Local leaders press Jemi on logging plans
By Ian Cobb/e-KNOW
Worries of a private land ‘cut and run’ operation on former Tembec land in the Elk Valley were addressed last week during a meeting between municipal and regional government officials, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations staff, Canfor officials and representatives of the land-owning company.
City of Fernie, District of Sparwood, Regional District of East Kootenay Electoral Area A officials organized the March 12 meeting with forest industry officials and Jemi Fibre Corp. (Jemi) representatives to discuss the company’s plans for the former Tembec properties located near Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford. The District of Elkford is also concerned about the company’s plans but was unable to attend the meeting at the Fernie Seniors’ Hall.
Electoral Area A Director Mike Sosnowski and Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano chaired the meeting, attended by about 30 people, including members of Wildsight, a representative from Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett’s office and RDEK Area A’s Advisory Planning Council.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that Jemi intends to conduct logging operations on private land, which does not require the same level of oversight and rules as Crown land logging.
At the outset of the meeting local Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations staff outlined the difference between Crown land and private land forestry management, while officials with Canfor were on hand to discuss their current plans, which include purchasing fibre from Jemi.
Andrew McCuaig, Jemi’s Woodlands Manager/Kootenay Division tried to reassure those gathered that a private landowner can “do absolutely whatever you want with your private land” if not registered with the B.C. Forest Council; and Jemi is registered.
The company must make annual reports and its practices are independently audited, McCuaig said, adding, “It’s definitely better than having no regulations at all.”
Canfor’s First Nations and Planning Coordinator Grant Neville said the company is comfortable purchasing Jeme’s fibre.
“Jemi purchases have had a higher level of assessment given previous management (Tembec) and knowledge on the land base,” he said.
However, several people at the meeting remained concerned about Jemi’s plans, citing clear-cutting and damage to viewscapes and watercourses, as well as over-cutting leading to a loss of sustainability of the Elk Valley timber industry.
McCuaig outlined how Jemi purchased 60,000 ha of former Tembec land, situated along Coal Creek, Morrissey, Corbin, Sportsman’s Ridge, the gas plant and at Sulpher Springs and Lower Round Prairie by Elkford. The company also owns parcels of land near Canal Flats and St. Mary’s Lake, west of Kimberley.
With business currently booming for Jemi and its 220 employees, McCuaig explained the company intends to cut between 300,000 and 500,000 cubic metres a year at the outset, which has created so much concern with local officials.
“We will have an accelerated harvest for the first couple of years” so the company can more quickly pay down its debt from purchasing the land.
Jemi purchased 49,500 ha of East Kootenay land and timber rights from Tembec for $35 million last year.
The company also purchased WoodEx Industries Ltd. of Edgewater, Kootenay Wood Preservers Ltd./Prairie Holdings Inc. of Cranbrook at that time. That land purchase followed a Sept. 30, 2013 purchase of approximately 1,875 hectares of land for a price of $4.2 million from Tembec.
After five to 10 years of accelerated harvesting the company will then “fall back” to Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) levels, McCuaig said, pointing out that most of Jemi’s land is under managed forest status.
“With Canfor being our major customer” the company intends to meet the standards it maintains, he said, adding, “We manage 90% of our blocks” at a standard higher than average. The company is also working with Wildsight in order to try and alleviate more concerns.
McCuaig noted that because Jemi is registered with the Forest Council it will have to re-plant trees on the property, something it wouldn’t have to do were it not registered.
“We have to plant trees,” he said, explaining that by 2016 the company will be planting 1.4 million seedlings. He also noted that Jemi uses the forest differently than Canfor.
McCuaig said he thought the meeting included “a great exchange of information” and was happy to be able to speak in person with the officials.
“We’ve been trying to get out to meetings like this as often as we can,” he said, pointing out the company has met with the Fernie Rod and Gun Club to talk about Coal Creek area plans. The company has also deeded some land to the club for its range, McCuaig said.
Mayor Giuliano told those gathered that she wanted to hold the meeting because her research into the company set off some red flags and she is worried that the Coal Creek drainage south of the city will be clearcut.
Jemi’s parent company “does not have a really good reputation” world-wide, she said to McCuaig, adding, “I am hoping they (Jemi’s workers) will follow what you are saying” and not leave “barren land” as has been done elsewhere.
Giuliano noted Canfor’s president told her the company “is comfortable” working with Jemi” but her concerns remain.
“Our area in so many ways depends on our forests” for tourism, the environment and industry, she said.
Fernie resident Dan Savage echoed Giuliano, noting he’s been through a New Brunswick area that was clearcut by (Irving Oil) and the experience was “disturbing.
“Fernie is a unique valley. Tourists don’t like clear cuts,” he said, noting he’s not seeing social economics being included in Jemi’s plans.
McCuaig said he was unaware of a parent company.
