Spotted Owl and logging in the Spuzzum Valley watershed
Attention: Honourable Ministers Conroy, Heyman & Cullen
Dear Honourable Ministers:
Re: Spotted Owl and logging in the Spuzzum Valley watershed
We write to you on behalf of Wilderness Committee & Spuzzum First Nation.
We want to start by congratulating each of you on your recent (re)appointment as Minister. We are enthused to see that each of your mandate letters prioritizes addressing the numerous and urgent issues associated with land, resource, and species management throughout the province.
Without a doubt two of the most pressing issues within each of your respective mandates are furthering efforts of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and addressing the biodiversity crisis British Columbia is currently facing.
Which brings us to the purpose of this letter. On behalf of the Wilderness Committee and Spuzzum First Nation, we request that you order an immediate ceasing of all logging activities within the Spuzzum Valley watershed, which is the heart of the Spô’zêm’s traditional territory and hosts the last known breeding pair of spotted owl – a species on the brink of extinction from Canada’s wild.
The plight of the spotted owl is directly related to BC’s forest and land management practices and the absence of protective laws – particularly those related to the protection of critical habitat, which for the spotted owl is primarily old-growth forests in southwestern BC.
It is because of this failure to proactively protect the spotted owl and its habitat that Wilderness Committee is currently seeking to enforce the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in British Columbia. As you are likely aware, on October 14, 2020, Wilderness Committee petitioned Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, to recommend a SARA emergency order to protect the last known spotted owls from imminent
threats to their continued survival and reproduction.
In addition, on October 28, 2020, Chief Hobart on behalf of his Nation sent a letter to FLNRORD representative Kevin Chisholm, Minister Wilkinson, and several others. This letter detailed, among other things, the Spuzzum First Nation’s connection to the spotted owl and the old-growth forests within their territory.
Both the Wilderness Committee and Spuzzum First Nation also called for an immediate ceasing of all logging activities within the Spuzzum Valley watershed. The Wilderness Committee grounded its demand in expert reports that detailed the imminent threat continued logging constitutes for the last breeding pair and the remaining spotted owl population as a whole. The Spuzzum Nation’s demand is grounded in traditional knowledge, a failure of the Crown to consult with the Nation, and an assertion of Aboriginal Title. Both of these letters are attached for your reference.
Request on behalf of the Spuzzum First Nation & Wilderness Committee
The science is clear: an immediate halt to logging within the Spuzzum Valley watershed is required to ensure that the last known breeding pair will continue to survive and reproduce. Without the pair, a population once numbering more than 1000 will be effectively extirpated from the wild in all of Canada.
Minister Wilkinson provided a prompt response to Wilderness Committee’s petition but has requested more time to determine how he must fulfil his SARA obligations. Meanwhile, the threat of continued logging remains.
We understand that there has been engagement between federal and provincial officials to explore measures the province might take to address this emergency situation. Having successfully prompted SARA emergency orders before in circumstances less dire than that faced by the spotted owl, we know their value. But, we also know their drawbacks – the process SARA prompts (including lawsuits if so required), can be protracted and rarely, in the long-term, promotes reconciliation and results in adequate species and habitat protection. For these reasons, we believe the best outcome would be enabled by the province voluntarily and promptly taking steps to protect the remaining owls and their habitat.
The latest information we have is that there are at least two cutblocks – SP224 and SP225 – within the watershed that have been licenced for logging but have yet to be felled. In addition, 3 cutblocks were submitted for approval by BC Timber Sales on Sept. 15, 2020. These are undercutting permit TA0192 and have block ID numbers of SP007, SP008 and SP009. All have a status of "Pending Electronic", which we understand to mean that they have been submitted, but not yet approved by FLNRORD. All of this is captured in the attached map recently prepared by the Wilderness Committee.
Ministers, you have the primary jurisdiction to protect the spotted owl and its habitat. You can do so by rescinding the two issued licences in the Spuzzum Valley watershed and suspending the approval of any further cutblocks. Doing so would not only protect the owls, but it would also demonstrate your genuine commitment to furthering reconciliation efforts and addressing the biodiversity crisis more broadly. We hope that you recognize the urgency of this situation, and respond accordingly.
Kegan Pepper-Smith, Lawyer,
Devon Page, Executive Director,
On behalf of Wilderness Committee & Spuzzum First Nation