Anyone caught illegally removing trees from North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve could face criminal charges, according to Mayor Al Siebring.
The warning comes after the municipality was alerted to recent illegal logging activities in the MFR on Stoney Hill, the latest in a number of such cases in the forest reserve since the new year.
Shaun Mason, North Cowichan’s municipal forester, confirmed there were two large red cedar trees that appear to have been illegally taken recently in Stoney Hill, along with some Douglas fir trees in a small blow-down area nearby.
Mason said there is no authorized cutting currently taking place in Stoney Hill, or anywhere else in the MFR.
“Anyone found unlawfully cutting down trees in the forest reserve could face criminal charges for the theft of municipal assets, as well as trespassing,” Siebring said.
“With the price of lumber these days, if many of these trees are taken down, cut in eight-feet lengths and milled into boards, they would be worth a lot of money. We’re increasing our patrols in the reserve, and there are police files on this and the other illegal logging cases there. We’re also exploring the possibility of having a police presence in the reserve.”
The illegal logging on Stoney Hill was discovered by Larry Pynn, a veteran environmental journalist and author from Maple Bay who founded sixmountains.ca, a website dedicated to providing information about logging in the MFR.
He said he first discovered the illegal cutting sites on Stoney Hill by accident and notified the municipality.
“Tragically, the cutting of the cedars on Stoney Hill is not an isolated incident,” Pynn said.
“[On April 28], I found two more cedar stumps, this time on Mount Prevost. The largest had a diameter of about 2.5 feet. I encourage the municipality to increase the fines for wood poaching in the forest reserve and to consider posting a reward for information leading to the conviction of these poachers. I’d be the first to donate money.”
Municipal forestry staff started seeing trees illegally cut down in a number of small and separate areas of the reserve around the Chemainus area, as well as near Mount Prevost and Mount Sicker, in January.
Other areas in the forest reserve where trees have been taken down have been discovered since then.
Mason said that in response to the recent timber theft, North Cowichan staff have begun a number of initiatives to try and deal with the illegal activity.
The include daily patrols of the reserve, installing signage where required, investigating any reports of illegal activity received from the public, continuing to work with the RCMP, reviewing fines associated with such activities in consultation with legal counsel, and exploring options for using video surveillance in the reserve.