A battle is brewing over the future of Wildwood, the renowned 31-hectare Vancouver Island ecoforest founded by the late Merv Wilkinson.
Each side maintains that its plan is best suited to manage and protect the property and honour Wilkinson’s vision. Created as a demonstration site for sustainable forestry, the site has been owned for the past 16 years by the nonprofit Land Conservancy of B.C.
The Victoria-based Land Conservancy has accepted an offer from Mark Randen, who worked with Wilkinson in the past, for the property near Cedar.
But the Ecoforestry Institute Society is vowing to launch legal action if necessary to back up its own bid to buy the land. The society has been managing the site and has made an offer to TLC that is open until Sept. 6.
A sale of Wildwood must be approved in the Supreme Court of B.C.
That’s because it is among properties the Land Conservancy is selling to pay down its debt. In fall 2013, it was granted protection from creditors and a monitor has been in place.
TLC is aiming to wrap up creditor protection under a plan currently being developed. It owes about $700,000 to secured creditors and another $3.5 million to unsecured creditors.
Selling Wildwood and two other properties should bring in $1.8 million that would go to creditors, TLC executive director Cathy Armstrong said Thursday.
Randen is an ecoforester who runs a woodlot on Gabriola Island and who was a long-time apprentice of Wilkinson, she said. He has been interested in buying the property for a number of years.
The agreement with Randen includes a covenant and forest management plan to protect Wilkinson’s legacy of Wildwood as a working ecoforest, Armstrong said. There is no mortgage involved in his offer.
Randen would pay $625,000 to the society, which would go towards creditor debt, Armstrong said. This agreement includes another $100,000 in creditor forgiveness. Randen could not be reached Thursday.
Since his offer does not include any mortgages, the plan is more appealing, Armstrong said.
TLC had worked with the Ecoforestry Society earlier, she said. “We really made every effort to get them to the finish line.”
The two societies had earlier signed agreements and had court dates lined up but the sale failed to complete.
Environmentalist Vicky Husband, a TLC member, favours Randen’s offer, saying he worked with Wilkinson for a dozen years and is dedicated to ecoforestry.
Far too much ancient forest has been lost to logging and Wildwood can demonstrate how logging can be done differently, she said. “We need this.”
Kathy Code, Ecoforestry Society spokeswoman, said their group is offering $700,000, which would include a $450,000 mortgage, as well as creditor forgiveness of more than $100,000. A trust deed and covenant would be placed on the property’s title to protect its use for ecoforestry, and a forestry management plan would be in place.
“EIS believes that Wildwood is held by the TLC in trust and that a private sale contravenes the Charitable Purposes Preservation Act — since Wildwood was purchased with $1 million in public donations, it can only be sold to a like-minded charitable society,” the Ecoforestry Society said in a statement.
Their plan would mean the Ecoforestry Society would hold Wildwood in a public trust, Code said.
“We feel that we hold a responsibility to Merv” and to the original donors, she said.
The group is prepared to mount a legal challenge to support its position, she said.
Code said the society would be willing to participate in mediation rather than a court process. “Court is a last resort.”
A new campaign called “I want my donation back” is being launched by the Ecoforestry Society because of the direction in which TLC is headed, Code said.
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