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Directors nix support for elk management plan

Forest industry representative outlines concerns

Powell River Regional District directors passed a motion at a recent board meeting that stated the regional district does not support a proposed elk management plan for the province.

Between 1994 and 1996, 27 elk were transplanted to the Powell River area. Since then, their numbers have grown, although Roosevelt elk are on the provincial blue list. The ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations is proposing a management goal of increasing the population, expanding its distribution and mitigating threats, so that elk could be removed from the provincial blue list within the next 10 years.

Regional district staff brought forward a report about the provincial discussion paper that outlined the management plan at the October 2012 planning committee. Staff recommended supporting the proposed plan for the region, but directors deferred making a decision until they heard from a representative from the forest industry.

Rudi van Zwaaij, a forester with the Stillwater operation of Western Forest Products Inc., made a presentation about the issue at the November planning committee. He said increasing the elk population and elk range across local landscapes are huge concerns to the forest industry and should be a concern to all taxpayers in the province. “It may be a warm and fuzzy thing to do, increasing wildlife populations, but it does have an effect,” he said.

After elk were introduced in the area, van Zwaaij said, younger cedar plantations were impacted. “In the next 10-year period, I spent over $1 million on browse protection for elk and learned a lot about elk behaviour and silviculture management,” he said. “Where elk populations have grown to the point where they are out of balance, forest management costs in growing new trees will increase.”

Elk have a direct impact through trampling of seedlings, browsing seedlings and destroying trees through rubbing. “The elk discussion paper that you are asked to endorse is negligent in addressing the concerns raised repeatedly over the years about the impact of elk to forest management,” van Zwaaij said. “The ministry seems very comfortable in off-loading this extra cost on our industry and the taxpayer.”

Van Zwaaij suggested that wildlife agencies and forest tenure holders need to work together in order that elk and timber objectives are managed cooperatively while minimizing the cost to manage for both these resources. “I recommend that for each elk planning unit on an annual basis, the wildlife agencies meet with the forest tenure holders to provide updates and discuss concerns,” he said. “These meetings would be used as well to set the annual hunting targets for all areas that will minimize conflict and to resolve issues.”

There are between 250 to 300 elk in TFL 39, van Zwaaij also said.

Western Forest Products has submitted a seven-page comment on the discussion paper.

At the end of van Zwaaij’s presentation and a discussion about the issue, Patrick Brabazon, Electoral Area A director, made a motion recommending the board not support the proposed management plan. Colin Palmer, board chair and Electoral Area C director, seconded the motion. “I think what we need to do is accept the recommendation from the silviculturist, Mr. van Zwaaij,” Brabazon said. “He understands what he is doing and we do need to protect the second largest employer in our area, which is Western Forest Products.”

To be clear, Brabazon added, his comment did not refer to the number of employees on Western’s payroll, but “through their contractors and sub-contractors, et cetera, et cetera, they are easily the second largest employer in the region.”

Palmer pointed out the sustainability of the industry was also at issue.

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