B.C.’s forest ministry is investigating a West Kootenay logging company following a complaint that part of its timber harvest near Argenta in 2022 was clearcut when it should have been selectively logged.
The provincial government has designated certain places in B.C. as scenic areas that when viewed from a distance should not be significantly altered by logging and roads.
One such scenic area is the western side of the Purcell Mountains in the Argenta area as viewed from across Kootenay Lake along Highway 31.
The forest ministry’s visual quality objectives (VQO) system sets out the permitted level of visual alteration in specific scenic areas. The ministry of forests is investigating Cooper Creek Cedar’s alleged failure to meet the VQO guidelines in its logging operation at Salisbury Creek in 2022.
A spokesperson told the Nelson Star that the ministry could provide no further details of the investigation, and would not disclose its timeline.
Forest Practices Board has also investigated
Meanwhile, the same clearcut has been investigated by the Forest Practices Board, a watchdog agency independent of the government.
The Forest Practice Board has no authority to compel actions by either a company or the government, but only to make recommendations. The board published its report on this matter January.
“The Board found that Cooper Creek Cedar did not comply with legal requirements because its logging failed to meet the partial retention Visual Quality Objectives from two significant public viewpoints,” the board states in its report.
The Forest Practices Board investigation was launched following a complaint from Bill Wells, a retired agrologist in Kaslo.
“I saw the clearcut while driving past Lost Ledge campground on my way to Meadow Creek in late June,” Wells wrote in an email to the Nelson Star. “It was a shock … I couldn’t believe it was approved by the forest service, and wondered if there had been any consultation with people who lived up the lake.”
The Forest and Range Practices Act contains several categories of visual quality objectives, ranging in five stages from “preservation” (harvesting that is hardly visible) to “maximum modification” (clearcut).
The report states that the province in 2014 established a VQO of “partial retention” for the Salisbury Creek area. The province defines partial retention as an alteration to the landscape that, when viewed from a significant public viewpoint, is “easy to see, small to medium in scale, and natural and not rectilinear or geometric in shape.”
Forest stewardship plans, filed by timber companies with the Ministry of Forests before cutting, must explain how the company will comply with provincial VQO standards for the area it intends to cut.
The Forest Practices Board report states that Cooper Creek Cedar met with two community groups to design cuts that would comply with the partial retention guidelines.
Argenta resident Karen Newmoon was part of one of those groups. She told the Nelson Star that they and Cooper Creek Cedar’s woodlands manager Bill Kestell met several times and went on field trips, negotiating in detail how the cut would look when the work was done, so that it met both the provincial requirement and the community’s wishes.
“They committed to cutting in a particular way and that is not how they cut,” she said. “They cut too much, it’s a huge block.”
She said that Block 405-4 was to be cable logged (a technique used for selective logging on steep slopes), not clearcut, but that this did not happen. The Forest Practice Board report mentions this discrepancy in its report.
The report states that Cooper Creek Cedar disagrees with the board’s conclusions, but the Nelson Star’s call and emails to the company were not returned.
In its conclusions, the board recommends that in its upcoming logging plans for an adjacent area just to the north of the Salisbury Creek site, Cooper Creek Cedar should “continue working with the public when planning and logging in scenic areas around Kootenay Lake,” and should, in future, harvest according to its own plan.
The ministry’s investigation, however, could result in a fine when it is completed.
In a similar case in 2016, Cooper Creek Cedar was fined $5,000 by the forest ministry for creating a clearcut in a scenic area as observed from the Kootenay Bay Ferry Landing.