Clearcuts on the Southern Gulf Islands

Sep 13, 2019 | Blog, Governance | 17 comments

This week I met with a group of passionate advocates on Salt Spring Island who are deeply concerned about the clear cutting of forests on private land.

There is a long history of logging on the Gulf Islands and, despite the Islands’ Trust mandate to “preserve and protect” the islands for the benefit of all British Columbians, there is seemingly little protection for the forests on private lands.

Of course, this brings up a whole host of property rights issues. In the past, there have been attempts to regulate tree-cutting through development permit areas but the local trust committees have been met with substantial pushback.

The provincial government provided other local governments with the ability to regulate tree cutting through the Community Charter and the Local Government Act, however, regional districts and the Islands’ Trust were excluded, leaving the forests and communities vulnerable.

This is a challenge with the “preserve and protect” mandate. While it was designed to control rampant and unsustainable development, forestry is one of the founding industries of our province and so the government of the day left it outside the mandate.

Managing fence lines

If you argue that property owners have the unlimited right to cut trees then you cannot overlook the rights of the neighbours. This includes the confidence in their water supply and watersheds, slope stability and protection against erosion.

I was asked when I was a councillor in Central Saanich what my job is and I responded that I manage fence lines. Governance is about managing the relationships between countless interests of people living in close proximity. This is also the case as a provincial representative.

In the face of a growing climate emergency, there is a host of other issues we must also now address. Water, watersheds, erosion, air-quality and carbon-sequestration are just a few of the factors we need to consider in our governing.

We must balance the interest of our right to benefit and enjoy our property with the rights of our neighbours and the impact our decisions have on the broader community. This is more complex now than it ever has been.

I respect the investment that people have made in their property and their desire to capitalize on that, but to what extent? I’d love to hear your opinion on these difficult issues. Please leave a comment below.

[siteorigin_widget class=”Jetpack_Subscriptions_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]


  1. Greg

    Thanks Adam. Some useful insights. I am reminded of Robert Frost…..good fences make good neighbours. In today’s world the fences are all the social mores and legal infrastructure that underpin our human relationships within a complex mix of interests. This infrastructure needs to adapt and change as we move forward as one world, one people. Perhaps one of the roles of government, is to help with these changes?

  2. Andreas Hobyan

    If BC was to institute a provincial ban on clear cutting it would solve a lot of problems!

  3. susan

    while i sympathise with people who want to realise their investment, nothing is guaranteed. Whether your money is in housing or the stock market the value may go up or down. Having trees on your property shouldn’t mean you have the right to sell them. Perhaps there could be compensation for owning them somehow, a reduction in property tax maybe.

  4. jean-claude Catry

    simple : to makes illegal clear cutting on the gulf island . the mature forest has to stay a mature forest with trees of all ages . harvesting trees is useful , eliminating forest is destructive . Islands are way too susceptible to desertification . rain doesn’t come from the sky but come from the leaves , no leaves no rain. trees have a fundamental function in closing the cycle of water between the underground water and the sky water. without them and the growing pumping of underground water it is guaranteed to turn those islands in a desert . already with lack of natural predation on deer the regeneration of new trees is highly compromised .

  5. Elizabeth

    Given the interlocking relationship of trees in their natural state it is virtually impossible to replicate , pick and choose, rather than “clearcut” when developing property. Leaving a portion intact is definitely preferable to plowing it all under however. The arguement that building costs increase when not having a clean slate although one would think the opposite true when considetibg the costs of landscaping.

    Some Municipalities have rules in place with regard tree removal/tree replacement. More should adopt plans like this. The “greater good ” of neighborhoods should be the first concern. Drainage, landslides and water quality being a priority.

    Ultimately protecting trees/ forests is more than simply being a good neighbour or respecting individual rights. Governments at every level need a compatable and inforced blueprint to protect trees.

  6. Peter Clark

    Adam, I appreciate the work you do. I voted for you and I’d vote for you again. I also appreciate that you’re trying to hit on a local issue, but with all due respect, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree (pun intended). I don’t see any people in the SGI (at least on Saturna) logging for the sake of logging. Some people clear a fair number of trees on their undeveloped lots, in preparation for building, but why can’t they do so now when their neighbors did the same a few years back? Trees are a substantial hazard to one’s investment of easily 500k in a new home.
    I think if we are concerned about logging, we should be targeting the logging of the last bits of old growth, especially on Vancouver island, where there is very little left. This is a key habitat issue, and a last opportunity to salvage something great.

  7. Ian M MacKenzie

    We are in danger of becoming the Lebanon of the North. 2800 years ago the old world Lebanon was covered with forests of giant Cedars, amidst other species. It did not take many centuries for the burgeoning population to reduce the country to virtually desert. It astounds me that with this example of desertification and many others outlined in the studies of anthropologists such as Jared Diamond that we could escape recognizing and intelligently responding to the dangers of clear cutting our province to the waterline of the Pacific Ocean. So many civilizations have disappeared from the face of the earth because they have deforested their habitats, yet we seem to think that the puny dollar is more important than the invaluable forests. I despair at our provincial policies in forestry. They haven’t changed their destructive results in 3800 years.

  8. Guy Dauncey

    Hi Adam, we are having the exact same struggle in Yellow Point/Cedar, and apart from private good things that landowners can do, such as placing covenants on the land (average cost $25,000 to do so, and no tax relief to help outside the Islands Trust area), we came to the same conclusion the DPAs – Development Permit Area legislation – are the only tool available to regional districts.

