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Media Release: Drones used in BC's Old-Growth Forest Campaigns - Walbran Valley conflict escalates

Ancient Forest Alliance, September 22, 2015

Media Release: Drones used in BC's Old-Growth Forest Campaigns - Walbran Valley conflict escalates
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Screenshot from the new video clip which used drones to helped capture footage in the Central Walbran Valley
TJ Watt

 
For Immediate Release
September 22, 2015
 
Conservationists use Drones as BC’s Old-Growth Forest Conflict Escalates: New Technology enables Surveillance and Aerial Video Footage in Remote areas as Logging Threat Encroaches on Canada’s Grandest Old-Growth Forest, the Central Walbran Valley
 
SEE a new VIDEO CLIP of the Central Walbran Ancient Forest that includes recent HD DRONE FOOTAGE here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyMPXHOjlK0
 
A logging permit for the first of eight proposed cutblocks in the Central Walbran Valley was issued last Friday by the BC government to Surrey-based logging company Teal-Jones. The Central Walbran is Canada’s most spectacular old-growth forest, near Port Renfrew, and one of the largest unprotected old-growth forests left on southern Vancouver Island. Conservationists prepare for an escalation in the conflict.
 
Port Renfrew –  Conservationists are employing a new tool in the battle to protect BC’s endangered old-growth forests – remotely-piloted drones. The Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) is using a small drone equipped with a GoPro camera to monitor and document the endangered old-growth forests of the Central Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island. This has allowed the organization to capture aerial video footage of old-growth forests threatened by logging on steep, rugged terrain that otherwise would take hours to hike to. Helicopter-based logging, or heli-logging, is expected for several of the eight proposed cutblocks in the Central Walbran Valley, including the first approved Cutblock 4424 (approved last Friday by the BC Forest Service), due to the difficulty of road access in the mountains.
 
“Drones are a new tool in the tool box that are helping us raise the environmental awareness about remote endangered areas that are normally out of the public spotlight, where companies believe they can log with little scrutiny. Plus it allows us to get some spectacular footage of our magnificent but endangered old-growth forests from vantage points rarely seen”, stated TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance photographer and campaigner who shot the Walbran videos.
 
The AFA’s drone cost just over one thousand dollars and has been used by Watt half a dozen times to explore and document ancient forests since he purchased it late last year. Other conservationists are also starting to use them to help document endangered areas.
 
“Teal-Jones and the BC government have committed themselves to an intense battle by aggressively moving to log southern Vancouver Island’s most contentious ancient forest. The logging companies have already clearcut the vast majority of the richest and grandest old-growth forests on Vancouver Island – over 90% - and now they’re complaining that they’re running out of options. They’ve boxed themselves into a corner through their own unsustainable history of overcutting the biggest and best old-growth stands - and now they’re contending that it’s the conservationists’ fault and that they must log the last unprotected lowland ancient forests to survive. The one thing the BC government must not do is to reward unsustainable practices with more unsustainable practices – but that’s just what they’ve done by granting the first cutting permit to Teal-Jones in the Central Walbran Valley. It’s a myopic government facilitating the demise of an ecosystem for a company intent to go just about to the very end. Instead they need a quick transition or exit strategy to get completely out of our last ancient forests and into a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forest industry,” stated Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director.
 
The 500 hectare Central Walbran Valley is one of the largest contiguous tracts of unprotected old-growth forest left on southern Vancouver Island (south of Barkley Sound) where about 90% of the original, productive old-growth forests have already been logged. It is home to the Castle Grove, perhaps the most extensive and densely-packed monumental western redcedar groves in Canada. The upper reach of the Castle Grove is threatened by several of the proposed Teal-Jones cutblocks. Species at risk include Queen Charlotte Goshawks, marbled murrelets (several of which were recorded by AFA campaigners near the Castle Grove in June: www.ancientforestalliance.org/news-item.php?ID=906), screech owls, and red-legged frogs, while coho salmon and steelhead trout spawn in the rivers.
 
The Central Walbran is popular for hikers, campers, anglers, hunters, and mushroom pickers, and is located on public (Crown) lands in Tree Farm Licence 46 near Port Renfrew in Pacheedaht Nuu-chah-Nulth territory. About 5500 hectares of the Lower Walbran Valley were included in the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park in 1994, while about 7500 hectares in the Central and Upper Walbran Valleys were left unprotected.
 
Conservationists are escalating pressure on the BC government and the company through protests and public awareness campaigns, calling on the company to back off and the BC government to protect the two ancient forests. Teal-Jones Group is a Surrey-based company that logs and sells endangered old-growth forests – including ancient redcedar trees - for pulp, paper, and solid wood products.
 
Environmentalists are calling on the BC government to protect these areas from logging through expanded Old-Growth Management Areas (OGMA’s), core Wildlife Habitat Areas (WHA’s), and Land Use Orders (LUO’s).
 
