Residents of the Sky Valley Road and Beddis Road area are demanding action to stop a major logging operation taking place outside their back doors.
Work to clear trees from the majority of a privately owned 45-acre Beddis Road property began a few weeks ago. Although a portion of the land is within a development permit area for soil erosion hazards, the trees covering nearly 40 acres are scheduled to come down.
Peter McAllister and his wife Bernadette Mertens-McAllister live on a Sky Valley Road property that backs onto the contested site, which is split zoned into agriculture and rural zones. Together with Jean Wilkinson, they have collected over 200 signatures from people in their neighbourhood and all over the island who are asking the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee to step in.
“People are really up in arms. It’s becoming a real serious issue,” said McAllister, who is a veteran of the Clayoquot Sound and Carmanah anti-logging campaigns. “People have been pounding on the doors of the Islands Trust for years asking them to establish some rules around responsible forestry, but nothing has been done.”
The property, formerly owned by long-time resident and farmer Mike Larmour, who died in December of 2016, was sold to island resident Gary Stunder on Aug. 28.
Local trustee Peter Grove has spoken to logging contractor Scotty Royal, who said the property development was a partnership between himself and the registered owner. Grove recently visited the site along with incoming officials, trustee Laura Patrick and CRD director Gary Holman. Grove’s information is that logging is planned for the entire property except the DPA area, and will be cleaned up in a professional manner. Neither Royal nor Stunder returned Driftwood calls before presstime on Tuesday.
“Clear-cutting is an ugly business. We have seen plenty of it on the island over the years,” Grove said. “Every farm and open space was once forest. In time the land will heal, but it is still hard to take.”
While Grove intends to bring the general issue to the LTC and to Islands Trust Council, he said there is little to be done in this case. Word from administration staff and bylaw enforcement is that land clearing is a lawful use under the Beddis property’s zoning.
According to Islands Trust mapping, several ecosystems are recorded on the land in question. The upper portion is classified as mature forest, primarily Douglas-fir and salal. The lower contains young Douglas-fir, a wooded wetland and western red cedar zones.
McAllister and others believe the Trust could halt the logging and immediately place the steep slope in protective status under a provision of the Islands Trust Act. They are asking the new LTC to hold an emergency meeting as soon as possible, as their next scheduled meeting on Dec. 6 may come too late.
“According to the bylaw, LTC can designate areas because of their natural environment, ecosystems or biological diversity or because LTC believes those areas are hazardous, or because LTC believes those areas may be subject to flooding, erosion, land slippage or avalanche,” the letter being sent to the trustees states. “This area qualifies on several counts. It’s an ecologically endangered older Douglas-fir forest in the Gulf Islands, it contains a seasonal stream and a wetland, and it’s in a hazardous steep slope area where logging could precipitate erosion and land slippage.”
Grove said that might be the case, but new rules would not apply to properties such as the Beddis Road lot, where the uses would be “grandfathered in.”
Grove acknowledges tree-cutting has become an important issue over the past years as residents have watched several large acreages in the north end completely cleared. Despite the concern, though, there are no restrictions for most properties. The Salt Spring Local Trust Committee does not have the ability to create a bylaw that covers tree-cutting across the entire community, as municipalities do.
Galiano Island has established a tree-cutting DPA “to ensure that tree removal on the island is limited, sustainable, and strictly necessary for the intended use of the land.” The DPA covers the entire island but exempts some activities, such as subdivision, clearing trees in order to build a structure, and tree cutting within the Agricultural Land Reserve. The idea for creating a similar development permit area for Salt Spring was raised and quickly rejected during the last review of the official community plan.
McAllister believes that commercial logging is a use that is not permitted in either agriculture or rural zones. It also appears to him and his wife that whoever did the DPA mapping failed to visit the entire area, because a very steep section coming down from the ridge was not included in the soil erosion hazard map.
“No housing could possibly go on those steep slopes, and if you clear-cut it’s totally prone to erosion,” McAllister said. “It’s a steep slope, it’s unstable, and it’s held in place by an ancient forest.”
“I’m sure the mapping does need to be reviewed, but it’s a massive undertaking. Our OCP needs to be reviewed and that could be part of it,” Grove said.