The article that follows contains the personal experience and opinions of its producer, not necessarily those of the Cortes Radio Society, its board, staff, volunteers or membership. This radio broadcast was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative

In a small community, this story isn’t the easiest to hear, or to write. Unfortunately, it is the best example of what we’ve been experiencing and witnessing over the years. 

While my family was preparing dinner last night, my daughter returned from walking her dog. She saw a white truck driving in to do firewood between 5:30 and 6:30. We weren’t impressed, but hoped it would be a windfall- a log naturally fallen and lying on the ground.

poaching in Community Forest
Healthy Douglas Fir fallen June 22, 2020 at Larsen’s Meadow CCFC woodlot.

Did They Have Permission?

When we heard the chainsawing move closer to our property, I jumped up to go see. From a distance, I saw the tree branches swaying and heard the tree drop. I paused, waiting for my husband to catch up. As we approached, we saw injured birds on ground. 

I recognized an older red truck.  

There was also a white truck and two men. 

While I walked closer, a local I knew and another man were throwing stuff down to try to disguise the stump. 

The one I recognized does do some work for the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative (CCFC), so I asked if they had permission to be there.

He laughed, said ‘no’ and named another individual, “was allowed, and took tons.” 

‘Definitely No Falling’

I disagreed, and told him I knew for a fact General Manager Lombard had told that individual in the past:  no falling of any kind of tree… including dead standing. 

In the past, I had seen the other individual cutting firewood in the past, and called CCFC GM Lombard. He had come while they were still cutting, noted that one was windfall and the other was possibly dead standing. Lombard was very clear:  “definitely no falling”. 

Poaching in Community Forest Co-op
Ferns ripped up and dumped on  top of stump, mud rubbed around to disguise fresh cut - courtesy Odette Auger
Cortes Currents: Odette Auger’s experience of poaching on Cortes Island, with emails from the Cortes Community Forest

Beautiful Douglas Fir

I hadn’t seen the stump yet, it could have been dead standing.I walked around the truck and looked at the disguised stump. 

I was shocked at the diameter of the stump, the health, the length of this beautiful Douglas Fir.  

Poaching in Community Forest Co-op
April 20, 2016 Larsen’s Meadow road before logging. Outdoor classroom - courtesy Odette Auger

By 7:30 I was back at home.  I emailed a couple of the CCFC board members and GM Lombard.

Two board members promptly came to meet me at the stump.

In a group email to the CCFC board I learned Klahoose calls the RCMP on poachers in their woodlot, one of them having been charged not too long ago. 

For some reason, I had never thought of this as an RCMP matter, and had just let CCFC know anytime I heard or saw evidence of poaching. 

Significant Increase In Poaching

There has been a long standing issue of poachers on Cortes Community Forest Co-op woodlots on Cortes Island. I live adjacent to the woodlot, and can tell you there has been a significant increase in poaching since CCFC received rights to the woodlot. 

 I had just recently emailed the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative CCFC GM to report a freshly poached tree, on June 15, with a photo of a recently cut Douglas fir stump.

“Sofia took this photo of a tree cut on Saturday, [June 13], a day of heavy rain. It’s just before the creek, and maybe 20″ across. We were off island, and it’s interesting- I wonder if they timed it for heavy rain to avoid being seen [she usually is walking her dog]… Just sharing because it’s pretty discouraging, right after you planted ! We still think a gate/partial gate that lets walkers and bikers through would be ideal, and wonder why there is a worry gates would be pulled out when IT gates aren’t pulled? Something to keep thinking about… little sense to committing to a harvesting plan but not ensuring others don’t help themselves.”

Improved Roads

One reason for the increase is the road was improved for CCFC logging- making it more accessible to any kind of vehicle. It was always a logging road, but the previous logging company deactivated the road after they finished- large ditches across the road acting effectively as gates. Decades later, the ditches were slowly filling in, 4×4 trucks could access it more easily. 

The occasional harvest of a windfall was done by local neighbours to clear the road, they kept an eye on the road for accessibility of fire trucks. If a windstorm fell a tree on the main road, it was quickly tidied up, the firewood being the natural reward. 

Poaching in Community Forest Co-op
Diameter of stump over 22” - courtesy Odette Auger

Concerns About Heavy Rainfall

When the logging began, I spoke with John Marlowe, then General Manager of CCFC project.  I asked for gates to be put in after, and for the road to be improved after the heavy trucks had left. We had a number of conversations. One was that we were happy the logging was well done,  as far as logging goes. Another was that we had concerns about logging trucks driving in after heavy rainfall. 

My family questioned the timing of their start up of the Larsen’s Meadow cut during a rainy spring. My husband and I are from Revelstoke, we know their eco-forestry was the first in the province. They “shut down the bush” during the spring rains- it does too much damage. Birds are nesting, and the land takes a heavy toll. 

Three Issues

I emailed the CCFC board and the GM at the time December 15, 2015 with a few concerns and requests. These three still are an issue: 

“SERIOUS ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE: logging in heavy rain. Mainland logging operations follow protocol to shut down during “spring breakup”. Interesting [sic], here on Cortes with more rain, and the ability for CCF to do ‘better’ than big business logging- logging simply continued. …I have serious issues with the fact a road system has been put in, and no gate locking poachers out, not to mention drinking-target shooting. GM John Marlow has agreed “without a gate, poaching is a certainty.” I have had to phone RCMP re: shooting near residential areas since roads now accessible. Our back driveway is now in MUCH WORSE condition, completely undriveable due to the CCF logging operations, heavy machines, and traffic almost every day, 4x4ing, etc, since the road has not been returned to its deactivated state, or gated.”

