An undated photo provided by Sierra Club BC shows campaigner Mark Worthing in a clearcut at Schmidt Creek. Photo by Torrance Coste

Protesters say clearcuts will destroy orca ‘rubbing beaches’ on North Island

Protesters call for moratorium on old-growth logging

Opponents of clearcut logging at Schmidt Creek, an old-growth rainforest on northern Vancouver Island, say that soil erosion and landslides will destroy “rubbing beaches” used by orcas at Robson Bight.

It’s one of the ecological concerns raised by protesters in Campbell River on Thursday as activists across B.C. staged a day of action against logging old-growth forests.

Orcas have visited the beaches of Robson Bight for perhaps thousands of years to rub their bodies against the smooth pebbles of its shores.

Breanne Quesnel, co-owner of a Quadra Island-based kayak adventure company, said harm to orcas could affect tourism, but she stressed wider concerns.

“If you wipe out a keystone species, nothing good comes out of it for tourism, for forestry, for anyone involved,” she said.

Susan Westwren of Sierra Club BC said that some damage has already occurred, citing a scientist at the whale research station OrcaLab on Hanson Island.

“It’s inevitable that the silt comes down the streams when there’s logging going on,” she said.

Westwren said logging operations at Schmidt Creek aren’t happening in compliance with regulations she said were implemented after a moratorium was lifted on logging in the area.

READ MORE: Green movement worried old-growth logging threatens legendary orca rubbing beaches

North Island MLA and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena accepted a petition that activists said was signed by 200 people, along with a letter to Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson supporting a moratorium. 

Trevena told protesters assembled outside her office she would take the petition to the legislature and ensure Donaldson receives the letter.

“We are having a consultation about old-growth strategy,” she said during remarks to protesters. “We are very aware of what the concerns are.”

Protests against old-growth logging took place at the offices of more than a dozen MLAs on Thursday, according to campaigners.

The provincial Green Party and groups including Sierra Club BC have called for a logging moratorium in the old-growth forests that remain intact and pristine on Vancouver Island.

Super-Cut Lumber Industries bought the timber rights for the Schmidt Creek area at auction from BC Timber Sales (BCTS) for roughly $13.2 million last year. The company is owned by San Group Inc., a Langley-based forest products company.

The logging operation is being overseen by Gary Collinge, vice-president of logging and manufacturing for Coulson Manufacturing, which is also owned by San Group. Logging is being carried out by Lamare Group, a Port McNeill-based contractor, he said.

Asked about concerns related to the rubbing beaches, Collinge said he believes the effects of run-off have been minor. BCTS has been auditing operations at Schmidt Creek frequently, according to Collinge.

“That timber sale is being monitored so tightly by the government, I don’t think too much goes sideways there,” he said.

Collinge acknowledged that Schmidt Creek is a sensitive area, and said that although no major landslides have occurred “that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to happen.”

Collinge previously stated that BCTS is responsible for developing a logging plan to protect the watershed, and his company’s role is to comply with that plan during the cut.

READ MORE: Green movement worried old-growth logging threatens legendary orca rubbing beaches

The Ministry of Forests has previously stated that logging presents no risk to whale rubbing beaches.

Ministry spokesperson Dawn Makarowski said in an email on Thursday that BC Parks asked a regional research geomorphologist to look at the rubbing beaches in 2016.

The researcher had previously examined the beaches in 1997-2001. They appeared to have changed over time, she said in the statement.

“Initial observations suggest that erosion on the beach, as opposed to sediment build-up, are responsible for the changes,” according to the statement. “Changes to the beaches could also be attributable to sea-level rise or storms.”

The statement added that orcas are “rubbing more frequently at different beaches, all of which are further away from Schmidt Creek,” and that an updated report will be finished later this year.

A statement attributed to the Minister of Forests said the government is trying to protect biodiversity and old-growth forests while ensuring support for workers and communities.

“We have taken bold steps to protect critical habitat and old growth and we will have more initiatives to announce in the coming weeks,” Donaldson said in the emailed statement.

“However, we have just seen several hundred workers lose their jobs in the Interior, in part due to lack of logs, and the calls for moratoriums would lead to more job loss on Vancouver Island.”

Forestry on Vancouver Island and the B.C. coast generate 24,000 direct jobs and $3.1 billion in GDP, according to the statement.

It also said that 55 per cent of old-growth forests on coastal Crown land are protected and “an additional 70,000 hectares” will be added over the next four years as part of recently-announced wildlife habitat areas.

As logging began last year, Sierra Club BC said that Schmidt Creek was part of the “largest remaining relatively intact rainforest” on eastern Vancouver Island, combined with the adjacent Lower Tsitika River Provincial Park.

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