B.C. bans logging in sensitive border area after urging from Seattle mayor

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government has banned logging in an ecologically sensitive area along the United States border after Seattle's mayor and environmental groups called for protection of the watershed.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson announced Wednesday that B.C. will no longer award timber licences in a 5,800-hectare plot called the Silverdaisy or "doughnut hole" in the Skagit River Valley.

He said the province's previous Liberal government awarded a timber sale licence for the area in 2015 but that approval has now ended and no future licences will be granted.

"Individuals and groups on both sides of the border have expressed concerns that logging should stop in the Silverdaisy and we're responding to those concerns," the minister said on a conference call with reporters. "This is a significant step in addressing a lingering issue."

B.C.'s forestry industry is in a slump due to timber shortages but Donaldson said his government is working to ensure access to new harvest areas that will replace the portion of the Silverdaisy that had been available for logging.

The doughnut hole is surrounded by the Skagit Valley and Manning provincial parks just east of Hope in southwest B.C.

There was one timber sale planned in the area for 67,000 cubic metres, a relatively small volume, and Donaldson said he doesn't anticipate any immediate impact on jobs.

Imperial Metals Corp., owner of the Mount Polley mine where a tailings dam collapse caused an ecological disaster in 2014, owns copper mineral claims in the Silverdaisy.

Tom Curley of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission said it's working to acquire those rights to ensure preservation of the area.

The commission, which aims to protect wildlife and acquire mineral and timber rights consistent with conservation purposes in the Skagit Valley, was created through the High Ross Treaty, a 1984 agreement between Canada and the U.S.

Imperial Metals did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote to the B.C. government last year urging it to halt logging in the area, which she said was inconsistent with the spirit of the High Ross Treaty. She also said the Silverdaisy provides more than 30 per cent of the fresh water flowing into Puget Sound.

Environment Minister George Heyman said when the treaty was signed three decades ago, the B.C. and Washington governments signalled clear intent that, once the issue of mineral tenures was resolved, the doughnut hole would be returned to park status.

"Somewhere along the line ... there was a lapse in corporate memory," he said. "We're restoring that today."

The B.C. Liberals did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Heyman said the area is a critical wildlife corridor and foraging habitat for grizzly bear, wolverine and other species, and 33 per cent of the area is currently protected to provide a home for spotted owls and other species at risk.

"But today's action will conserve the entire package," he said.

Joe Foy, a campaigner with environmental group the Wilderness Committee, said the government's announcement removes a long-standing threat to the area and preserves an opportunity to protect another piece of the watershed.

"It's great news for all the people of British Columbia and in particular all the people that love Skagit and Manning provincial parks."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press