Demonstrators rally for better watershed protection, Saturday, April 6 at the Forest Ministry office on Cherry Creek Road. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Demonstrators demand action on Port Alberni watershed, public access to backcountry

Some promise seen in coast sector revitalization initiative, say protesters

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

Demonstrators who rallied in Port Alberni on Saturday for long promised changes in forest policy see some hope in the provincial government’s recently announced coast sector revitalization initiative.

Others who took part in the morning march from the Forest Ministry office to MLA Scott Fraser’s office — frustrated by accelerated logging, curtailed public access and cut blocks in the city’s watershed — said the time for government to act has long passed.

“So far I’ve watched our watershed decimated,” said Judy Thompson. “Now it’s happening on the Beaufort (Range).”

Thompson encouraged people to engage in civil disobedience of the sort the coast hasn’t had in 25 years: “We are going to have to stand on the roads,” she said. “We have to put our asses on the line.”

Forest March was part of a provincewide campaign by the B.C. Coalition for Forestry Reform, which wants to see sustainable forest practices, greater watershed protection and ecosystem restoration. In Port Alberni, the march focused primarily on the city’s watershed where extensive logging continues.

Former city councillor Chris Alemany is among residents who worry that the logging will force local taxpayers to pay for a costly water filtration system.

“I hope we can work together to bring the government along,” he told the crowd. “The community should have control over our watershed.”

Several among the 50 or 60 people who joined the march carried placards indicating they were there for another compelling reason: restricted public access. A year after Fraser held a community forum where the issue of public access was foremost, there has been no improvement.

“Every time I walk in the forest, I’m met by great big yellow gates,” one man said. “We hope the government will have some kind of social conscience to take the gates down.”

READ: Locked out of the woods

Edna Cox, who led the march, said she didn’t want an angry protest. Rather, she wants the government to assure increased transparency and public accountability with forest management decisions that directly affect communities.

“I know people are here for different reasons,” Cox said, drawing attention to the province’s revitalization initiative.

Announced in January by Premier John Horgan, the initiative is supposed to increase the milling of B.C. logs on the coast and reduce wood waste by redirecting it to pulp and paper mills. Among its five goals: Restoring public confidence by amending the Forest and Range Practices Act and auditing the privately managed forest land regime.

Fraser did not attend the weekend march, instead issuing a statement that acknowledged there is still much work to be done on improving forest management and conservation.

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Forest March makes its way down Johnston Road from the ministry of forestry office to that of Mid-Island Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

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