While an internal investigation concluded there is government non-compliance with old-growth protection in the Nahmint Valley, B.C.’s forests ministry insists its timber management arm is following the rules.
Despite the contradiction and an ongoing review, B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS) plans to auction an additional 490,000 cubic metres of Nahmint trees next spring, overriding its own protective order and the area’s special status, according to the investigator.
“The Nahmint Valley was never intended to be logged like they are,” said Bryce Casavant, a Port Alberni resident who conducted the investigation and later left the ministry. “Those intentions of conserving that area have not been abided by.” He explained that the valley was specifically designated as a special management zone.
Findings that pinpoint violations of old-growth protections were brought to light earlier this month after the Victoria-based group Ancient Forest Alliance released internal government documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
“This is unacceptable,” said Andrea Inness, a campaigner for the conservation group. “The B.C. regulatory system was already failing to protect biodiversity.”
Nahmint Valley is about 30 km southwest of Port Alberni, much of it designated Crown (publicly owned) forest and not previously logged. Tseshaht First Nation considers the valley unceded territory and blockaded the access road in 2014 after cedar management talks with the province failed. Hupacasath and Ucluelet nations also consider the valley within their traditional territories.
Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) lodged complaints about old-growth logging in the valley in 2018, one of them triggering the government’s internal investigation, conducted last fall by the forest ministry’s compliance and enforcement branch (CEB).
“Frankly, I’m surprised the document was even released,” Inness said. In January, she was told that it would be withheld. “It has raised eyebrows.”
The AFA said the investigation confirmed too much old growth is being logged in the Nahmint Valley and believes the same scenario is playing out across the province. BCTS, the government agency responsible for auctioning cut-block permits in the Nahmint, is responsible for 20 percent of Crown forests.
Casavant’s report identified failures to comply with old-growth protection — specifically the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (VILUP) — and warned of long-term impacts on the land base.
“Our assessment suggests that the Nahmint demonstrates failure of professional reliance at maintaining publicly agreed upon values and priorities,” the report concludes.
That’s not how the forests ministry interprets it.
“The CEB investigation did not conclude there was a violation,” a ministry spokesperson stated, responding to questions via email. “The investigation into compliance with the Forest Stewardship Plan was identified as being outside of the scope of the CEB investigation.”
As well, BCTS contends that a draft Nahmint landscape unit plan, which includes a suite of old-growth management areas, achieves VILUP’s requirements for old-growth ecosystems, biodiversity, wildlife habitat and cultural trees valued by First Nations.
After the investigation, minor changes were made in the Nahmint operating plan, but the ministry ignored three key recommendations, the alliance said. Those are to cease logging in the valley, put a hold on harvesting plans and amend the forest stewardship plan so that it adheres to the Vancouver Island summary land use order.
Although the investigation found old-growth management areas fall short of adequately protecting old growth, the ministry plans to legalize them next year. That will give BCTS a green light for years of non-compliant logging in the Nahmint, Inness said.
Non-compliance and over-harvesting are fairly regular occurrences throughout the coast, but this case was different, he said. Nahmint Valley is one of only two areas in B.C. designated as special management zones in recognition of the need to preserve biodiversity and old growth.
Despite a decade of logging, there may still be time to properly protect the valley’s old growth in keeping with the land use plan, Casavant believes. A B.C. Forest Practices investigation of the matter is expected by year’s end.
“They don’t point fingers,” Inness said of the forest practices board. “They will do a thorough job and they will make recommendations.”
AFA wants an immediate halt to logging in the Nahmint and other old-growth “hot spots,” and urges the province to modernize its land-use planning in partnership with First Nations.
Casavant made it clear his departure from the forests ministry — he now works for the environmental conservation group Pacific Wild — was unrelated to the Nahmint investigation.
This story has been edited to correct several inaccuracies.