On Friday a group of folks concerned about protecting our watershed and access to our backcountry met with our MLA Scott Fraser.

Our MLA is always a good person to discuss issues with and this is an issue he has heard frequently over the past many years.

The disconnect between Health and Forests.

We had a good talk about the disconnect between the requirements held up by the Ministry of Health through Island Health’s 4-3-2-1 water quality standards, and the priorities of the Forest Ministry.

In order to move forward in a sustainable way, these ministries can no longer operate in silos. On one hand, Island Health is expecting all water purveyors to obey their regulations and maintain a very high standard of water quality. (Much higher than the requirements just 20 years ago).

On the other hand, communities, and local governments in particular are required to provide that water in the most efficient and cost effective way.

Protecting the natural filtration of the forest ecosystem is one way used by other communities like Vancouver and Victoria but which is specifically prevented here. Minister Fraser understood this.

Repealing Section 21

We reminded Minister Fraser that communities like Port Alberni that are surrounded by private forest land have no ability to control or plan what happens on that land.

We related to him that this is a serious impediment to both proper management, and a constructive relationship with the owners and forest managers of that land.

While land owners would have to be compensated in some way for any impediment to their historic operations, if the playing field is levelled so that communities have as much say as they normally would in any other land use decision, then was forward can be found.

Our water supply in Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley remains under direct threat from forest operations within the watershed. We must work hard to avoid the massive capital and annual operational costs (I would estimate $50 Million and $50,000 respectively) suffered in neighbouring communities.

Road Access and Mosaic’s changing attitude

The discussion quickly turned to road access for the public on private lands and one revelation from the constituency staff was particularly surprising.

They are getting far less complaints from constituents.

This surprised the group of us as we all have continued to hear about the ongoing issues in the backcountry.

Whereas the office was fielding dozens of calls not too long ago, in the past few months the office has only received a handful of complaints about road access.

The forest companies ask the office about complaints so if they do not see many complaints then the companies might be getting a mixed message.

The message here should be:

Keep reporting issues to the MLA’s office!

Not only does it make the MLA aware, it helps to strengthen their hand when they talk to the forest companies and those messages are passed to the companies as well. We have great constituency staff in our community, make sure you use them to your advantage (they are there to work for you of course!)

Mosaic is shifting?

MLA Fraser related about conversations he had had with Mosaic as recently as the day before and how their attitudes and willingness to consider new ideas and talk about ongoing issues has changed compared to when it was only Island Timberlands or Timberwest.

Today’s news about the ACRD and Mosaic working together “to discuss improving access to parks and recreational areas” might be further indications of that.

We need to be open to Mosaic’s shift. That said, we can’t lose sight of the goal of protecting the watershed and ensuring the public has proper access to the backcountry.

Minister Fraser also related that Mosaic has been in a difficult financial situation before their shut down of operations recently.

This might also be why their attitude is changing. They might see the ongoing general turmoil in the larger forest economy as a time to shift focus. Now might be the time for all people, forest workers, community activists, and others to come together to figure out how best to move the forestry industry forward so it is sustainable for all involved.

It is clear that we have reached the end of the line for the way forests have been managed up to now.

Bringing Issues to the Minister

Minister Fraser committed to using his good relationship with the Minister of Forests (FLNRORD) to raise the watershed, issues, and community control issues, with him. The private managed forest land act continues to be reviewed and the response from government to the comments received has not yet come out. Our meeting with Minister Fraser will hopefully be captured and considered during that process before the PMFL program is changed.

Fraser also reminded us that the review on the PMFL program was a direct result of the concerns raised by this region. So they are hopefully listening to us. Hopefully they continue to!

Meeting with Mosaic coming.

Minister Fraser indicated that Mosaic seemed willing to meet with our group, and others, to address ongoing concerns. This is a pretty big shift from the days of Island Timberlands. We’re looking forward to that meeting in the new year!

Thank you to Minister Scott Fraser for having us and for being so open as he always is.

And thanks to everyone who was able to come (including some not in the picture) and especially to constituency office rep Andrea McDonald (who’s behind the camera), for setting up this meeting and sticking to it. It took a long time to happen, but it did and hopefully another is coming soon!

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