Stella-Jones faces down criticism at Begbie Bench open house
Friday’s open house about plans by Stella-Jones to log in the Begbie Bench area was unusual. Stella-Jones showed up well prepared, with a timeline outlining its operations in the area, a map detailing exactly where would be logged, simulated images showing how the view would be impacted from different areas around Revelstoke, and three staffers on hand to answer questions.
The problem, of course, was the timing. The open house was held on Friday, prompted by a request from Loni Parker, the director for rural Revelstoke. She got wind of the plans at a wildfire committee meeting – months after they were first reported in this paper, and after road work had already been completed on the Begbie Forest Service Road that leads through the area.
In short, logging looks to be a done deal. It’s been approved by government forestry officials and work has started. The open house was simply an information session held to placate the public. Stella-Jones representatives emphasized it was an information session, not a consultation.
The public reaction to the logging was largely negative (at least during the hour I was at the open house). The complaints centred on two things – that there was no public consultation before work was started, and that the logging would make a popular recreation area ugly. Some local residents said the logging would have a negative impact on their property values and create traffic hazards due logging traffic on Mt. Begbie Road.
The logging will take place on four main cut blocks in the area, each of which are about 15 hectares. Two are located south of Begbie Creek, and those garnered less concern. The two others to the north of the creek were the subject of the biggest criticism. Of those, the northern one would intersect the Quarry Trail, while the southern one would cut across the Hemlock Groove trail and intersect a lengthy section of the road leading to Begbie Falls.
The logging plans were advertised in the Times Review in May and we reported on the plans in a May 23 story. The Revelstoke Cycling Association responded, asking that certain areas are protected. Several other mountain bikers, a few climbers and one cross-country skier also provided feedback, said Ashley Ladyman, a forester with Stella-Jones.
Beyond that, the news seemed to have gone unnoticed. Director Parker didn’t hear about it until recently and local residents also weren’t informed directly. While a lot of criticism was directed at the Stella-Jones employees on hand, a lot was also directed at the government for approving logging in such a popular area. There was also criticism that the 1993 Begbie Falls Integrated Resource Plan (BFIRP) that governed use of the area was not updated when changes to government regulations made it redundant in 2007.
What happens next is still up in the air. Ladyman wouldn’t comment when asked if there was a chance Stella-Jones would halt its logging plans. Meanwhile, the CSRD passed a motion at its monthly board meeting on Thursday asking Stella Jones to halt logging until a new resource plan is in place. The motion also calls for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to recognize all existing plans and for the ministry to direct forest companies to consult with the public when they operate near communities.
In a letter to the board, Parker wrote: “There is no requirement for public consultation and Forest Companies are not required to send referrals to local government regarding plans to harvest in locations near communities or in areas of special interest such as Begbie Falls. However "stakeholders" still needed to be advised… I believe it is in the public interest that the BFIRP be revisited and revised to take into considerations growing public use of the area, wildlife consideration and visual components from Mt MacKenzie before harvesting commences.”
Ladyman wouldn’t comment on Parker’s letter because he had yet to read it at the time of the open house. Stella-Jones says it has to log somewhere to meet its annual allowable cut and that it has avoided logging the area but now it has no choice because other areas in its Timber Supply Area (which includes Boulder Mountain and Frisby Ridge) have been logged to the max.
Residents of the area mulled the idea of a peaceful blockade to halt logging. As of press time, it was unknown if Stella-Jones would go back on its logging plans, though it seems doubtful given the money they've already spent and the impact it could have on their future annual allowable cut. They are still accepting feedback at email@example.com