Nanaimo Coun. Ben Geselbracht speaks at a forest march co-promoted by Extinction Rebellion and the Vancouver Island Water Watch Coalition last summer. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo Coun. Ben Geselbracht speaks at a forest march co-promoted by Extinction Rebellion and the Vancouver Island Water Watch Coalition last summer. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo city council votes to oppose logging of at-risk old-growth forests

City calls on province to fund a just transition from logging old-growth

The City of Nanaimo has now joined the protest to try to protect old-growth forests following a motion at this week’s city council meeting.

Council voted 5-4 on Monday night in favour of Coun. Ben Geselbracht’s motion to formally oppose logging of at-risk old-growth forests. The motion calls on the B.C. government to defer logging “in all high-productivity, rare, oldest and most intact” old-growth forests including at Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew, fund an “economically just” transition from “unsustainable” logging and forward the resolution for debate at the next Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

Geselbracht’s motion suggested 75 per cent of “the original high-productivity, big-tree old-growth forests” in B.C. are slated to be logged.

“This is an unacceptable level of protection for the little that is left of such a globally valuable natural asset,” Geselbracht said.

He said he’s been moved by people mobilizing to pressure the B.C. government to meet its commitments to protect ancient forests and develop a more sustainable forest industry. He said some industry voices have tried to characterize his resolution as anti-logging, anti-forestry and anti-jobs.

“This could not be further from the truth,” Geselbracht said. “We have no choice but to develop an economy that operates inside ecological limits of the planet.”

The majority of councillors supporting the motion included Coun. Zeni Maartman, who said the province’s old-growth strategic review was an in-depth and comprehensive process and said it’s time for the province to step up and follow through on recommendations.

Coun. Tyler Brown was also in favour. He said he doesn’t envy the provincial government’s difficult decisions ahead regarding old-growth, but liked the idea of deferral of logging those forests in the meantime.

“That’s not to say we’re not going to log at all, that’s not to say that we’re never going to log old-growth, it’s just going to say there’s a little bit to unpack here,” Brown said.

He said old-growth forests have disappeared gradually, so once they’re gone, people won’t know what they’ve lost.

“We can be doing better from an environment perspective and we can be doing just transitions better and doing better for our communities in the long run,” he said.

Coun. Erin Hemmens said she was voting in favour because she thought the conversation should be elevated for discussion with other local government representatives, “because that’s where advocacy positions are developed.”

READ ALSO: Rally held in Nanaimo to oppose logging of remaining old-growth forest

Most of the councillors who were opposed felt the Nanaimo city council table wasn’t the appropriate forum for the motion. Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said the discussion should be between the provincial government and First Nations, and Mayor Leonard Krog said it’s the B.C. legislature where forest policy decisions should be debated.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said Geselbracht’s motion put council “in the middle of a conflict” between government policy, Green Party philosophy, the lumber industry and environmental protesters.

“We’re in a no-win situation here … We’re going to be seen as either anti-logging, industry and employment, or anti-environment and I don’t think we want to be seen in either of those ways…” Thorpe said. “I’m not prepared to support this inappropriate and divisive motion. It plays to provincial politics and personal agenda and it doesn’t belong at this table.”

Armstrong, Krog, Thorpe and Coun. Jim Turley voted against the motion. City director of legislative services Sheila Gurrie said the motion comes too late in the year to be forwarded to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, but can go to UBCM.

Earlier on Monday, the B.C. Forestry Alliance asked Nanaimo city council to set aside Geselbracht’s motion as “counterproductive and not inclusive of workers and communities,” adding that halting old-growth harvesting would have an “immediate negative effect” on companies tied to the forest industry and on the city’s economy.

READ ALSO: Court delays decision on injunction against Port Renfrew area logging blockades

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