Wells Gray Chronicles

Broken-treaty Governance: Democracy Alert

BC Government Actions & Infractions in
Upper Clearwater, North of Spahats Creek:
December 1977 through December 2016

Community Alert | Democracy Alert | Caribou Alert

SYNOPSIS: There’s a story here: how a small rural community in south-central British Columbia entered in good faith into a formal land-use agreement (the Guiding Principles) with the B.C. government – and how the B.C. government, having signed this agreement into effect, proceeded to take what was wanted from it – more wood for market – and then walked resolutely away.

Is there a moral here? If so, then surely it is this: that participatory democracy in rural British Columbia is like a rainbow: it’s there for you only as long as you don’t try to reach out for it.

This broken-treaty style of governance is of course well known to Canada’s first peoples. It’s a kind of governance that most of us in these reconciliatory times of like to think is firmly in the past.

Only it isn’t. The Guiding Principles agreement is proof of that.

  • Note: Red highlighting denotes unprofessional behaviour, poor judgement, and/or adverse consequences by MoF.
  • Note: Red underlined highlighting denotes breach of commitment to the Guiding Principles by MoF.
  • Note: Maroon highlighting denotes unprofessional behaviour by CANFOR.
  • Note: Maroon underlined highlighting denotes breach of commitment to the Guiding Principles by CANFOR.
  • Note: MoF = Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
  • Note: D.M. = District Manager.

“Big Bertha”

Beginning in 1985, MoF approved a succession of permit extensions to Clearwater Timber to undertake further work on the southwestern Trophy Mountain cutblocks. Initially these had been laid out as four long, rectangular blocks oriented northwest-southeast and separated narrow leave strips. By 1985, however, extensive blow down in the leave strips, combined with consequent spruce bark beetle outbreaks, prompted periodic further logging until, by 1987, the leave strips were gone. The result was Big Bertha: a single, amalgamated cutblock 3.75 km long by 2.25 km wide and covering about 550 ha. The creation of Big Bertha (a.k.a Big Max) liquidated more than 90 per cent of all merchantable oldgrowth on the southwestern slopes the Trophy Mountains, thereby denuding the entire upper watersheds of First and Second Canyon Creeks, and hence leaving them prone to flooding; see 11 July 1997.

Between 1980 and 1987, further permits were approved to Clearwater Timber Products and later Slocan Forest Products to establish ten cutblocks on the northwestern slopes of the Trophy Mountains, resulting in the loss of about 80 per cent of the available oldgrowth, and denuding large portions of the upper watersheds of Fage Creek, Ordschig Creek, Duncan Creek and Shook Brook; see 26 May 1992. Note that the four uppermost clearcuts extended well above the recommended upper limits of sustainable forestry – set at about 1675 m by the B.C. Ministry of Environment in 1981 – virtually to timberline.

In the spring of 1981, flooding caused the water intake system of valley residents Les and Pat Hansen to wash out as a result of logging by Clearwater Timber Products on the slopes of the Trophy Mountains above their property. In response, Clearwater Timber Products provided the Hansens with a replacement system.

First Canyon washout

On 26 May 1992, Fage Creek flooded, partly taking out the Clearwater Valley Road and damaging the water intake system of valley residents George and Judy Briggs. Nearby Ordschig Creek also flooded during this same period. Both floods were later attributed to debris from mid-elevation clearcut logging by Slocan Forest Products.

On 17 July 1995, Slocan Forest Products applied to Forest Renewal BC for $25,123.60 in public funds to repair the poorly constructed haul roads in the Fage Creek watershed. Notwithstanding numerous subsequent enquiries to MoF staff, Mr. Briggs has been unable to establish whether remedial action was ever undertaken.

On 11 July 1997, prolonged summer rain caused First Canyon Creek to wash out Clearwater Valley Road, creating a cleft 40 m deep and 20 m across, and stranding valley residents and park visitors for several days. The same rain event blocked the culvert at Second Canyon Creek and caused the road to shift downhill.

Spahats Creek washout

On 8 July 1999, a prolonged summer rain event caused Spahats Creek to tear out its culvert and the Clearwater Valley Road. Upstream logging is implicated in this event.

