Racing against time to protect a vital piece of nature.
March 4, 2021: “This is not good. I’ve just gone to look at the area. The flagging starts about 50 meters beyond the Perseverance Creek bridge and runs west to Horbury Road, close to Comox Lk, both sides of the road. What is most alarming is that they plan on cutting the steep bank directly above the spring pool and lower reaches where we saw so many Coho spawning last fall. I couldn’t find any riparian zone tape lower down the slope. This is the only area with year-round, cool, oxygenated water we’ve found. It’s where we have been releasing rescued fry in late summer, where we’ve talked about restoration. I have water quality and fish counts for the area going back to 2018. Do we have any leverage?”
This message came by email to the Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS) from a member of the Perseverance Stream Keepers, who play an invaluable role watching over the creek that flows from the headwaters above Cumberland to Comox Lake.
The board and staff of the CCFS were caught off guard with this one. A harvest in Lower Perseverance Creek was the last thing we’d expected only six months after completing Project Perseverance, a 225-acre purchase just upstream. This spring, we’d hoped to take a breath and turn to restoration and stewardship projects. But an unprecedented rise in global timber prices meant that the economic incentive to log was higher than ever.
Do we have any leverage? The question is key. The answer is… maybe?
Over the past 20 years, CCFS has raised $5 million to purchase four separate parcels of land from the same timber company. Perhaps we’d built enough of a relationship to ask for a delay… But with the road built and equipment on site, the odds weren’t looking to be in our favour.
Unlike places where the target is crown land, the rules are different when it comes to protecting natural areas in the Comox Valley. Our community is surrounded by privately owned timber lands, the result of a 150-year-old legacy of private land ownership of unceded Indigenous territory that spans the southeast quadrant of Vancouver Island. On this part of the Island, conservation organizations have to work directly with timber companies to protect land and trees.
Strange as it sounds, we’re in the conservation real estate business. It is intense.
We work with appraisals, timber cruises, setbacks and net downs, bridge costs, rights of way, closing dates, conditions, financing, and purchase and sale agreements. It’s a blend of sport, art, and science.
The sport is racing the clock to prevent private timberlands being sold for development ambitions, with results like the scenario at Stotan Falls. The best time to buy conservation lands for parks, water, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration is yesterday. The next best time is today. With real estate values only increasing, the window of opportunity is closing.
The art is balancing community values. This is messy business. Are we protecting lands for biodiversity, fish values, sport and recreation, education, peaceful retreat, heritage, climate resilience, or drinking water? All of the above? Can these things coexist on a protected landscape?
The science helps us answer the questions. How much do we need to protect for ecosystem integrity? Where are the intact corridors? What are the impacts of roads, trails, dogs, and humans? How will climate change affect this landscape? Where are the nests, the spawning beds, the headwaters, the riparian boundaries, the habitat opportunities?
Lower Perseverance Creek is a biodiversity corridor that links Perseverance Creek to Comox Lake, the source of the region’s drinking water. The riparian wetlands nurture giant red cedar and Douglas fir. Coho spawn in the lower reaches of the creek, and the area offers refuge and safe passage for species big and small from the upland mountains and forests to the lake.
As more people head into the trails and forests surrounding Cumberland and Comox Lake to explore and recreate, they unwittingly push back at nature, taking over the spaces that nature needs to thrive—old forests, waterways, wetlands, and riparian zones. From bears and cougars to bats and birds, this corridor is a place for our wild neighbours to retreat from the pressures of human encroachment on the landscape. We need to preserve it so nature can do its thing.
Back to the question: Do we have any leverage? Yes. It’s called our community. For two decades, the Cumberland Community Forest Society has been protecting forests in the Trent and Perseverance watersheds. We are stitching together an altered landscape, one hectare at a time, with the support of a community that is nurtured, directly and indirectly, by the lands we protect.
But the answer is only yes for now: in late March, we negotiated the withdrawal of harvest equipment from the corridor. But to protect the land in perpetuity, we need to purchase it. Over the next six months we will be working hard—and looking for more support from the community and beyond—to raise the funds to close the gap in Lower Perseverance Creek.