The future of logging in the municipal forest on Mount Prevost is being hotly debated. (Photo courtesy of Chris Istace)

The future of logging in the municipal forest on Mount Prevost is being hotly debated. (Photo courtesy of Chris Istace)

Guest column: Cowichan Valley’s Six Mountains Forest: war or peace? The choice is ours

No other level of government or forestry company owns these forests

By Ice Dobell

History shows that how we treat people mirrors how we treat nature. Most nations have warred against other nations — so we war against the forests. When we fall forests we sever vital root and mycelium connections; then we replace ecosystems with timber plantations. Disconnected, the next generation of trees are susceptible to drought, erosion, wind, fire, and viruses. As in nature, so in our nations, and so in our Valley — to be strong, vibrant, healthy and happy, we must be connected.

In this beautiful valley we are disconnected and divided about the fate of the Six Mountains Community Forest. We have the power and right to stop logging Tzouhalem, Prevost, Richards, Sicker, Maple Mountain and Stoney Hill. If we come together, we have an opportunity as no other community on the continent.

No other level of government or forestry company owns these forests. We can protect them to become old growth. It is a historic moment. And yet, if we don’t rise together above the division running through our community, our roots and blood lines, our children and future generations will take the fall.

Whether we are newly arrived, have been here generations, or trace our ancestry back millennia, if we keep logging the Six Mountains, our legacy will be tree plantations of diminishing quality.

There is no financial justification. UBC’s Forestry Department says we can earn as much or more from carbon credits as logging. The federal government is seeking to enhance a domestic carbon offset market to apply to municipalities and Indigenous groups. Carbon taxes will increase and so will the market.

But there’s more to it. When we log, our short term profit doesn’t include the inestimable long term cost of coping with tidal waves of invasive species that logging leads to.

Then there is the incalculable cost benefit of the forests revealed by the pandemic. When we hit the wall and our reality crumbles — when we need reason to hope, to have faith in something greater than ourselves, we will flock to the forests for sanity, sanctity and sanctuary. The health of our community is our backbone, our essential resource, a priceless “commodity.”

A town is being built on Tzouhalem. We’re at the beginning of a population explosion. People are arriving to be in nature. Developments are popping up. Trees, with no bylaw to protect them, are coming down in clearcut hectares. Trails are becoming crowded. It doesn’t take a visionary to see what’s coming. We can’t afford to log trees we can protect.

So what are we fighting about?

Recently, I was interviewed for a news story on poaching in our forests and said (not included): these thieves are nothing in comparison with what our community will be stealing from future generations if we keep logging. We’d be gobbling up the last crumbs that could grow into a banquet for them.

But there’s good news. If we opt for carbon credits, the money would be used to manage and protect the forests. Going forward there’d be no financial incentive to war on the forests or to fight about them.

The problem is that public consultation is stuck between governments. The municipality and First Nations are negotiating. About what? How to protect the forests for future generations? We’ve been told nothing. We’ve been waiting more than a year.

In pubic meetings, First Nations Elders, advocating to stop logging, have said that to honour and serve nature is a First Nations value. They say trees are family to their people. So are all living beings in the forests. And, they say, their people traditionally plan for many generations.

Every time I hear these words I’m filled with hope. I understand there are other points of view. As in North Cowichan, so in the First Nations: some want to log.

But I believe most people, of all backgrounds, want to protect the forests — that most are motivated by love for children and nature: it’s the universal language. In our hearts we know what is true.

The forests are sacred and should be accessible for all people, with no “No Trespassing” signs. It’s time to share what we know about the rare, endangered forest ecosystems surrounding us — time for understanding, time for our roots to connect together through the forests, before time runs out.

In an ecosystem, different species of trees, appearing to be competitors for resources, often join their roots to share, nourish, anchor, and warn each other about viruses and aggressors. Thus connected they overcome hardship and flourish. As in nature, so be it in our Valley.

As a community divided, if we come together now, we may be remembered as ancestors who declared peace on the mountains and in the valley far below.

We can vote for old growth forests to be our legacy. We can let council know where we stand: council@northcowichan.ca

Icel Dobell is a founder of Where Do We Stand, a group advocating for stopping logging in the North Cowichan municipal forest.

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