Last week I attended an open house held by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) at the local library. The open house was held to discuss Whistler’s immediate plans to log old growth forest in the subalpine as well as to conduct selective logging operations in the Valley, as part of its stewardship of the Sea-to-Sky Community Forest. For many, including Whistler’s tourism recreation operators, logging subalpine old growth, or any forest in recreation areas at all, seems nearly incomprehensible in an economy which is now nearly entired sustained through natural tourism. As for Valley logging, these operations will disrupt if not force the rerouting of several WORCA singletrack trails including Green Lake Loop and the Comfortably Numb sidetrail Young Lust, the newly rebuilt Trainwreck just south of Function Junction, as well as Runaway Train and the newly constructed Sea-to-Sky Trail.
Cutting Out the Local Economy
Logging in these areas will disrupt many local and international bike and running races, including the Cheakamus Challenge, the BC Bike Race, the Comfortably Numb trail run, and WORCA’s Toonie Races. According to the forester I spoke to, logging operations will, where possible, leave a “strip” of trees around singletrack trails that will be closed during operations and then rerouted (i.e. destroyed and moved). Seeking out singletrack to then bike through a “strip” of trees will have significant impact upon the use and appeal of these trails, as well as devastating impact upon local wildlife and longterm impact upon the natural use of these areas for hundreds of years. Logging operations are also slated to take place in the Callaghan Valley, close to Khyber Pass above Cheakamus, on Powder Mountain, and in other popular backcountry as well as slackcountry areas that are home to singletrack, hiking trails, ski touring, sledding and heli/catskiing operations.
To get a handle on exactly what was going to be logged – and the potential of these cuts to negatively impact existing old growth as well as utterly change the face of popular outdoor recreation areas – myself and photographers Kim Eij, Emily Serrell and Kyle Graham went up to the Callaghan as well as visited the area around Runaway Train and the Sea-to-Sky Trail. Our photos of existing old growth and the area can be found here.
Cutting Out Local Recreation Operators
While walking through the Runaway Train/Sea-to-Sky trail area, we passed numerous tourist groups out walking, including a few guided groups of photographers that were out on bear walks. It was evident that the area was well-used by tourists and local recreation operators, and that the area is one frequented by bears. The kind of vegetation that bears like to eat was everywhere. And yet this area is in the books to be logged…
Why Whistler is about to begin logging of its old growth as well as logging in and around world-class singletrack trails is a question that was made public when Allen Crawford of Canadian Snowmobile Adventures revealed that logging would take place within his snowmobile tenure in the Callaghan Valley. He and other recreation operators had not been consulted, nor had the public. Yes, that Callaghan Valley – the very one where the nordic Olympic venues and trails are located. So what precisely is going on? Why is Whistler commencing logging practices when logging is no longer economically necessary?
The answer is somewhat convoluted. It has to do with devolving the stewardship of government forests from the Province to local communities. In many ways, having municipal and regional control over local logging tenure is a good thing, as it means decisions can be made with local political will. The municipal governments of Whistler, Squamish, Pemberton and the Squamish and Lil’Wat First Nations now maintain and have limited control over the surrounding Crown land under the tenure of what is called a “Community Forest.” But there seem to be many strings attached. It would appear that local communities must log a certain quota per year; it also appears that the only perspective being brought to the table, moreover, is how much the local forests can “sustain.” In this case, “sustain” means “how much can be cut down before the forest dies.” There is little talk of sustaining the forest as a longterm economic benefit for natural tourism, of regrowing the forests into an old growth state for future generations, or of sustaining as much forest as possible to clean the air and maintain healthy standards of living for humans and the ecosystem alike. Instead, why local politicians are considering logging at all appears to be caught up in a perspective that is completely dominated by foresters:
When [the Province] went through this process – it’s called spatial analysis – for the land base of the community forest, [the Province] looked at how many trees there are, how fast they grow, they calculated that this land base could handle 33,000 to 36,000 cubic metres of cut every year. Through the negotiations by the community forest, with the Ministry of Forests, we successfully negotiated that down to 20,000 cubic metres per year. (Heather Beresford, Environmental Stewardship Manager)
Here in the Sea-to-Sky, nearly all of our forested land has been logged since the colonization of the Pacific Northwest, including the entirety of the Whistler valley. It is slowly growing back. There are also large segments of old growth in the subalpine which have yet to be touched. Logging roads, old and still in use, provide recreators access to many areas of the backcountry. The province was built off the backbone of logging. However, it seems reasonable to think that the Sea-to-Sky’s time as a corridor of logging operations has long since past. Logging is not what drives the local economy. Nor is logging necessary beyond salvage operations and the creation of firebreaks and the removal of tinder fuel. Natural recreation and tourism are the primary economic bases, and have been for close to thirty years.
Moreover, logging is no longer all that profitable. The expected benefit from pending harvests that threaten, in the long term, millions of dollars in tourist revenue is an estimated measly $30, 000 per year.
If you find yourself scratching your head as I do over these questions, write a letter to the Pique or the Whistler Question. Certainly many others have. Do copy the letter to Whistler’s Mayor, Ken Melamed, and send him a tweet. On Facebook, check out SCRAP! Whistler Old Growth Logging and Save Whistler’s Trees! Last Chance.