Forest Land: Resource or Real Estate?

Although Vancouver Island environmentalists have been voicing a good deal of concern about logging practices and forest conservation for years, there is something that concerns many of them even more: that is that the forest companies will stop logging!

In the coming years, companies like Fletcher Challenge, Canadian Pacific Forest Products and MacMillan Bloedel will be highly tempted to turn some of their private forest land into real estate. How they deal with that temptation will be of critical importance to the future of communities like Lake Cowichan.

A large percentage of land along both Cowichan Lake and River is the property of forest companies. Through a series of land grants between 1884 and 1925, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway acquired almost two million acres on the east slope of Vancouver Island between Sooke and Campbell River. Huge blocks of this area were subsequently sold to logging companies. Most of it has been logged and now supports advanced stages of second growth. This is Canada’s best forest land and has provided the industry with immense profits. It has also provided the employment base for Vancouver Island communities. But for how long?

People continue to pour through the Rockies like Lethbridge Pale Ale. Many of them are headed for Vancouver Island. Land prices continue to rise. A third ferry crossing of Georgia Strait is in the wings and many people who work in Vancouver will live on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Land price and demand will sky rocket, especially prime shore lands like those along Cowichan Lake and river. Will the companies go for windfall real estate profits or bite the bullet, take the long view and continue to manage these lands as resource: working forest.

Although some may think it strange, environmentalists would much prefer that industry maintain the long view. As rough as logging can be on the environment, recovery is usually fairly rapid. But, once forest land is converted to real estate, there is no going back and a new set of irreversible impacts emerge as suburbia sprawls across the land in the form of housing tracts, roads, malls and so on. British Columbia is a province that is highly dependent upon a functional resource base, especially high class forest land. How the province and the forest industry deal with the resource versus real estate question will be a major issue in the near future.

Some companies have already indicated how they may handle it. MacMillan Bloedel is selling its extensive holdings on Galiano Island and a block of land just east of Youbou at Miracle Creek. As far as I know, opposition has been limited to environmentalists on Galiano Island; the same people who have hassled MacMillan Bloedel about logging methods for years. One would suppose the I.W.A. and Share Our Forests groups would have something to say.

When environmentalists lobby for withdrawal of public land from industrial forests for park purposes, these groups and the companies take strong stands on loss of the resource base, (even though it would still be resource but in a different form) . So does the Forest Minister. In a May 14th letter to the Times Colonist he wrote, “if more land is removed from the working forest, there must be compensation”. I hope he applies the same standards to private forests.

It is imperative that everyone concerned with the future of areas like the Cowichan Valley should be prepared to consider how the forest industry will deal with the pressures of urbanization. Will they turn resource land into real estate and hasten the valley’s demise into suburbia or will they maintain the working forest and present lifestyle that so many cherish?

Lake News Column 1988 by Ted Burns


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