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Clearcutting threatens black-tailed deer, activist says

Times Colonist - Kathryn Burnham, August 13, 2011

Clearcutting threatens black-tailed deer, activist says
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Photo by TJ Watt

An old-growth Douglas-fir stand was clearcut in June and July of this year in the Caycuse Valley south of Cowichan Lake and north of the Walbran Valley. The area was important deer wintering habitat.

A dwindling black-tailed deer population on the Island is further at risk after clearcutting near Caycuse Valley, according to Ken Wu, president of the Ancient Forest Alliance, who has called on the province to protect more old-growth forests.

The newly cut area, near McClure Lake, is a popular winter spot for the deer, who survive on lichen found in the old-growth forest while receiving shelter from the Douglas firs. Their population has already dropped to one-quarter of their numbers in the 1970s, Wu said.

The deer are a food source for wolves and cougars as well as First Nations groups and other hunters, Wu said. By limiting their habitat, the deer are easier for predators to pick off at higher rates, he said.

The cutting was done by Teal-Jones Group about six weeks ago. The company would not comment on the cutting nor its knowledge of deer populations in the area.

Surrounding the 4.8 hectares that was cut is about 103 hectares of forest protected from clearcutting by its designation as oldgrowth management and ungulate winter range areas, according to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. While deer may not seem at risk in cities or rural countryside, where they can be seen running through neighbourhood streets and feeding on farms, in higher-altitude areas they require forest shelter, Wu said.

Black-tailed deer populations on southern Vancouver Island are surveyed twice a year, and it has been noticed that their numbers are increasing, according to the ministry. Their habitat is protected based on the advice of biologists to ensure they have enough protection and food to survive the winter.

About 45 per cent of oldgrowth forest on Vancouver Island Crown land is protected, according to the ministry, but Wu said too many Douglas fir forests, such as the one near McClure Lake, are being clear cut. "It's ridiculous and unethical to go to the end of the resource, especially when there is a second-growth alternative," he said.

Second-growth forests, which can be used for logging, are less adequate habitats for deer, as they don't have the same amount of lichen.

There are about 485,000 hectares of old-growth forest on Vancouver Island, which is protected, and the province is looking to expand this to include the Avatar Grove area.

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