On 17 July 2001, prolonged summer rain caused Grouse Creek to wash out the bridge crossing on the Wells Gray Park Road – the fourth such event at least partly traceable to clearcut logging on the Trophy Mountains. Conclusion: Land management decisions taken by MoF between 1978 and 1987 contributed substantially to the destruction of road and bridges, thereby ultimately cost B.C. taxpayers $6 million – $7 million in repairs. As far as is known, none of this cost was borne by industry.

In about 2002, MoF quietly deleted two of the seven Plan Areas originally included in the Guiding Principles, i.e., Area C and the southwestern portion of Plan Area G. Apparently, the first deletion was intended to free up additional land for Woodlot 0302, while the second facilitated salvage logging north of Third Canyon Creek.

In the summer of 2003, MoF approved a permit to CANFOR to salvage log about 50 ha within Plan Area G east of the Park road north of Third Canyon Creek. Contrary to the Guiding Principles, this was undertaken without consultation with the Referral Group.

On 31 January 2004, the BC government completed its transition from the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act (FPC) to the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA). Under FPC, the MoF D.M. had final authority to withhold cutting and road permits, whereas under FRPA (a professional reliance model), that authority was transferred to the logging companies themselves – and, through them, to the professional foresters, hydrologists, terrain specialists and others hired to advise them. From this point on, all logging proposals that meet an approved forest stewardship plan and respect First Nations rights and title MUST be approved. Hence the MoF D.M. can no longer withhold a cutting permit or road permit based on input from a third party such as the Referral Group. This of course effectively countermands the Guiding Principles, which relied on the MoF D.M. to adjudicate cutting proposals.

Analysis by the Upper Clearwater Referral Group: Given that the Guiding Principles had been signed into effect in May 1999, five years prior to FRPA, and given that this document constituted a local land use plan under the Kamloops LRMP, and further given that the Kamloops LRMP was grandfathered into FRPA, it seems clear that the Guiding Principles document ought to have received the same treatment. Regrettably, it did not. Whether deliberately or through oversight, MoF failed to ensure this agreement was accommodated under FRPA. Nor did it notify the Referral Group of the situation – notwithstanding its involvement, on 22 November 2000, in establishing the Referral Group’s terms of reference. Be this as it may, the net result is that the Guiding Principles document now has no legal standing under FRPA – a fact that continues to cause considerable ambiguity with regard to its implementation.

In the summer of 2006, MoF approved a permit to log a healthy forest on the south face of Buck Hill in support of proposed mining for decorative lava rock. Contrary to the Guiding Principles, the Referral Group was not consulted.

On 6 September 2006, MoF engaged with the Referral Group concerning a request to salvage log dead Pine in Plan Area G east of the Clearwater Valley Road near Grouse Creek. The Referral Group endorsed this permit, but was later disturbed to learn that it was subsequently expanded include a nearby area that supported virtually no Pine. Later inspection of cut stumps revealed that the overwhelming target species here was birch, not pine – an infraction brought to the attention of MoF in March 2007. No action was taken.

During the summer of 2012, residents of Upper Clearwater wrote many letters to CANFOR expressing concern for downstream impacts of its proposed industrial-scale logging. The letters remain unanswered.

On 9 July 2012, CANFOR president and CEO Don Kayne publicly summarized the terms of his company’s social license, in part stating: “CANFOR does not support actions that would overturn landscape objectives set through public planning processes unless there is full public consultation and support;” and “We will not support actions that impact parks, riparian areas or areas that provide critical habitat for species at risk, or other important environmental values such as biodiversity and old growth.”

On 15 August 2012, the Referral Group sent a letter to MoF summarizing the outcome of the public meeting on 17 June and requesting confirmation that MoF would respect the Guiding Principles. Concern was expressed that CANFOR was already working in Plan Area G despite no responses having been received either by CANFOR or from MoF. The letter remains unanswered.

On 23 October 2013, Upper Clearwater resident George Briggs wrote a 17-page letter to MoF outlining the downstream impact of medium- and high-elevation logging within the watersheds of Fage and Ordschig Creeks between 1980 and 1987 (see 26 May 1992), and requesting confirmation that remedial action was ever undertaken to repair substandard road construction by Slocan Forest Products. The letter remains unanswered.

