Canadian Timber Sale Bad News for Rare Sea Bird

By Neville Judd

SECHELT, British Columbia, Canada, August 6, 2001 (ENS) - What is the point of having a government agency if its recommendations are ignored by the ministry it is supposed to advise? That's the question frustrating Daniel Bouman, who believes that a timber sale high above an inlet on Canada's west coast threatens the survival of a rare sea bird.

Bouman is executive director of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association. Located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Vancouver, British Columbia, the Sunshine Coast is part of the Canadian mainland but accessible only by boat or airplane.

Bouman believes the 140,700 cubic metres of timber tendered above Jervis Inlet in the Brittain Landscape Unit area is essential to the survival of the marbled murrelet.

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Marbled murrelets like this one spend their days at sea and fly back to their nests in older trees along the coast of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California. (Photo courtesy Sustainable Ecosystems Institute )
The small seabird, which nests in the coastal, old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, is listed as a threatened species in Canada.

Bouman says the fact that only two companies bid for the license, which was offered at 74 cents per cubic metre under the Small Business Forest Enterprise Program, proves the high elevation forest land is of marginal economic value.

A bid of $2.23 per cubic metre won the timber cutting rights for Salisbury Forest Products of Powell River, which was awarded the license in early July. Last week, the license was approved by Sunshine Coast Forest District manager Greg Hemphill.

Bouman argues that the sale is government subsidized, and that it proceeded despite the documented concerns of qualified biologists in the Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection Branch. Those officials identified the area as critical to the survival of the species in the Brittain Landscape Unit.

"What's the point of having competent biologists in a government agency identifying the needs of an endangered species if the Ministry of Forests then ignores those concerns," said Bouman.

"The government of B.C. says it has committed to protection of biodiversity and endangered species, but it is always something they are going to do. But what are they going to do right here and now? The truth is they're not prepared to do anything."

Bouman has written to Salisbury Forest Products asking the company to forego logging in the area. He wants the company to reject the license. Then, he says, the land could be divided into two Wildlife Habitat Areas.

Salisbury Forest Products did not return ENS's calls for comment.

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A portion of the Sunshine Coast (Photo courtesy Sunshine Coast Trail)
Sunshine Coast Forest District operations manager Mark Anderson said he was not aware of Bouman's arguments, but denied that the timber sale was subsidized or of marginal value.

"The market place determines the economic value, and the fact that there were two bids in this case shows there was economic value," said Anderson.

Anderson denied that the ministry ignored recommendations by the Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection Branch.

"We receive recommendations and comments all the time," said Anderson. "The Ministry of Forests balances numerous mandates of agencies concerned with wildlife habitat, recreation, water. We have to make a balance and our long standing challenge is to find the middle of the road."

Anderson added that block boundaries in the original plans for the Brittain timber sale had been adjusted to accommodate "interim protected measures" for the marbled murrelet.

The conservation association, which is an umbrella organization of 18 conservation and environmental advocacy groups, does not intend to blockade or confront Salisbury Forest Products employees, said Bouman.

But the group is considering following the lead of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in applying for a legal injunction to halt logging. Late last month, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld an injunction applied for by the Vancouver based conservation group against the Ministry of Forests and Cattermole Logging in northern spotted owl habitat near Chilliwack.

The ruling effectively ended Cattermole's bid to log an area of old growth forest in southern British Columbia where the last few pairs of the province's spotted owls are found.

Sierra Legal lawyers had argued on the Wilderness Committee's behalf that the Ministry of Forests' district manager in Chilliwack, was "patently unreasonable" in approving logging over the objections of Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection Branch biologists, who feared extirpation of the owls.

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Marbled murrelet on its nest in an old growth tree (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
Bouman claims there is more evidence on the habitat needs of marbled murrelets in the Brittain Landscape Unit than the Wilderness Committee used to obtain the injunction protecting the spotted owl.

Last year, biologists shed new light on numbers of marbled murrelets entering watersheds in the Sunshine Coast Forest District. In a study funded by Forest Renewal B.C. and the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, researchers Sean Cullen and Irene Manley employed high frequency radar to survey for marbled murrelets in May, June and July. The data was used to estimate local population sizes and distribution information within 16 landscape units between Howe Sound and Bute Inlet on the B.C. mainland.

Their information was used to assist in the implementation of a Wildlife Management Strategy within the Landscape Unit Planning process.

The highest numbers of murrelets were detected in the Toba, Brem and Homfray Landscape Units. Maximum counts of marbled murrelets flying inland before dawn ranged from one at McNab Creek to 454 at Toba River.

Eleven watersheds, including the Brittain Landscape Unit, had counts of greater than 100 marbled murrelets and 81 percent of the total 2,678 incoming marbled murrelets counted occurred within these 11 watersheds.

"Monitoring is key for the Sunshine Coast because this population is the most threatened in the province, and it is likely sensitive to factors affecting its nesting habitat availability," wrote Manley. "Population monitoring is the only way to determine if habitat management actions have been successful for marbled murrelets."