yes, the trees are gorgeous. There's not really a debate about that, and there's something undeniably numinous about these Sproatt Mountain old growth trees that is completely absent from second growth forests and tree farms. Their slender stems are the markings of man, lined up all in rows along the mountain face for efficiency.

Here though, in this swath of untouched forest, nature is nature, pure and wild. You can't hear the highway and stepping away from the trail, deeper into the woods, is like a different country altogether where the spoils of modernity, cars and buildings and temperamental people, are not at all present and, for a brief period, it's easy to imagine they had never existed.

On the Runaway Train trail the trees lining it have been spray-painted with a blue-green band indicating they're marked for harvesting. If it weren't for delays in logging permits, they would have been taken already, leaving a wide clearing that would be visible from the highway. These aren't old growth trees but the moss covering every fallen log certainly make it look like they are.

This is just one of four areas that were set to be logged as part of the Cheakamus Community Forest's (CCF) harvesting plans for 2010 beginning this week at Brew Creek - to be completed mid-December - as legally required by provincial law - and a serious bone of contention in the community that has begun to divide it, even though nothing has been cut yet.

On one side, we have the people affiliated with the CCF - the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Squamish Nation, Lil'wat Nation and the contractor hired to carry out the harvesting, Richmond Plywood - all of whom are insisting that the CCF will engage in sustainable harvesting practices. On the other side is a handful of community members who reject the very notion that old growth trees should be logged at all.

Meet Pina Belperio, one such community member. She sees blockades in the near future. Bodies chained to trees, mouths chanting environmental and anti-government slogans, that sort of thing. Police strapping handcuffs on the protestors after an injunction is filed by the province to allow the logging to continue.

"In this day and age we should not be having these fights to log old growth forests. It's sacrilegious, pretty much," Belperio says.

For her, and many people in the community, old growth trees are not just a natural resource - they're an endangered species that need to be protected at any and all costs.

"We have people from around the world coming to look at these trees," she says. "I just came back from Europe where you don't see an old growth tree of any kind. I was telling them what was going on here and they were just shocked. They were saying, 'Well this is the reason we come to places like Canada in the first place.' That's their image, all these trees. They're saying, 'You guys are doing it right, at least you're protecting stuff that we've gotten rid of like hundreds of years ago already.'"