‘Without A Gate, Poaching Is A Certainty’

GM John Marlow responded to a reminder email about deactivating July 28, 2015: 

“The gate issue I will discuss with the Community Forest Board of Directors.   Gates and the concept of blocking access to public land is often controversial … although I tend to agree that the likelihood of firewood poaching post harvest is almost a certainty.   Note that this message is cc’d to the Community Forest Board to raise awareness of the gate issue.” 

February 25, 2016 this reminder was shared again, in an email conversation with one CCFC board director who took the time to reach out and ask about our perspective on erosion when I wrote an article in the Cortes Tideline. 

I believe “the community forest has the ability to aim higher than industry standards re: riparian proximity. It is not reassuring to hear “Oh, we will certainly follow government rules”. I’d personally like to see the community forest co-op triple these standards. Nor am I reassured/diverted by conversation re: allowed annual cut; I’m concerned specifically about the measuring distance away from any creek, wetland, water source.”

In the email from Feb 25, 2016:

 “we requested a gate. to prevent continued over-driving of sensitive area, and poaching. We were dismissed that “cortes people don’t take kindly to gates” However, I am a cortes “people” and I live adjacent to cut, and would greatly appreciate the remaining trees to stay out of poacher’s hands. The entire 15 years I’ve lived here, there are walkers, mushroomers, bikers, and no drivers except for people going in to cut trees illegally for firewood. A gate or deep ditch would ensure the use of LM would be exactly as before, without opening it up to more poaching.”

A Jump In Poaching

The issue of poaching as a natural consequence of not deactivating logging road continued, and I emailed the board and second GM Mark Lombard April 30, 2017. Clearly there was a jump in poaching at the time.

“…at least two or three times a week, people are in LM woodlot, cutting firewood. It was my understanding this was only with permit, purchased, through the board. And that it was for a specific time, and now closed. I’ve requested a gate [that allows walkers, bikers] and John Marlowe confirmed poaching is “a certainty without a gate”. As you know, I’d prefer a forest ! And if sustainable harvesting must be done, then fine. But trees left [remaining trees] should be left? And windfall should be left to feed soil? This is my understanding.. In any case, please address the issue of continuous chainsawing and wood removal from Larsen’s Meadow. I called Mark yesterday during cutting, and the cutting resumes today. I am not speaking about immediate neighbours, fyi. I am speaking about the open call for free wood that seems to be spreading. Thank you in advance for stopping this.”

‘Policing The Woods Isn’t Feasible ‘

GM response at the time was over a phone call, in which I was told policing the woodlots wasn’t feasible and that they did want to know if any live trees were fallen. There are emails following up on the conversation, with board cc’d. 

From that point on, I didn’t bother to let CCFC or GM know unless I heard active falling. If I heard bucking up of firewood, I reminded myself of their responses:  It could be windfall, and I wasn’t a witness to any falling, hard to prove. 

If the CCFC would consider the cost of the poached tree against the cost of gates- poaching would be reduced, and recreational access would remain. 

A Need For Conservation

I thought the idea of an eco-forest practice is to leave the forest for future use. To manage a woodlot and take care in cut allowances inherently implies a need for conservation and protection of the remaining trees. Gates would deter more thieving. 

On Wednesday,  June 24 I received an update- through word of mouth, I heard the  CCFC board were considering surveillance cameras, as a preference over gates. 

I have my concerns- and a growing curiosity about this strange resistance to gates. Where it comes from?  who from?

I have heard gates are expensive- please consider the cost of this one tree alone- over 3 feet in diameter, over 80 feet long… I think the cost of install would be offset by this tree, we could count the stumps over 20” taken from Larsen’s Meadow in the past 5 years to cover. 

Cameras don’t always catch good footage- if it’s dark, or rainy, or they know which angle to avoid…  Even if a positive identification is made, it requires an owner willing to hold them accountable by reporting it. 

At best, cameras do not stop the at of poaching- the tree is still cut, dead, the firewood is still stolen, sold. 

The thing about Larsen’s Meadow is it’s always been a walking place. I don’t understand this car-access emphasis… do people really need to drive in, pick some mushrooms, jump in the car and drive out? Or, like when CCFC holds a walk-through tour, park at the entrance and walk in. A walk in the woods is a walk in the woods. 

As I walk along this road, it’s a road I’ve gotten to know very well… which corners have a cool looking boulder, where there’s more All-heal, where there’s some Spring Beauty. Definitely where the Chantrelles are. When I walk this road, I can’t help  that my mind travels back in time, before the logging. My daughters learned how to walk on this road, my kids learned how to bike on this road. Not just them, but youth in my classes- have come here to learn about plants- medicinal, mushrooming- identifying them by their spore prints. It was an outdoor classroom. 

My wish is for this to return to the forest it once was. I just don’t see how that can happen if people are allowed to come in and steal the remaining trees.

April 20, 2016 - Larsen’s Meadow Road before logging, outdoor classroom - Odette Auger photo