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Report estimates 141 species at risk in Municipal Forest Reserve

An estimated 141 species at risk are found in North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, according to a consultant’s draft report released after a freedom-of-information request by sixmountains.ca.

The 141 species include 64 vascular plants, 16 insects, 21 breeding birds, 14 molluscs, 10 mammals, eight mosses, three each of amphibians and fishes, and two reptiles.

The list includes species that have geographical and habitat overlap with the forest reserve. Among the at-risk birds are common nighthawk, marbled murrelet, northern goshawk, and western screech owl.

The estimate of 141 does not include species that are extirpated, those no longer living in the forest reserve. Habitat loss is a leading cause of species decline.

The “North Cowichan Forestry Program does not currently have a formal system in place to manage” species at risk, the report notes.

The forest reserve has an annual allowable cut of 20,000 cubic metres. Council has halted new logging and suspended public consultations on the future of the forest reserve pending secret talks with First Nations.

Titled a Strategy for Managing Species At Risk, the draft report draws on several sources, including the Stewardship Centre of BC and the province’s Conservation Data Centre. It includes provincially and federally cited species.

The municipality says in response that the 141 species are “potentially present” in the forest reserve and that “proofing is required to verify the habitat, and then the species itself.”

The draft report was presented in 2018 to the Forestry Advisory Committee, which recommended it be further reviewed, says the municipality.

sixmountains.ca filed a freedom-of-information request after learning that an updated version had been submitted to the University of BC forestry faculty working with North Cowichan on a management plan for the forest reserve.

Neither council nor the Forestry Advisory Committee had seen the latest draft.

Community members supported release of the document.

“I urge Council to release it into the public domain as soon as possible,” said Bruce Coates, co-chair of Cowichan Naturalists and a member of the citizens’ Working Group guiding public consultation on the forest reserve.

Icel Dobell, co-founder of the forestry watch-dog group, wheredowestand.ca, added that the Working Group should have received the species-at-risk report as part of its deliberations on a public survey and discussion guide.

She also urged that video of Forestry Advisory Committee meetings be posted on the municipal website — as council meetings are — to better inform citizens.

The report’s author is Sally Leigh-Spencer of Ecologic Consulting, who in 2020 was named a Working Group member. The municipality says Leigh-Spencer had completed her work before joining the group.

Leigh-Spencer added: “I was not under contract when appointed to the working group and the report was only a draft and therefore not available to the WG.”

After a complaint from sixmountains.ca in June 2020 that an employee of the municipality had been appointed to the Working Group, that employee was removed. Consultant Erik Lees said “we agree that it’s very important for this engagement process to be robust and balanced.”

The forest reserve at lower levels falls within the coastal Douglas-fir (moist maritime) biogeoclimatic zone — the rarest of 16 such zones in BC — due to the prevalence of private lands, development and logging.

Higher levels fall within the coastal western hemlock (very dry maritime) zone, which has the second least amount of old-growth forest in the province and the second highest percentage of private land.

View the report at https://bit.ly/3pUV7sy.

Larry Pynn is an independent veteran environmental journalist, Explorers Club member, and author of two non-fiction books, including Last Stands: A Journey Through North America's Vanishing Ancient Rainforests. He lives in Maple Bay. These articles are reprinted from Larry's website at https://www.sixmountains.ca/

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