On 26 March 2014, the Referral Group met with CANFOR and MoF to discuss CANFOR’s latest cutting plans. The Referral Group notes that under the Guiding Principles the residents of Upper Clearwater endorsed the creation/expansion of three woodlots they did not want, totalling 1350 ha. The question MoF now needs to answer is: What did valley residents get in return if not the right to expect the intent of the Guiding Principles to be upheld? This question remains unanswered.

In April 2014, the Referral Group collates the block-by-block information provided by CANFOR at the 26 March meeting, indicating concerns where appropriate. The document is then submitted to CANFOR for review, in the expectation that at least some adjustments to CANFOR’s logging plans would result. The document goes unacknowledged and no response is ever received.

On 22 April 2014, Scott Huyghebaert, lawyer for Upper Clearwater landowner Roland Neave, sends a letter to CANFOR voicing concern for downstream effects of industrial scale logging in Plan Area G above his property. The letter remains unanswered.

On 27 April 2014, the Referral Group made a second presentation on CANFOR’s logging plans to about 50 valley residents at a meeting of the Upper Clearwater Farmers’ Institute (UCFI). In light of overwhelming opposition to CANFOR’s plans in their current iteration, UCFI was instructed to write to CANFOR calling for “a moratorium on industrial-scale logging in Upper Clearwater “until such time as the effects on community values, wildlife and tourism have been fully addressed by a wide range of stakeholders.” The letter was sent on 9 May 2014 but remains unacknowledged and unanswered.

On 22 May 2014, the Clearwater Times carried a letter from the Wells Gray Action Committee, calling for “a moratorium on industrial-scale logging in Upper Clearwater “until such time as the full impact of CANFOR’s plan has been fully addressed by a wide range of stakeholders.”. The letter was also cc’d to Don Kayne, president and CEO of CANFOR, but remains unanswered.

On 29 May 2014, Second Canyon Creek blocks the culvert at the park road, backing up and nearly washing out the Clearwater Valley Road.

On 3 June 2014, Scott Huyghebaert, lawyer for Upper Clearwater landowner Roland Neave, sends a second letter to CANFOR, pointing out that the scope of CANFOR’s planned logging operations is inconsistent with the intent of the Guiding Principles. The letter remains unanswered.

On 9 June 2014, the Referral Group wrote to MoF, communicating the results of the public meetings held on 27 April and 16 May 2014 and expressing growing concern that the Guiding Principles were being disregarded by CANFOR and by MoF. The letter noted, for example, that CANFOR’s plans for industrial scale logging in Plan Area G were at variance with the maintenance “within their natural range of variability” of “water quality, quantity and timing of flow” in six streams named in the Guiding Principles. Frustration was also expressed that letters of concern were not being answered by either CANFOR or MoF. This letter also remains unanswered.

On 14 August 2014, the Clearwater Times ran a letter from Roland Neave, Upper Clearwater landowner, expressing concern that two letters sent by his lawyer to CANFOR in April and May 2014 remain unanswered. This letter elicited an immediate e-mail and voicemail response from CANFOR’s Director of Public Affairs and Responsibility, urging Mr. Neave to be in touch with CANFOR – precisely what Mr. Neave’s lawyer had been attempting to do since 22 April.

On 16 March 2015, valley landowner Roland Neave sent a letter to CANFOR expressing ongoing concern for hydrologic impacts of industrial-scale logging: “Although you have assured me verbally that there is little likelihood of [Shook Brook’s] typical flow patterns, you refused to put this in writing. … The lessons from earlier logging on Trophy Mountain should have been an opportunity for you to learn that this mountainside is a sensitive area for stream flow.” The letter remains unanswered.

On 1 October 2015, lawyer Ethan Krindle sends a letter to MoF on behalf the Wells Gray Action Committee, representing approximately 300 members: “…the Ministry must honour its public commitments to the residents of Upper Clearwater, as codified in the Guiding Principles, and also uphold its obligation to the residents of the greater Clearwater area as stakeholders in a future that will be affected by CANFOR’s plans for the valley and the Ministry’s subsequent response to those plans.” The letter remains unanswered.