Jake Blackmore, Jemi’s vice-president of Kootenay Operations said he does know of any international connections. “We haven’t been anywhere else,” he said, other than Vancouver Island, Mackenzie, Cranbrook/Elk Valley and soon to be in Prince Albert, Sask.
Originally out of Nanaimo, Jemi was formed in 1996. According to the TSX Venture Exchange, Jemi operates as a subsidiary of Jemi Holdings Ltd. Formerly Falkirk Resources Corp., the company has established a bit of a reputation in its first few years of operations, earning the wrath of some in the blogsphere.
McCuaig said his company will not be working from an AAC model on the Elk Valley property but it has done a timber supply analysis.
“We know what is sustainable on our land,” he said. And as for visuals, he admitted the company does not have visual quality objectives but “we are open” to working with the community.
‘We need people to come forward and tell us their concerns. We realize there are lots of values to the community. We are not going to clearcut all of Coal Creek.”
Despite assurances, Area A Director Sosnowski remained worried about the sustainability of Elk Valley forestry if so much of the available fibre on Jemi’s large tract of private land is immediately logged.
“Where is the sustainability?” He asked, adding he would like to see the company’s plans “on paper” with maps noting where and what will be done.
“Where are you going to log and what is it going to look like?”
Noting that Elkford wasn’t represented at the meeting, Sosnowski said he has heard from residents there who have grave concerns about Josephine Falls area.
“They’re really upset. They were told there was going to be a buffer but now there doesn’t appear to be.”
McCuaig replied he was surprised to hear that Elkford still has concerns because they met with council and municipal staff.
Sosnowski pressed on for more information.
“I have some grave concerns. Holy shit, I want to see this on a piece of paper – what this looks like. I have got to have a public conversation with you on a map, to see what is coming at us in the next five to 10 years. This is where we live. Yup, you’ve got a bill to pay but I am getting calls every day,” he told Jemi’s representatives.
Stating he’s a bit confused from hearing many different cut figures, Sosnowski pushed, “I’ve done the math a couple of different ways. I see over 13 years of log-like-hell and it’ll be really bad for this valley.”
Sosnowski said he’d like to see logging being done in the valley “for another 100 years.”
Fernie Coun. Joe Warshawsky echoed Sosnowski. “My concern is the dramatic increase in the first few years of your planning,” he said, pointing out a worry about water impacts on the city.
“Timber harvesting will increase water flow,” he said, adding he would like to see a hydrologist assess the impacts on Coal Creek flooding potential because of “a dramatic increase in logging in a small area.”
District of Sparwood Coun. Lois Halko told the company her district wants “continued discussions and advance notice” on their plans.
McCuaig replied the company will not be concentrating cut blocks in one drainage and will be employing a hydrologist “on a watershed by watershed basis, when key tipping points are reached.”
Another issue was raised near the close of the meeting; the closure of a forestry road near the gas plant (southeast of Sparwood).
Blackmore explained that the company does not intend to close off roads to public thoroughfare but on that occasion the road was closed because active logging was taking place and public safety was being considered.
“We have no intention of closing any roads,” he said. “But our people were threated, ‘If you block our access we will shoot you.’” When asked if the enraged hunters were from Alberta, Blackmore replied, “No, they were local people I hate to say; Sparwood residents.
“We have no intention of blocking any roads or barring access to hunters,” he repeated.
At the conclusion of the March 12 meeting, McCuaig said he understands that communication is vital.
“We all need to give and take a little more on a lot of issues, to be honest,” he said.
Mayor Giuliano told e-KNOW the day after the meeting she her concerns are “somewhat alleviated by their stated sustainability plans. However, I have a healthy skepticism as to what the landscape will eventually look like once logging is accomplished. I want to believe that this company will do the right thing for this valley but they have to prove it; only time will tell.”
Giuliano added that it should be natural to the company to do as good a job as it can when logging along the main backcountry access roads leading from Fernie.
“Fernie has a strong tourism component that relies on the beauty of our natural surroundings. The work to be undertaken will surely impact the visuals and that in turn could hurt our economy. I do want to believe that my fears are unfounded,” she said.
Sosnowski said he remains concerned about “retaining a sustainable forest industry in the Elk Valley and Area A when a third of the estimated volume of timber in Managed Forest 27 will be cut in the first five years.
“I’m also concerned with the impact of a 400,000 m3 cut and the impact it will have on flooding, wildlife and the visual impact on the Highway 3 corridor.”
Sosnowski said he would like to see firmer information from Jemi on what and where they will be cutting, noting, “Their estimates were all over the place.”
He pressed the Jemi Fibre representatives about maps and was assured he would get some.
“It was reassuring to hear that Jemi Fibre was willing to work with communities and user groups and that they would supply us with maps of where they are going to cut,” he said.