Logger Mike

Leafing through “Edge of Discovery; A History of the Campbell River District”, and pausing at photos taken in the early 1900’s, not much remains the same. Much of the old-growth forest was harvested and a community was built on the back of this perpetual industry. It has been my experience that you can construct buildings and pave roads, but once our backs are turned, you can’t stop the forest from returning.

img_0338On Friday, October 30, 2009, The Campbell River Courier-Islander announced: “Campbell River icon Logger Mike is back atop a new spar in the downtown core after an absence of almost two years. Crane and rigging crews lowered a 460-year-old yellow cedar spar into a specially designed stand and then hoisted 25-year-old Mike back into place. Mike was last seen downtown February 2, 2008 when he came down from the rotting Tyee Plaza transit shelter spar for a little R&R (rest & retouching).”

Symbolic of economic challenges in Campbell River, the City has again invested in Downtown Revitalization Projects. ‘Big Mike’ first appeared in 1984 during economic challenges brought on by a nation-wide recession and lengthy strikes and lockouts at the Elk Falls Mill and Westmin Resources Ltd. Two thousand nine has marked another economic test for this community, but this article isn’t about our economics, rather it features our forests and the return of ‘Highrigger Mike’ who gives us reason to ponder.

I moved to British Columbia from Ontario in 1993 thinking I was an environmentalist. I was appalled at the clearcuts and the apparent destruction of our natural resources. I was righteous in my views, conscious of my footprint on planet earth and arrogant in my positional stance … until I met my husband– a Quadra Island Woodlot Licensee — in 2000.

Jerry confronted me on all my beliefs and had me questioning the pillage of forests for ANY use outside of wooded parkland and a working forest. Our most frequent conflict came with my plea for pasture. In 2003 I brought my new horse home to our 24-acre private land portion of Jerry’s Woodlot Licence. I was thrilled when he opened a less than 1 hectare plot and put a great six-foot fence around it, although I told him horses really only need a four-foot high fence. We talked about how he was going to drain the soil and turn a marshy area into dryer land. We discussed grass seed and I was tickled, yes my husband does love me.

You can imagine my confusion when the boxes of seedlings arrived and Jerry began calling it the ‘Maple Field’. What should have been pasture, in my mind, was a maple plantation in his! The six-foot fence was to keep deer out, not horses in. Well, we experimented as he proclaimed an interest in agro-forestry, a combination of forestry and agriculture practices. Fortunately, my mare passed the test. Real conflicts began when he purchased a logging horse named Tim, a big ‘ole Belgian draft horse (everything my husband does revolves around trees!), Tim loves maple trees AND his favourite scratching post is a sapling about two or three inches in diameter and 15 feet high. We now have several snapped in half.

So why would an article about logging appear in Synergy Magazine, “dedicated to Mindful Living”? As a self-acclaimed environmentalist I had met my adversary. I had never met a more pro-the-natural-environment person than Jerry and I soon met his colleagues who were an equal match. These men and women had me questioning many of my favourite activities. Take alpine skiing for instance; clearcut! Or how about a game of golf; clearcut! Maybe those pretty farms down in Courtenay with flowing fields of grass; another clearcut! They reminded me that these were clearcuts with NO intention to reforestation. And so I started listening, learning and asking questions.

The North Island Woodlot Association (NIWA) is primarily a collection of woodlot licences that are small, area-based forest tenures, unique to British Columbia. In effect it is a partnership between the licensee and the Province of BC to manage public and private forest lands. A woodlot can be held by an individual, private company, community or First Nation and can be renewed or extended over many years. Presently there are 36 woodlot licences in the Campbell River District and they harvest approximately 101,500 m3 of wood per year. Of the 826 woodlot licences in British Columbia (546,000 hectares), 83 are on the coast of which 45 belong to NIWA. Quadra Island has 11 Woodlot Licences, making it the highest density of locally owned, operated and managed forests.

I have learned that every sapling these individuals plant is a part of who they are, as emphasized by Karin Nighswander, a licensee’s wife speaking of her husband, “The way Mark goes about his work, it is as if he expects to live 300 years.” Roads they build are low-impact and are named after their children. These tenures are special in that they can stay in the family. What licensees do today, they do for their grandchildren yet to be. I have witnessed many lost hours of profitable work diverted to saving a few skinny wind-blown cedar trees. Some are successfully still standing.

Each licensee seems to bring their personal interest to the forest. Mark Nighswander bought 46 hectares of largely clearcut, unforested land from Raven Forest Products Ltd. which he added to the woodlot licence he was awarded in 1999. He has spent hours and dollars in reforestation. Special features are his pond, hosting ducks and other local wildlife, planting and pruning and, unless he lives to be 300 years old, he will never witness the fruits of his labour, but his grandchildren and the greater community will.

pc110014Alex Hartford holds the oldest licence on Quadra Island and most of his parcels feature some of Quadra Island’s favourite hiking trails. Men like Grant Hayden bring their skills to the community by assisting in community trail upgrades and clearing. Dick Whittington also operates a sawmill on his woodlot license. John and Coleen Marlow are a husband and wife team, both Registered Professional Foresters. One of the most recent licensees on Quadra Island is the Cape Mudge Band who was rewarded two woodlots in a Forest and Range Agreement.

We can be proud of many projects in our district. In 1931, 415 hectares (1028 acres) of land, the Beaver Lodge Forest Lands, was gifted to the Province of British Columbia by the Elk River Timber Company. Given in trust, the land was to be used in experimental work in reforestation and forest management and now stands as the oldest plantation in the province.

Today I look at that picturesque farm field enclosed by a white rail fence, the golf course or worse yet, my favourite ski hill with a different eye. While my horse picks and searches for small grass patches in and through the trees, Logger Mike stands tall and proud in Campbell River and reminds me of the industry that carved this community and the local men and women who stand proud in sustainable forestry practices. I am grateful to have my ideals challenged and recognize the value of a working forest, one that is cherished by our local loggers and foresters.


More information about the North Island Woodlot Association can be obtained at www.northislandwoodlot.ca or www.woodlot.bc.ca


Jill Benner, aka, Brocklehurst, wears many hats and is proud to write this article as a woodlot licensees wife, living on Quadra Island.