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Olympic Forests

Western Forest Products is working on integrating logging plans with the requirements of the proposed site for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games near Whistler, BC.  

By Rick Crosby

Western Forest Products Limited has been logging in the Callaghan Valley, ten kilometres south of Whistler, British Columbia for at least 20 years. But lately the company has been working closely with the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Olympic Bid Corporation, the Squamish Forest District and the Ministry of Tourism to address the impact logging might have on the proposed recreational facilities for the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. What has emerged appears to be a good example of different interest groups working together in an area that's been rife with conflict in the last number of years. 

The forest company is using a variety of methods, including computer technology, to assess the situation. "We obtained the draft Olympic Nordic site plan and put it on our Geographic Information System to identify which of our blocks could have potential concerns," explains Dave Mogensen, resident forester with Western Forest Products. About eight cut blocks in the Callaghan represent potential visual concerns, in that they would be visible from the proposed Olympic site. Viewpoints were identified from the GIS analysis and digital terrain modelling was implemented to simulate the future visual landscape in 2010. Step one was the GIS mapping exercise involving the overlay of the Olympic committee's proposed plans for facilities, including 15 kilometres of cross-country ski trails. 

All of the parties involved were pleased with the first two blocks that were logged in the Callaghan Valley, illustrating how retention logging can be integrated with the proposed facilities for the 2010 Olympics.

The process to integrate logging and Olympic facilities has been complex but work is progressing. "We've had meetings about every other month for at least a year involving computer generated 3D graphic images of the site and complicated ground work reengineering these blocks," Mogensen says. "Two blocks have been done so far and everyone liked the results." The Resort Municipality of Whistler expressed concern to Western Forest Products back in January 1999 that there could be conflicts between logging and the proposed Olympic facilities. Things swung into high gear in April of that year when an agreement was signed with the Resort Municipality of Whistler. In May, Whistler mayor Hugh O'Reilly sent a letter to then premier Glen Clark confirming there was an agreement. 

Traditionally, there has always been a big overlap between recreation and forestry in the Whistler corridor. "We've always adapted our logging to it," Mogensen says. "We've kept our cut block size to about half of what the Forest Practices Code allows and have consulted with the municipality of Whistler as part of our development planning process." The logging equipment required to integrate logging with the proposed Olympic site will be somewhat different than that used in conventional harvesting because trees are being retained within the cut blocks to reduce the visual effects of logging. "Carriages and swing yarders will be used to allow for lateral yarding, so you can yard around trees," says Norm LeBlanc, owner of Lizzie Bay Logging Ltd, the contractor working in the Callaghan Valley. The logging operation has already been changed in response to the possibility of a successful Olympic bid. "We're obviously a little more sensitive to visual qualities and have almost eliminated clearcut logging," LeBlanc says. And along with equipment adjustments, there has been a huge investment in time with onsite management supervision. 

On the positive side of the equation, the logging company decides what trees come down. "It's good for us because we can decide what is safe and what is feasible," LeBlanc says. Five or six blocks that would be visible from potential future viewpoints have been identified. Western Forest Products analyzed what the site was going to look like, working in conjunction with the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Olympic Bid Corporation.

It proposed adjusting the block shape by positioning strategic groups of trees within the block boundary, reducing the visual impact of the block to a level that would blend in nicely with the surrounding landscape. "So far it's gone well," Mogensen says. "We've logged two of the blocks already and the Olympic Planning Group was quite pleased with what they saw." Western Forest Products has both a forest licence and a timber licence in the Callaghan Valley. Under the timber licence, the company has the rights to harvest the timber. Once logging is completed, those timber rights revert back to the Crown. Western's five-year harvesting plan began in 1999, but the blocks have been proposed on this plan since 1996. In a user sensitive region like the Sea to Sky corridor from Vancouver to Whistler, public consultation on forest management has been a high priority. "Every year, we advertise to the public what we're preparing to do for the next five years," Mogensen explains. "When we found out logging in the Callaghan Valley was a concern in relation to the Olympics, we agreed to convert all of our visible blocks to partial cut." There are roughly 16 cut blocks representing 190,000 cubic metres of timber in the five-year plan. 

