Park Place Lodge

I’m catching up on posts on Facebook and noticed the following Wildsight event titled Fernie clear-cuts: A public forum on private land logging.

The event description reads, “Are you worried about the clear-cutting around Fernie? Join us for a public forum on logging on private land in the Elk Valley to learn about what’s going to be logged next, how much has already been cut and why private forest land logging in the Elk Valley hurts our communities, trails, environment and wildlife.

You’ll have a chance to learn why the Elk Valley is unique, with a third of the landscape in private hands and one eighth private forest owned by Canwel, and why logging in private forests barely has to follow any rules at all. Come share your views with the community and learn how we can work together for more community control of our landscape, including Ridgemont and much more.”

At the risk of being branded “sour grapes” I decide to offer my knowledge of the above concern.

As mayor for two terms and councillor for three my time was spent working on concerns brought forward by staff and Council and by the citizens of this community. I believed that as a member of council it was my duty to listen to the concerns of the electorate and respond. And I did. Those that spoke about their fears and worries weren’t always satisfied with the response. Case in point, staff use of pesticides to eradicate invasive weeds that multiplied and become a real concern not only aesthetically but environmentally. The City pesticide bylaw allows this as does provincial law.

I had an open door policy so if I was in the office and available no one needed an appointment to come meet with me. I responded to all emails and phone calls as well. This provided opportunities to assist people with their concerns as I often brought them forward to staff and council.

When Tembec was sold to Jemi Fibre it was said that clear cutting was to happen so I set up meetings with their representatives and Council as well as with myself and the CAO Jim Hendricks where concerns were expressed repeatedly. I recall stating that clear cutting Fernie’s viewscapes would be extremely detrimental to the environment, to the wildlife and to the tourist industry and the town’s economy, to which a quiet but firm response was that “this is our economy too”.

When Canwell purchased Jemi Fibre they were contacted as well and came before Council to present. With concerns mounting Area A director Mike Sosnowski and I joined forces and held numerous meetings that included our neighbouring council members and their staff, members of the provincial ministry, forestry and other stakeholders. I recall one meeting with Ryland Nelson and John Berginski in Cranbrook at the Ministry office where we hoped that we could join forces to combat the threat of clearcutting. We were shown videos and given information by Ministry personnel that was informative but no clear response except that on privately owned land the owners have free rein to log however they want as this is allowed.

We didn’t stop there we continued to ask questions and have meetings including one held at the Seniors Center that wasn’t allowed to be advertised as the companies requested that in order to attend.

However the press was there and so were government staff members, council members from the neighbouring communities and invited guests. Much was done and said for months but in the end nothing changed as companies want to recoup their investment and clear cutting is the fastest way to do that.

During this time nothing more was heard from Wildsight, I was very disappointed that they weren’t participating in the same manner as they did when BP wanted to do methane extraction in our area. Back then successful demonstrations were held, residents will recall the one that had over two hundred participants some dressed in costume carrying colourful banners parading down Second Avenue telling BP to leave. I fully expected that this type of protest would be fully replicated because in my view clear cutting is just as detrimental however Wildsight’ s silence was almost deafening.

Last September I was informed that members of the community were posting that I was responsible for clearcutting of Ridgemont lands. I was shocked because a mayor doesn’t have authority to tell corporations and businesses what to do. A mayor can ask for meetings but they can’t make decisions that are binding without a motion by council. I contacted the Ridgemont lands owner and asked if it was possible to use logging practices that wouldn’t eradicate the beauty of the forest they owned that was the beautiful backdrop to Fernie. I brought forward all of the concerns stated previously with other companies. I was respectful and understanding of their economic situation. I also told them of the Ridgemont residents who were deeply worried about possible landslides as this had happened previously in the area when it was first built out. I asked Ridgemont residents representative Kathy Stead to write me a letter that I forwarded to the owners. After much correspondence by email and phone VAST Resources their logging contractor, Parastone their land manager, Wildsight, a Council member and several residents and other stakeholder were brought together for a tour of the land. Changes were made to how the logging was to be done and wanting to get it on the public record I asked VAST to please come and present before Council on the changes, I believe the video of that meeting may be available on the city website.

Until recently Wildsight to my knowledge wasn’t active in this concern. The rumor was that a deal was crafted with Jemi Fiber for Wildsight to have use of lands however this wasn’t honored by the new company.

The coming meeting is for people to get involved in doing something positive, I assume to stop clearcutting.

I would caution the public to think about the repercussions of causing grief and bad publicity to these private companies that have the right to do log as they want as they might just stop all use of their lands. There are many groups that are enjoying recreational opportunities that also contribute greatly to the economy of this town. Please tread thoughtfully and respectfully as a rude public outcry could backfire on the community and surely this is a goal that isn’t desired by anyone.

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