Cortes Island’s Quest For Sustainable Logging

By Roy L Hales


Most of the great forests that once covered the West Coast are gone. Though there is still an extensive canopy, the trees are scraggly compared to the stumps and historical photographs left from decades ago. The clear cutting in British Columbia is so extensive that, since 2003, the forests have been emitting rather than storing carbon. Some call for a more environmentally sensitive industry and an example of Cortes Islands quest for sustainable logging is about a mile from my home.

A Community Based Forest Operation

Some Cortes residents have been protesting BC’ s deforestation for thirty years.

There has also been a  movement to found a community-based forestry operation, which brought together the Klahoose First Nation and Cortes Community Forest Cooperative (the Cortes Forestry General Partnership) .

One of the ways that this community emphasis manifested itself was a series of public meetings, where Cortes Islanders shared their visions for how the land should be logged.

Two of the leading voices from this movement, Bruce Ellingsen and David Shipway, allowed me to post their thoughts about sustainable forest practises on the ECOreport.

Six Cutbacks in Squirrel Cove

This Spring, the Partnership started logging six cutblocks in the part of the island known as Squirrel Cove.

It was with some trepidation that I watched the emails start arriving.   Though I frequently cover controversies on the ECOreport, I have no desire to get embroiled in one in my neighbourhood.

I need not have worried.

For the most part, I forget they are logging. The noise rarely reaches my house, in the trees overlooking the government dock at Squirrel Cove. Aside from a little excitement when a helicopter landed at the general store, there are still few reminders they are logging.

Yesterday my wife Angela and I decided to take a peek.

The first thing we noticed, walking along Squirrel Cove Road, was that a screen of trees had been left to hide the cutback foresight.

One of my neighbours had already commented on the fact you could see the “clearcut.”

Another said,  “If we support the logging then why not look at it? Tourism should go hand in hand with good forestry planning.”

An Industrial Logging Operation

This is definitely an industrial logging operation, utilizing heavy equipment, but carried out within guidelines meant to establish a healthy forest. The number of to be trees cut was less than the growth rate, to ensure that the island’s tree canopy remains.  Old growth were identified and left standing.  Some of the intermediate and largest trees were left in every cutback, at an inter-tree spacing of approximately 20 meters.

There are several reasons for leaving some trees standing. They provide nesting areas for birds, natural seeding for the surrounding area and will eventually grow into the mature trees that sequester more carbon. Leaving some of the older trees presumably also makes it possible for the forest to recuperate faster.

Some may wonder if the surviving trees are more vulnerable to the winds.

I’m told that this really depend upon their size and species. Cedar, for example, have deep roots. Some less wind resistant species might prove to be vulnerable once their neighbours are removed.

There was a 90 kph wind a few days ago, which caused some trees another parts of the island to fall.

The trees you see in these pictures are still standing.

The area was logged early in the Spring, before the sap runs, so that  the boards coming from here will nothave problems with sap.

After the logging is finished the cutblocks will be planted with Douglas Fir, which likes the sunshine provided by the opened spaces, and Western Red Cedar.

At some point the community will have a meeting to discuss this first season.

That’s where we will discuss questions like: Were the logging operations profitable? Were they sustainable? How could this be done better?

Top photo: Cutblock SQ 5 seen from Squirrel Cove Road – Roy L Hales photo

5 thoughts on “Cortes Island’s Quest For Sustainable Logging”

    1. I see a better way yet, small scale equipment, no roads only small trails, no dragging wood, only hauking on a mini rubber tracked forwarder. I have such a machine and use it in the west kootenays on private and community forest land, it is so gentle on the remaining timber and forest floor its less impact then horse logging! No joke….

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