September 5, 2001
A decision by the British Columbia Ministry of Forests to allow logging in what conservationists believe to be one of the last stretches of forest known to be home to British Columbia’s dwindling spotted owl population will be challenged in court.
Sierra Legal Defence Fund said it will file for a judicial review in British Columbia Supreme Court on behalf of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee following news that the Ministry of Forests approved logging despite objections from provincial environment officials. According to the Ministry of Forests, the decision recommends against permitting logging in some areas near Hope that have been identified as owl habitat.
The decision follows a successful injunction application by Sierra Legal on behalf of WCWC that brought a temporary halt to logging in Siwash Creek, an area known to be home to some of British Columbia’s last spotted owls. The injunction stipulated that the Ministry of Forests to appoint Cindy Stern, district manager with the ministry’s South Island District, to reassess the logging plans of Cattermole Timber and determine whether they posed a threat to the owls. Stern gave the green light to a limited resumption of logging on Sept 4 after considering submissions from the WCWC; the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection; the Chilliwack forest district and Cattermole Timber.
“It’s crazy for this district manager to recommend that spotted owl habitat in the Siwash Creek area can be ‘maintained or enhanced’ by logging when everyone knows that it’s logging that’s made this species one of the most endangered in Canada,” said Joe Foy, WCWC campaign director. “Clearly, this government doesn’t give a hoot about what it’s own environment officials say, which is that logging poses a grave threat to the last of B.C.’s spotted owls,” he said.
Sierra Legal lawyer Devon Page pointed out that Stern did rule that logging could not occur in one of the contentious areas in Siwash Creek. But her decision allows for what Page called unproven and untested alternative logging in other areas considered of vital importance to the owls by provincial environment officials. It’s that decision that will be challenged.
“The situation is far worse than we knew in our original court application. If anything, our evidence is even stronger,” Page said. “First, provincial environment officials have released a preliminary trend analysis showing a precipitous decline in spotted owl numbers. Second, a respected committee of scientists from across Canada has placed the spotted owl at the top of their endangered species list,” Page added.
The Ministry of Forests said in a news release that Stern was asked to make her determination solely with respect to the spotted owl for an amendment to a previously approved forest development plan and for two proposed cutblocks in a new forest development plan.
Logging in the two cutblocks, 36-10A and 37, in the amended forest development plan was not approved. One cutblock (37-1) proposed for the new forest development plan was considered “approvable” for logging, while the second larger cutblock (38-1) was not considered approvable.
The decision, contended the ministry, is consistent with British Columbia’s Spotted Owl Management Plan. The goal of the plan is to achieve “a reasonable level of probability that owl populations will stabilize, and possibly improve, over the long term without significant short-term impacts on timber supply and forestry employment.”
Cutblock 37 is approximately 475 hectares and is in a special resource management zone considered to be superior, or “Type A,” habitat for spotted owls. The proposed harvest system is new to this district and is untested with respect to impact on owl habitat. The block was not considered approvable because it was deemed to be a high risk in a large area known to be used by spotted owls, and was considered to be high-quality owl habitat.
Cutblock 36-10A is in the “Siwash matrix activity centre,” and is made up of two separate portions. (Matrix activity centres are areas of known spotted owl habitat outside of special resource management zones and protected areas.) The Spotted Owl Management Plan specifies that while no special forest practices are required in matrix activity centres, the “harvesting” system must attempt to maintain spotted owls for as long as possible. Harvesting had started on the east portion of this cutblock, but was stopped prior to the judicial review.
In 1998, the then-Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks directed licensees to plan spatial pattern of cutblocks based on three concentric areas delineated within each matrix activity centre, focused around the critical nest site or area of high use. Cutblock 36-10A is partially within the middle and outer circles of the Siwash matrix activity centre.
Detection maps provided by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection show there has been continuous use of the area within cutblock 36-10A by spotted owls. The cutblock is also within a connecting corridor between two large areas of Type A habitat. These corridors provide protection to spotted owls as they move from area to area.
Since the area provides a corridor between two large areas of Type A habitat, and since there is evidence of continuous use by spotted owls, it was determined that harvesting the cutblock poses a high risk to spotted owl populations. The cutblock did not meet the statutory test for approval under Section 41(1)(b), which requires that resources be adequately managed and conserved.
Given that the eastern portion of the cutblock was already partially felled and that the remaining timber is no longer valuable spotted owl habitat, Stern recommended that harvesting be completed in the eastern portion. She recommended that the western portion remain untouched.
The decision and rationale is posted at on the ministry Web site.