On BC’s southern coast (Vancouver Island and SW Mainland), satellite photos show that about 75% of the original, productive (moderate to fast growth rates, forests of commercial value) old-growth forests have been logged, including over 91% of the valley bottoms and high-productivity, lowland forests where the largest trees grow. Only 8% of the original, productive old-growth forests on BC’s southern coast are protected in parks and Old-Growth Management Areas. See maps and stats on the remaining old-growth forests on BC’s southern coast at: www.ancientforestalliance.org/old-growth-maps.php
 
In a recent Vancouver Sun and Province article (see www.theprovince.com/news/walbran+logging+permit+could+rekindle+woods+vancouver+island/11377140/story.html) the Teal-Jones spokesperson was quoted as claiming that “only 11,080 hectares of [the] 59,884-hectare tree farm licence…can be logged” – while failing to mention that tens of thousands of hectares have already been logged and thousands more are on low productivity sites (small trees) of little to no commercial value or inoperable conditions. In addition, the article stated that “…the company gave up more than 7,000 hectares to create the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park”. In fact, the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park was established in 1994, while it wasn’t until 2004 that Teal-Jones acquired Tree Farm Licence 46 (where the park is) from TimberWest – 10 years after the park’s creation and for a price that already reflected the deduction of timber from the park. In addition, the province has stated that the 500 hectares in the Central Walbran is small compared to the 16,000 hectares within the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park – failing to provide the context (a common PR-spin technique) that about 670,000 hectares of about 760,000 hectares of the original, productive old-growth forests on southern Vancouver Island (south of Barkley Sound) have already been logged.
 
In addition, the BC government itself, in order to placate public fears about the loss of BC’s endangered old-growth forests, typically over-inflates the amount of remaining old-growth forests in its PR-spin by including hundreds of thousands of hectares of marginal, low productivity forests growing in bogs and at high elevations with smaller, stunted trees, lumped in with the productive old-growth forests, where the large trees grow (and where most logging takes place). “It’s like including your Monopoly money with your real money and then claiming to be a millionaire, so why curtail spending?” stated the Ancient Forest Alliance’s Ken Wu. 
 
“The Walbran Valley was the birthplace of the ancient forest protest movement in Victoria decades ago. Logging there has repeatedly triggered protests, beginning in 1991 and flaring up regularly for more than a decade thereafter. Thousands of British Columbians love the ancient forests of the Castle Grove, Emerald Pool, Bridge Camp, Summer Crossing, and Fletcher Falls in the Central Walbran Valley,” stated Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director. “Both the province and the company will be held accountable for what happens in these areas.”
 
“Because of the ideal growing conditions in the region, Canada’s temperate rainforests reach their most magnificent proportions in region of the Walbran Valley. It’s Canada’s version of the American redwoods. Given this fact – and that virtually all of the unprotected ancient forests are either clearcut or fragmented by logging today on southern Vancouver Island – it should be a no-brainer that the grandest and one of the largest contiguous tracts here, the Central Walbran, should be immediately protected”, stated TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner and photographer.
 
Old-growth forests are vital to sustain endangered species, climate stability, tourism, clean water, wild salmon, and the cultures of many First Nations.
 
The Ancient Forest Alliance is calling on the BC government to implement a comprehensive science-based plan to protect BC’s endangered old-growth forests, and to also ensure a sustainable, value-added second-growth forest industry.
 
 
MORE BACKGROUND INFO
 
The Walbran Valley is about 13,000 hectares in size, with about 5500 hectares of the Lower Walbran Valley protected within the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park and about 7500 hectares of the Upper Walbran Valley remaining unprotected. The unprotected Upper Walbran Valley is divided into two “Tree Farm Licences” (TFL’s): TFL 46, held by Teal Jones, and TFL 44, held by Western Forest Products, on Crown lands in the unceded territory of the Pacheedaht Nuu-Cha-Nulth people.
 
The Central Walbran’s old-growth western redcedar, Sitka spruce, and hemlock forests have long been proposed for protection by the environmental movement since the early 1990’s, when the valley was “ground zero” for protests by southern Vancouver Island’s environmental movement. The early Walbran protests played an important role in supporting the build-up towards the massive Clayoquot Sound protests near Tofino on Vancouver Island in 1993.
 
While most of the Upper Walbran Valley has been heavily fragmented by old-growth logging, two major tracts of ancient forest remain largely unlogged there: The Castle Grove (Canada’s finest ancient redcedar forest) and the greater Central Walbran Ancient Forest (currently under potential logging threat) which abuts against the boundary Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park, spanning about 500 hectares in extent.
 
While small sections of the Central Walbran Ancient Forest are protected within Riparian Reserves, an Ungulate Winter Range, and Old-Growth Management Areas, the vast majority of the area is open for logging. The Central Walbran Ancient Forest is a popular and heavily used area by recreationalists, where the main boardwalk trails for hiking, riverside camping area, Emerald Pool swimming area, and the spectacular Fletcher Falls are found.
 
The Central Walbran Ancient Forest, Castle Grove, and adjacent unprotected forests were designated as a “Special Management Zone” (SMZ) by the BC government in 1994. The SMZ is supposed to be managed to maintain its environmental and biodiversity values – however, numerous destructive clearcuts have tattered much of the SMZ over the past 20 years.
 


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