A company hoping to start logging in the Argenta area north of Nelson in May will rely on a three-year old court injunction to remove members of the group Last Stand West Kootenay, who have blocked the logging road for the past week.
The injunction, issued for Cooper Creek Cedar in B.C. Supreme Court in Nelson on Aug. 27, 2019, names four specific people “and persons unknown,” and “anyone else having knowledge of this order.” It orders them not to block the road.
The company’s woodlands manager Bill Kestell says he believes the injunction is still valid, even though the people on this year’s blockade may be different people from those on the road in 2019.
Kestell says the company plans to start logging as soon as possible, but it can’t do that until the RCMP enforces the injunction by removing or arresting those blocking it, which he expects will happen soon.
Miguel Pastor, 17, of Nelson, speaking for the people in a camp set up on the Salisbury Creek forest road, said on Apr. 28 that they aren’t going anywhere.
He said the blocking of the road, which the group prefers to call “holding space,” will be calmer and more peaceful than the recent protests at Fairy Creek.
“We’re going to be trying to hold a very calm and peaceful intent here and keep things civil and strong in a good way.”
Pastor said the group stands for protection of old growth ecosystems from industrial activity, as well as for biodiverse ecosystems, connectivity corridors, a sustainable forest industry, giving land back to Indigenous communities, support for the Autonomous Sinixt, and non-violent protest.
There are up to 30 people at the camp and most are from the West Kootenay, Pastor said.
“We have a sacred fire that is been burning continuously since the camp was first established, started with prayer and intention.”
The Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face
The planned logging, to be carried out in an area known locally as the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face, has been in the planning stages for several years.
The Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face is a forested mountainside that is bordered on three sides by the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park and on the west by Kootenay Lake, extending from Argenta to Johnsons Landing.
Gary Diers, who has lived in Argenta since 1979, is part of the group Mt. Willet Wilderness Forever that has been trying to convince the provincial government to include the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face in the park.
The conservancy was first created in 1974 and later expanded to 202,709 hectares in 1995, with the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face excluded.
Diers thinks it should have been included at the time because it provides ecological continuity between the park and the lake shore.
“If people had realized the kind of industrial logging that would be coming to this place, I’m almost positive and it would have been protected,” Diers says.
He says the conservancy is the last intact ecosystem in southeast B.C. and that “the vast majority” of residents of Argenta and Johnsons Landing are opposed to the logging.
Diers concedes that Cooper Creek Cedar is within its rights under current forest law to log the area and that the company has kept the community informed about its plans.
“They have all their (logging plans) posted on their website … But really, we have no power in this situation at all. They do tell us what they’re doing. But just because they inform us doesn’t mean that everything’s hunky-dory and we agree.”
In 2012, a deluge of mud, rocks and trees slid into the lake at Johnsons Landing, killing four people and destroying five homes.
It has been speculated that logging the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face might subject that area to a risk of a similar slide.
But Greg Utzig, a local ecologist who lives part of the year at Johnsons Landing and specializes in terrain stability, says the slide was not caused by logging or road building, and the geology of the two areas is different.
Provincial government response
The provincial government says it has no plans to move the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face into the park.
When contacted by the Nelson Star, a forest ministry spokesperson said there are already protections in place for the ungulate winter range.
The email also states that “a significant amount of the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face is also protected by Old Growth Management Areas and other reserves as well as Visual Quality Objectives.”
Utzig said that old growth management areas across the province are disorganized and inaccurate. In some of them there is no old growth, and in other locations, old growth exists unprotected. That same confusion exists in the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face, and the presence of absence of management areas is no indication of anything, he says.
A third point in the ministry response is that “activities adjacent to parks are carried out in a manner that considers factors such as wildlife, forest health and watershed integrity.”
Utzig’s response: “I don’t believe that.”
Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson, asked for a comment, sent the following statement by email: “I have heard the concerns of people in my community about the area, and share a concern for our ecological values. I have been in touch with the Ministry of Forests and will be getting a full update on this issue in the coming days. Our government respects the right of people to protest within law.”
Old growth deferral
In 2021, the B.C. government decided to map at-risk old growth forest in the province. It appointed an old growth technical advisory panel and tasked it with identifying and defining the province’s most at-risk old growth ecosystems. The Nelson scientist Rachel Holt was a member of the panel, which produced maps of 2.6 million hectares of old growth forest.
A spokesperson for the forest ministry told the Nelson Star in an email that the advisory committee identified 1.4 hectares of priority at-risk old growth in the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face, adding that “the province is prepared to implement deferrals if supported by the First Nations in their territories.”
Kestell said his company has deferred those 1.4 hectares from cutting for the time being.
The province’s email also said that the province will support requests by local First Nations for deferrals, and that “the industry licencee” (Cooper Creek Cedar) has “committed to abide by any deferral decisions in place at the time of harvest.”
Contacted this week about the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face, Holt said there are reasons other than old growth to include the area in the park.
“That area is an obvious physical inclusion in the park, bringing the conservancy down to low elevation and providing a high-to-low elevation corridor of mature and some old growth. The other high value attributes include the obvious human values, and known caribou use area.”
She added her opinion is that it was the high timber value of the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face that caused it to be left out of the park.
Kestell said that in 2020, before the government began its old growth deferral initiative, representatives of the Okanagan Nation Alliance visited the site and the Ktunaxa Nation have consulted with him, and neither expressed objections to logging. Kestell said no First Nations groups have approached his company about a deferral.
Over the past two years a small independent group of local residents, including Utzig, negotiated with Cooper Creek Cedar a reduction in the cut. Utzig says it’s a small reduction, Kestell says it’s a big one, and Diers says it’s not worth mentioning.
One of Utzig’s main concerns is wildfire danger and resilience to climate change, and he wanted to see something other than highly flammable clearcuts.
Since those discussions, the company has made some changes. Although one of the blocks will be clearcut, others will leave some large trees of fire resistant species, Utzig says, adding that it is inadequate but better than nothing.
Kestell adds that the company has also cancelled one of its cutblocks entirely and withdrawn a plan for a secondary road.
Utzig calls this arrangement a trade-off, because otherwise all the blocks would have been clearcut.
“They’re going to leave a substantial amount of the largest, oldest trees in the lower two blocks, which is exactly the kind of logging that should be done to reduce risk to fire. To improve climate change resiliency, they are going to leave the largest trees and the fire resistance species.”
Was this a good compromise? To Kestell, it was.
“The number of trees we’re leaving in some of the areas are significant when it comes to volume but also significant when it comes to the cost of logging,” he said.
But Diers is not impressed and calls this deal a minor concession.
“If they want to give us a few extra trees, no one takes that too seriously,” he said, adding that the cuts will still be visible from across the lake.
The RDCK perspective
Aimee Watson, chair of the Regional District of Central Kootenay board, and whose electoral area includes Argenta, says the board has never taken a position on this issue. But as an elected official she has always been in favour of the transfer of the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face into the park, and she is also concerned about wildfire mitigation.
She thinks the province’s wildfire mitigation standards are too low to effectively prevent wildfires, but those are the standards the logging industry follows.
“Is it good for the the ecology, no. But the objectives haven’t gotten there yet.”
She thinks the concessions the company have made on leaving some trees in some of the blocks is better than nothing.
She also understands Cooper Creek Cedar’s position.
“Bill (Kestell) has a lot of pressure from his boss. They have a bottom line. Their bottom line was never designed around climate change mitigation. Their bottom line is designed around forestry and logging.”
This story was altered on May 3 to add the comment from MLA Britty Anderson. Another change was made on May 5, to add that Cooper Creek Cedar has deferred logging in the 1.4 hectares of old growth identified by the province in the company’s cutting permit.