Update on poaching within Cortes Community Forest

Update on Poaching in The Community Forest

On June 27, Cortes Currents published a personal report about poaching in the Community Forest. Odette Auger lives beside the woodlot in Larsen’s Meadow and says there has been a significant increase in theft since the Community Forest took over management. While her account is subjective, it contains pictures, details of several specific incidents and a record of correspondence with the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative (CCFC) going back several years.

No Comment

In her article, Ms Auger writes that two Community Forest leaders came out to the scene of the most recent incident, but declined to be interviewed. 

One of them subsequently turned down Cortes Currents request for comment.

The CCFC does not make operational decisions, such as gates and roads. They are decided by the Cortes Forest General Partnership (CFGP) , which is composed of 3 Klahoose First Nation directors and 3 directors elected by the board of the CCFC. 

The CFGP uses a consensus based approach to decision making and communications. No one individual would typically speak for the entire organization, without first consulting with the rest of the board to agree on a response. (This does not make for quick responses.)

What The Community Forest Achieved

The CFGP is also on track to achieve something truly remarkable.

According to to a Ministry of Forests spokesperson, “The actual harvest age of stands [throughout the province] can vary from less than 50 years, on the most productive sites on the Coast, to 140 years or more in the Interior.”

Sixty year-old second growth logs harvested at Elphinstone on the Sunshine Coast. Note the amount of sapwood (the outer yellowish ring) visible in the butts. In mature timber, this is almost totally replaced by heartwood (the brown/orange spots in the centre of each log). photo by Emily Hoffpauir, Wilderness Committee.

At this rate, all unprotected old growth trees (at least 250 years old) in British Columbia will eventually disappear.

However the CFGP’s rotation rate is currently set at between 250 and 350 years. This is sufficient to ensure the eventual rebirth of a truly old growth forest on Cortes Island.

The CCFC Responds

A few days after Ms Auger’s story was published, Carrie Saxifrage, President of the Cortes Community Forest Co-operative, emailed, “Cortes Island has the community forest tenure because the Klahoose First Nation used its political weight and negotiating skill to make it happen. The Klahoose First Nation made a very generous decision to share the tenure with the non-indigenous community.”

“Newcomers who come to Cortes Island may see it’s expansive wildness as the result of being beyond the reach of people. The opposite is true. Cortes Island retains so much natural beauty because its people are deeply involved in their stewardship of the island. When illegal activity occurs on community forest land, it disrespects the work of hundreds of islanders over several decades.”

A healthy Douglas Fir fallen June 22, 2020 at Larsen’s Meadow CCFC woodlot. Mud was rubbed on the butt to try to disguise the timber’s value. – Odette Auger photo

An Ongoing problem

Poaching appears to be an ongoing problem. 

Ms Auger’s article quotes correspondence with the CCFC since 2015. 

Perusing the Tideline, I found a 2016 post from the Cortes Forestry General Partnership stating:

“No falling of any standing live or dead trees is permitted. Please do not remove windfall or other downed wood from beyond the timber edge.”

The Big Questions

The big questions are: 

  • How big of a problem is poaching? 
  • Is it large enough to affect the annual cut being taken from the Community Forest lands?
  • What can we do about it?
  • Would proposed solutions be worse than the problem? 

I am told, “The problem is relatively small, although it’s been growing of late.”

Ms Auger has suggested that the CCFC install a gate on the woodlot on a number of occasions since 2015. In an email, quoted in her article, she wrote:

“The entire 15 years I’ve lived here, there are walkers, mushroomers, bikers, and no drivers except for people going in to cut trees illegally for firewood. A gate or deep ditch would ensure the use of Larsens Meadow would be exactly as before, without opening it up to more poaching.” 

The General Partnership Responds

On July 1, the Cortes Forestry General Partnership published a news release on their website

“All areas of the Community Forest are closed to firewood cutting unless an opening is specifically posted. Under no circumstances is it legal to cut standing trees, live or dead, in the community forest without written agreement from the CFGP.”

“Firewood from the community forest is typically produced as part of a logging or road building project from lower grade logs, breakage, and tops. As such firewood is only available after a harvest.”

“The community forest has produce approximately 625 cords of firewood since the first year of operations in 2015, more some years than others, depending on the size of the harvest.”

“This year there will be a fall logging project in the Carrington/Coulter Bay area of the Community Forest and firewood will be available at the end of the project.”

“The CFGP is reviewing options for dealing with the recent increase in firewood theft and unlawful tree cutting in the Community Forest, and measures will be taken to deal with the issue in the coming weeks.”

(This article was originally published on July 4 and additional material added on July 10 & 11, 2020.)

Top photo credit: Tire tracks on the CCFC road in Larsen’s Meadow (April 22, 2016). Source of tracks unknown. At the time I was looking into the impact logging roads have on fish bearing streams. Cec Robinson gave his opinion on this, and a number of other logging matters, in this podcast. – Roy L Hales photo

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