MLA Bill Bennett was invited to the Elkford Lamplighter Pub on Wednesday, June 17 to discuss several issues, including Jemi Fibre’s cutting near Josephine Falls.

The meeting, hosted by the Elkford Chamber of Commerce, invited locals, councillors and District of Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher to bring forward their concerns, many of which were addressed by Bennett.

Highlighted concerns included the amount of land that was clear cut near Josephine Falls, the lack of cleanup following the clear cutting and the way the trail system was poorly treated during the logging process.

“Our main concern of course is Josephine Falls and the trail system in there and the way that they’ve been logging it,” McKerracher said of Jemi Fibre’s logging practices. “They clear cut up there pretty bad and left a pretty good mess.”

Bennett acknowledged the public’s concerns, noting that the company “came with a bad reputation.”

“I was warned about them by people who live in the Fernie area. Dean [McKerracher] called me and let me know that I should be paying attention and looking into their business practices,” Bennett added.

The local MLA, however, noted that Jemi Fibre Corp. must abide by the Private Managed Forest Land Act (PMFLA), which requires them to adhere to certain standards.

“It’s a way of encouraging people who own private land with forest on it to manage it the same way we manage Crown land,” Bennett explained. “I can’t speak to what they did here around Elkford but I can tell you that there are ways to control them, one is through the Private Managed Forest Land Council.”

By being a part of that association, Jemi Fibre Corp. is eligible for a series of tax breaks.

Bennett also advised the public to bring their logging concerns forward to Canfor — the major purchaser of Jemi Fibre’s wood.

According to Jemi Fibre Corp.’s Woodlands Manager Andrew McCuaig, the company must adhere to another set of standards set in place by Canfor in order to log.

“All the cutting we would have done would adhere to those regulations,” McCuaig said of the PMFLA, adding, “As well, our main customer for our wood is Canfor, so we have to jump through a separate set of hoops with Canfor.”

Included in Canfor’s logging practice standards is the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) Certification, which ensures that all products come from responsibly managed forests that are evaluated to meet FSC’s strict environmental and social standards.

“We have to make sure that we’re satisfying our regulator as well as satisfying Canfor [and ensuring them] that the wood coming from the forest that we log is made in their chain of custody standards,” McCuaig added.

During the meeting, Bennett noted that McCuaig recently accompanied the chair and Chief Executive Director of the Private Managed Forest Council on a helicopter tour of the area to ensure they were properly adhering to their standards.

“They are very much aware of the concerns that have been raised throughout the Elk Valley about how Jemi’s going to operate,” Bennett said. “I haven’t heard yet what the results of that are.”

McCuaig, however, said he believed the tour was successful, adding, “It was a positive field trip. The feedback we got on the logging we looked at was fine.”

In addition to Canfor and the Private Managed Forest Council’s standards, Bennett also advised the public that the province can look into how their private land logging might affect Crown land.

Steps can be taken if Jemi Fibre’s clear cutting is found to be causing siltation.

Bennett added, “I need to figure out if the silvaculture approach Jemi is proposing is out of the ordinary. Are they proposing to approach their silvaculture differently than other foresting companies?”

In addition, locals in attendance raised concern over torn down signage near the Josephine Falls trails system, Elkford council’s limited intervention and the land not being cleaned up following Jemi Fibre’s clear cutting.

McKerracher, however, informed the public that council was involved with Jemi Fibre from the beginning and, after several meetings with representatives, the District of Elford’s senior staff were satisfied with what the company was proposing.

He added, “When Jemi signed up here, Elkford council was involved right from day one and trying to slow them down on the way they were operating and the way they were working.”

“Since the three mayors and one director of the valley [Mayor Mary Giuliano, Mayor Dean McKerracher, Mayor Cal McDougall and RDEK Area A Director Mike Sosnowski] started to put pressure on them though the Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, I think they’ve slowed down and they’ve changed some of their operation.”

Bennett also explained that under the Forest and Range Practices Act, Jemi Fibre are required to leave coarse woody debris behind to help regenerate the land.

In terms of destroyed signage, McCuaig explained that Jemi Fibre Corp. would be financing new trail signage.

“Jemi is going to put a new sign at the head of the trail and pay for any signs along the trail,” he said.

Despite some of the public’s questions being answered by Bennett, many still expressed concern over the amount of land that was clear cut.

Bennett, however, advised the public that if Jemi Fibre Corp. is found to be in breach of Canfor or the Private Managed Forest Council’s regulations, they will be penalized.

“That organization [the Private Managed Forest Council] has the power to strip Jemi of its status as a member of that organization and they would have to pay a whole bunch more taxes,” he explained. “We’re lucky we’ve got all that industrial activity, but it comes with obligations to manage it properly.”