A heavily logged mountainside in Port Alberni has watchdogs concerned the B.C. government failed to notice clear violations of provincial forestry practices.

An investigation launched by B.C.’s Forest Practices Board found a scenic mountainside on the Port Alberni Inlet was over-logged — twice — according to provincial ‘visual quality’ standards, and the ministry of forests was warned of the violations, but failed to act.

“The government’s enforcement of visual management in that instance was not adequate or appropriate,” said Tim Ryan, director of the FPB.

The area was cut by foresters from the Tseshaht First Nation.

According to the report, in 2011, logging left large scars across the landscape visible from the Port Alberni Harbour — a practice that is not allowed in the area, according to legislation.

One year later, the Tseshaht First Nation was granted a second licence by the province to log the same hillside.

After class finding

Last year, a crew of FPB investigators attended a course in Port Alberni on provincial ‘visual quality’ objectives — the regional standards loggers must follow so clear-cuts don’t become eye-sores to the public and take away from pristine landscapes.

After class, they visited the harbour quay, where they noticed clear cuts on a mountainside down the inlet that appeared to violate the region’s visual quality standards.

The sighting was enough to launch an investigation.

“Once the board sees a potential non-compliance, we can initiate our own investigation — we don’t have to wait for a public complaint,” said Ryan.

Repeat offences

The investigation, released this September, found the Tseshaht First Nation had originally over-logged the hillside in 2011.

According to the report, the inspector informed the ministry’sCompliance and Enforcement department — the agency responsible for holding logging companies accountable for delinquent operations — of the violations. The department decided not to follow through with an investigation — despite advice from a government lawyer.

“They had been given legal advice from Crown Counsel — that Crown Counsel believed that they could pursue a full compliance and enforcement investigation with respect to the visual management,” he said
But the provincial enforcers decided not to follow through with the advice.A year later, the Tseshaht First Nation applied for a second licence on the same hillside. According to the FPB’s investigation, the application featured old photos of the hillside before it had been logged, and contained a faulty visual impact assessment.The application was approved by the ministry’s district manager, and the already damaged hillside was logged — again.

Taking report seriously

The investigation was launched in 2015 and took a year to complete. According to Tim Ryan, the government is taking the FPB’s report seriously.”There needs to be a renewed emphasis and awareness of visual [quality],” he said. “And they will start their process.”Ryan said he hopes it will lead to improved logging operations across the province.”Either we manage for visuals, as we’ve committed to the public, and other important values…. or we don’t do it.”Neither the ministry nor the Tseshaht First Nation were available to comment.