On 7 December 2015, BC Timber Sales (BCTS) Woodlands Manager Steve Webb called Referral Group spokesperson Trevor Goward to advise that industrial logging would commence on the western slopes of the Clearwater Valley in the next few days. Though he claimed that the Referral Group had been sent a letter requesting input, no such letter was ever received – nor was any further attempt made to engage with the Referral Group. Result: Contrary to standard government practice, MoF BCTS approved extensive logging without consultation with local residents.

On 6 April 2016, CANFOR informed the Referral Group that MoF had recently approved two permits for logging on the west side of the Clearwater Valley. Logging in fact had already begun. This came as a shock to the Referral Group, who had been led to believe this area was under discussion. In effect this represented a betrayal of the Information Exchange Process by CANFOR (which applied for the permits), and of the Guiding Principles by MoF (which approved the permits without consultation with the Referral Group).

On 9 April 2016, Volcanologist Dr. Catherine Hickson wrote an e-mail to CANFOR, in which she provided background information concerning the possibility of slope failure resulting from CANFOR’s proposed logging above First, Second and Third Canyons. This letter remains unacknowledged.

On 16 May 2016, Volcanologist Dr. Catherine Hickson wrote to CANFOR pointing out that refusing to allow a professional Geologist to review CANFOR’s stability report “is an odd position to take” given that none of the Referral Group members are qualified to do so.

On 7 July 2016, Volcanologist Dr. Catherine Hickson wrote to Kamloops MLA Dr. Terry Lake expressing concern over CANFOR’s refusal to make its slope stability report available for review by qualified professionals. “Is this a CANFOR policy or one of the Government of British Columbia?”

On 13 July 2016, CANFOR disclosed during an open house in Clearwater that CANFOR Vavenby’s ongoing and proposed logging in Upper Clearwater would yield about 20 to 25 per cent of its annual allowable cut.

Assessment by the Referral Group: This is the answer to a question asked repeatedly by the Referral Group at its meetings with CANFOR – a question that CANFOR refused to answer until the open house. Logging the Clearwater Valley would thus keep the Vavenby mill running two to three months longer than it would otherwise run.

On 24 November 2016, B.C. Information Access Operations released Freedom of Information request FNR-2016-62778. The request was for “reports and documents related to the application and processing of the request of CANFOR to log in the Upper Clearwater Valley; reports and documents related to the application of the Guiding Principles agreed upon by the residents of the Upper Clearwater Valley, CANFOR and the Ministry.” The document contains clear evidence of unethical information sharing by B.C. Timber Sales. See also UNCIVIL SERVANTS.

On 12 December 2016, members of the Referral Group received an e-mail from MoF D.M. Rachael Pollard informing them that she had approved two permits to CANFOR: one to salvage log a block called T121 immediately south of Buck Hill (which the Referral Group was aware of); and the other to extend an existing permit (which the Referral Group was not aware of). According to Ms. Pollard, “CANFOR has met the conditions for issuing or amending these permits and none of the limited circumstances in which permits can be refused apply. Accordingly, I am required by law to issue the cutting and road authorities, which I have now done.”

Analysis by the Referral Group: Regrettably, no reference is made by Ms. Pollard to her promise to give serious consideration to MoF’s moral obligation to the Guiding Principles, nor of her requirement under the Guiding Principles itself to engage with the Referral Group on both applications, nor indeed of her pledge (three times reconfirmed) to do so prior to any decision being made. The Referral Group takes the position that MoF D.M. Rachael Pollard’s failure to honour her responsibility to the Referral Group constitutes a flagrant lack of respect for the terms of the Guiding Principles – the more so because it comes on the heels of a year-long Information Exchange Process during which the Referral Group and MoF had begun to rebuild a level of trust. By so flagrantly acting in poor faith, Ms. Pollard has unfortunately now shattered that trust. It must understood that Ms. Pollard’s failure to respect the Guiding Principles is by no means the first insult it has sustained from MoF. Similar or even more egregious betrayals are referenced in the above time line, for example under Summer 2002, Early 2004, 6 September 2006, 6 April 2016. Taken together, these form a pattern of betrayal that can no longer be ignored. By her recent action, Ms. Pollard has given the Referral Group a definitive answer to the question first put to MoF in 2012: Will MoF stand by its commitment to the Guiding Principles? The answer is: No, it will not. On the contrary, MoF washed its hands of the Guiding Principles many years ago and has since then been engaging with the Referral Group in bad faith.

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