Logging Lantzville: Small town fights to save local forest

Every day, Ted Gullison,of Lantzville, B.C. walks his dog in the woods near his small town on Vancouver Island. The forest is carved with paths that many of the town's residents use for hiking, horse back riding, and even dirt biking

Gullison, an ecologist, often marvels at some of the "veteran" trees that rule the woods.

"It's a really beautiful [high canopy] forest," he said of the region just north of Nanaimo. "There's still the original trees that are two or three feet across. It's a pretty magical experience."

The only problem — the forest is regularly logged, and the conservationist fears that the towering coastal Douglas fir trees could soon be lost forever.

 And he's not the only one who's concerned. Dozens of community members have banded together, spawning the Save Lantzville Forest movement.

The group is calling on the provincial government to conserve part of the woods. But the requests have fallen on deaf ears.

Logging Lantzville

What makes the Lantzville forest particularly special is the presence of coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems.

"We have an opportunity to go for a hike in an intact mature forest which is a very special experience, [but] it is slowly being converted into young forests and clear cuts," he said.

The endangered ecosystems have been threatened after more than a century of urban development. The province of British Columbia currently lists it as an at-risk ecosystem that remains an essential part of B.C.'s unique biodiversity.

It is widely considered to be one of the most endangered ecosystems in the province. 

According to Gullison, coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems form over half of the area that is regularly logged.

Proposal to government

The forest sits on Crown land, and the provincial government licenses out the rights to harvest the wood to local loggers. The Lantzville forest is known as Woodlot 1475, and it was awarded to licence holder John Gregson of Gregson Holdings Ltd.

CBC News was briefly able to reach Gregson, who reiterated a public statement he's made in the past: it's public land, and Lantzville residents are free to enjoy the woodlot when it's not being logged.

Gullison admits the Save Lantzville Forest movement's quarrel isn't with Gregson or any other licensees because they're logging well within their legal rights.

Rather, the group is calling on the provincial government to set aside a parcel of land that would remain protected. But after nearly two years of lobbying the government, and thousands of petition signatures to protect the forests, the government has expressed little interest in altering the license.

Government responds

"[The] ministry has no plans to cancel or change the boundaries of the woodlot licence," said the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations in an emailed statement to CBC News.

The ministry says that Gregson has proven to be an environmental steward by both maintaining streams damaged by previous logging practices, as well as by clearing garbage left by illegal dumping.

Still, lobbying efforts to protect the forest carry on. Representatives from Save Lantzville Forest recently met with B.C. Minister of Social Development Michelle Stilwell, who is also the region's MLA.

Gullison said Stilwell promised to bring the issue to B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson.

Stilwell was unavailable for comment at time of publishing.