    DPAs can be imposed for environmental protection reasons, and also to safeguard climate, for both of which the forest qualifies. So I think a forest protection DPA would be in order which limited the size of clearcuts to small canopy openings, encouraging a shift in logging practices towards Wildwood ecoforestry methods. We’d need provincial support to define a new DPA. Is this something you and Sonia could help with?

    best wishes,

    • Rosemary Cornell

      REading this 3 years later. Guy – this seems an obvious solution to me. In Vancouver, if you want to cut down a tree that is > 20cm diameter at 1.5 meters from ground, you need a permit, costing you ~$600 per application (and you don’t get your money back if your request is denied). So…. implement a permit requirement for tree removal on private property. Of course you need a standing committee to evaluate, and I don’t know if the Islands Trust has the work-force for that.

  9. Howard Baker

    Gayle and I just returned from Scotland where my ancestors were indigenous people. Under the feudal system of the day the clan chiefs “owned” the land and after the final English victory at Culloden in 1746 became lairds and cleared their lands of humans in favour of sheep.

    Interestingly, I ran across a book about land reform named “The Poor Didn’t Have Lawyers”
    bringing up the issue of the fairness of the process that dispossessed people of lands they had occupied for centuries.

    The laws supporting property rights have evolved over millennia but still must be subject to legislation. I can only imagine the civil strife that would result from major alerations. In any case I’m not likely to see it in my lifetime.

  10. Dan Dickmeyer

    I’m hoping for some new precise rules about slopes, selective logging, etc.

  11. Dan Dickmeyer

    ditto for previous message–forgot to click the notification box

  12. Sarah Chesterman

    I’ve been advocating for BC forests for 10+ years, & despite noticeably increased numbers of concerned citizens joining me in this critical fight to preserve our precious ecosystems/ wildlife habitats, have seen NO significant action from any govt. body entrusted with the responsibility of protecting biodiversity & [key C02-sinking] old-growth stands: its unacceptable!

    Even the NDP’s Premier Horgan, after pledging once elected to protect forests with new legislation mandating sustainable forestry, has been eerily mute with inaction while allowing logging to continue unabated — if not more ruthlessly than before!? It’s as if our political leaders have all signed deals with the devil to acceLeRate Canada’s status quo of unchecked extraction to directly oppose imperatives by global scientists to drastically reduce fossil fuels/GHG emissions to avert dangerous climate change

    Bottom line is, we cannot simply stand by & watch Govt’s unconscionable pandering to industries that continue to worsen the effects of climate emergency –ie. By deregulated agriculture/ deforestation/ fracking/ mining/ oil extraction etc.– thereby endangering aLL Earth’s lifeforms..

    At the very least, we should be following the States’ successful leads in taking the offending perpetrators of these climate/ eco crimes to court & forcing them to finance our required switch to renewable energy/ sustainable industries — on behalf of endangered/ threatened nature everywhere! With aLL of the scientific arguments in our favour, & wholly dependant upon healthy thriving nature to survive, how can we lose?

    One thing is certain: we cannot keep condoning & subsidizing same-old extractive/polluting eco-ruin & have the remotest chance of winning this fight of our lives against extinction.. And half-measures simply won’t do at this point, let alone the wanton reap-without-sowing expansion that’s powered Western civilizations –& now developing nations too– for the last 200 years!

    As one of my Twitter contacts drily asserted, “lemmings are smarter than us”.. Let’s try to prove her wrong & work together to fix this colossal “challenge of our lifetime”?

  13. Dan Dickmeyer

    As an ex-pat and dual citizen in these times it is hard to credit the U.S. with much. One area they seem to be progressive in, or at least California is, is stoping the cutting of old growth and limits on clearcuts. This of course is after citizens and protesters put on a lot of pressure as individual tracts came open.

  14. Al Razutis

    Mr. Olsen your concerns and passion to protect the environment is well taken. In some of our jurisdictions (like Saturna Island) the Islands Trust has NO real function in fulfilling its declared mandate “to preserve and protect”.

    No land use environmental bylaws were ever written into the “Official Community Plan” which then became law… Neither does the CRD have a clue what to do with such issues, issues which I pointedly brought up at our last “Water Board Commission” AGM (August 20th). I was told ‘it’s not our matter’.

    So, who can come and enforce the environment preserve and protect laws? Well, that’s your office, the provincial government. When I complained to the Department of Lands and Forests I was told there are only “two enforcement officers” for the whole of Vancouver Island from Duncan to Victoria (yes, both coasts).

    Ultimately they did nothing, but recommend that we engage in ‘civil action’, meaning costly litigation (3-4 years in Supreme Court). How does that benefit the rest of the community? Not much.

    I close with your own statement and ask that it see the light of practice in BC:

    “We must balance the interest of our right to benefit and enjoy our property with the rights of
    our neighbours and the impact our decisions have on the broader community.”

    When our own neighbours engage in ‘destroying the watershed’ by redirecting a stream so it
    outlets into another neighbour’s place (destroying his property value), then to the sea… that’s
    a community issue, a life and future generation issue. We (in BC) have to do better than this!

  15. June Ross

    Adam…as always…thank you for all of your work on our behalf! Although I am not in your constituency I live in Nanaimo and also have been involved in the fights to save our Forests, save our watersheds, save our streams where the salmon go to spawn…save it all!…We absolutely have to do better than what we are doing. It is not good enough, that anyone is allowed to deforest their land and impact everything around them. Perhaps as Guy Dauncy has indicated , a strong DPA is required. There just has to be ways to control what Corporations and individuals do on our private lands. We need to find that way, legislate it and then ENFORCE IT!

  16. Oj Clarke

    I am a resident of Salt Spring Island. I have seen the trucks of fallen trees leave on the ferry headed to Crofton. I watch the freighters head towards China loaded with our cut coastal rain forest. We must look beyond our ‘fences’ and understand how crucial it is to prevent this destruction of our tree/lungs. Islands Trust needs new powers to preserve and protect the forest for the good of us all.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This

Share this post with your friends!