The logging will be done in a manner consistent with variable retention. "We are willing to postpone the harvest of those blocks where they overlap with the proposed Olympic facilities until the planning of those facilities are complete," Mogensen continues. "Then, we will hopefully harvest in a reserved manner. In other words, we will accommodate the proposed Olympic site." Western had previously harvested two cut blocks in the Whistler corridor practising variable retention logging. But in the Callaghan Valley this type of logging is being adopted on a larger scale. The company's response to the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Olympic Bid Corporation was a desire to not only maintain an opportunity for Whistler to get the Olympics, but hopefully enhance those chances with integrated logging practices. "That was our basic message," Mogensen says, "but at the same time, we wanted to look at things with a view towards being able to continue operations at the former level, recognizing we'd possibly have to reexamine our logging plans as more information came along." 

The process has worked out so far, but there is some uncertainty going forward. The Olympic bid committee has established a complicated process, but defining an exact plan will take several years. The plan includes Western as one of the stakeholders. For Lizzie Bay Logging Ltd, the integration of logging and the proposed Olympic facilities has far-reaching effects. The company directly employs 44 people fulltime in the Sea to Sky corridor between Squamish and Pemberton and the Callaghan represents roughly 30 per cent of the company's annual cut. "Clearly it's very important," says Norm LeBlanc. Lizzie Bay Logging Ltd has an annual allowable cut of 40,000 cubic metres in the Callaghan, harvesting hemlock, balsam, cedar and fir. The wood is sorted in either Pemberton or Squamish and then processed through Doman Industries sawmills on Vancouver Island for markets in the United States. 

LeBlanc is a firm believer in integrated resource management if it means balancing jobs. "We have no problems acknowledging the values of other interests," he says, "but I don't think one interest should necessarily take away from the other, especially in the Callaghan." Whistler mayor Hugh O'Reilly applauds the different interest groups who have been able to work together doing preliminary planning in the event Whistler's bid for the 2010 Olympics is successful. But getting the process rolling was not easy. "One of the things we recognized was there was no direction from the province as to how we should proceed regarding the Olympic bid," O'Reilly says. "I mean, we're all saying we want to win this bid and yet there was no coordination on the land." There was a provincial commitment to the Olympic Bid Society that clearly stated the Callaghan Valley was to be the proposed site of the Nordic event. Western Forest Products was the first party to respond to the concerns of the Resort Municipality of Whistler. "They were in my office and within a day we had a memorandum of understanding," the mayor says. "They said in no way did they want to be a reason why the bid would fail." 

Once Western was on board, the momentum built. All the provincial ministers who have mandates in the Callaghan came out and did a tour of the proposed Olympic site. Western and the Resort Municipality of Whistler have made a commitment to integrate logging with the proposed Olympic facilities. "There's a signed agreement between the municipality and Western that we will do the best we can," Don MacLaurin, a municipal forestry consultant in Whistler says, "and we've done that. It's been very close." Logging roads, for example, are being planned with the Olympics in mind. There's a chance these logging roads could be used for cross-country ski trails. "We have a general indication where the trails should go," MacLaurin says. "They won't all fit with logging roads, but some might." O'Reilly's staff report that the dialogue back and forth-the give and take between Western Forest Products and the various interest groups-has been tremendous. 

Although everyone knows that the integration of logging and recreation will not keep the Callaghan perfectly pristine, all parties involved want to be proud of their work. "At the end of the day, if the Olympics arrived we'd like to be able to say this is how forestry and recreation have really come together, recognizing both values," O'Reilly says. "We think that some sort of strategy and cooperation can be carried over to recreation and tourism in the future." There's been a lot of tension in the Sea to Sky corridor between the various interest groups. Showcasing the integration of logging and the proposed Olympic facilities in the Callaghan is a way of bringing people together, but more needs to be done. In September 1999, a symposium was held in Whistler to build a sense of cooperation. "We're trying to open a dialogue to talk further about the opportunities for forestry and recreation and how we can better enhance what we've got," O'Reilly says. The gist of all of this, whether or not Whistler is successful in its bid for the 2010 Olympics, is that forestry and recreation interests have been able to come together and work together. 

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