Residents of Burton got the chance to weigh in last week on a proposal to build a logging road across a corner of the Burton Elementary School property.
Arrow Lakes School District 10 trustees and staff held a public consultation meeting at Burton Elementary School on July 7 to gather public comments on the proposal.
About 15 people showed up in person and online to hear about the proposal from logging company Stella-Jones.
The forester is asking for permission to build 200 metres of access road across the corner of the 70-acre school property to allow logging of fir beetle-damaged forest above the community. In exchange for a 10-year road allowance, the school district would receive some money, the company would gain easier access to difficult cutting areas, and the community would have some further protection from wildfires, officials said.
Stella-Jones foresters Dave Eddy and Pat McMechan said the company plans to log several patches of forest above the community of Burton to clear out trees damaged by fir beetles. He said his surveys show the tree-killing bugs are spreading above the town.
“I emptied our traps today and I got a peanut butter jar of beetles in the traps… 1.5 litres of beetles,” said Eddy. “Experts tell me if I trap 1,200 beetles, I save a tree. So I don’t know how many trees I saved today.”
Eddy said the access road across the school district’s property (which is well away from the school and playground proper) would allow for the most efficient and effective clearance of the beetle-damaged trees.
“This is the best opportunity – the safest, most appropriate location,” said McMechan. “They put a lot of work into it, to find the best spot. This is the best spot. It happens to be on School District 10 property, which is why we approached them for access. If the district says ‘no,’ we go back and look at our options.”
The public was not being asked if they approved of the logging or not; school officials warned at the start of the meeting that was not the purpose of the consultation. Instead, they were being asked about whether the road cutting across the school property itself was a concern.
One woman said it very much was an issue.
“You can log all you want; I don’t want the road,” she said, noting her family had used a spring-fed water source from that area of the hillside for more than a century. “It’s my only water source, and I can’t risk losing my water source just for a company to get some money.
“I don’t want to lose it. I don’t have access to any other water.”
Other residents asked questions about public access to the forestry road (there won’t be any), the company’s awareness of water sources (a hydrologist surveyed the area), concerns about landslides following the harvesting (a geotechnical assessment said chances of one were low), and what happens after decommissioning of the road (it will be impassable but relatively easy to prepare for firefighter access if needed).
Others questioned what would happen if the district said ‘no’ to the request.
“So tonight’s meeting is about do we give access to SD 10 property,” said one resident. “All the concerns brought up are excellent concerns, but is whether we give access or not going to change anything about the concerns raised tonight?” said one resident.
Residents were told the logging would go forward anyway, just perhaps not as easily or efficiently.
“We have a responsibility as the licence holder to address forest health,” said Eddy. “If we don’t do it, the government has in past told other companies to go in and log it. Because they don’t want forest health concerns to exacerbate. That’s happened in the past.
“So we want to do it in a way we think it should be done properly.”
And he warned the beetle problem could get worse.
“If we don’t log it, the beetle may spread. We don’t know what it will do next year. But it’s 95% Douglas fir in that area,” warned Eddy.
“If we don’t have that access, we’ll still be doing harvesting in that area,” added McMechan. “It’ll probably look different from the shape (on the map). We’ll have to modify that, but there’ll be something. That’s our job. That’s our obligation under our forest licence.”
The money from the deal – estimated at about $20,000 for wood logged for the road itself, and $2,000-$3,000 for the road access – would go directly to funding activities at Burton Elementary, the community was told.
The board of trustees didn’t make any decision at the meeting. Retiring Superintendent Terry Taylor told the crowd a decision would be made at the July 22 meeting of the board. Residents had until July 15 to offer their comments to the board by emailing [email protected]
Stella-Jones reps said they will hold a public meeting in early August to present more information about the proposed logging plan with the community.