TWO of the North Shore's most active environmental stewardship groups are praising the District of West Vancouver for making good on its promise to prevent another accidental cutting of old growth trees in the district.
But the Old Growth Conservancy Society and West Vancouver Streamkeeper Society say they have to keep the district's feet to the fire since numerous fail-safes didn't work when district contractors mistakenly cut down a stand of old growth trees - some of them upwards of 700 years old - on the steep banks of Black Creek for a water infrastructure project in 2011.
Since the incident came to light and caused a public drubbing for West Vancouver staff and council in June, council has pledged to beef up its consultation with stewardship groups, update its in-house digital mapping system to include all known stands of old growth trees and set a new interdepartment communication policy to make sure engineering and parks services are well aware of any work going on that might put old growth trees or streams at risk.
The district has also hired a staff member with a master's degree in forestry and posted a job opening for an environmental manager. Both posts were vacant at the time of the cutting, which critics blamed for the mistake.
All of the improvements were on a list of recommendations put forward by the two community groups after the incident.
"All five have either been adopted or in the process of being adopted, which we as stewardships groups are very much in support of and are thankful for," said Hugh Hamilton, president of OGCS.
"(But) we know we've got to keep pressure on them. You know as well as I do that things will just not get done. We want to make sure they do understand that we care and they do understand that we're going to keep on to this."
Work crews were installing a road to do upgrades to the Black Creek Diversion Project, a critical source of about half of the district's drinking water, when they cut down 62 trees, roughly 12 of which were more than 700 years old in November 2011.
Trying to get the job done before winter weather set in, the district used its own maps, which were out of date.
"But they didn't bother to check with people," Hamilton said. "People who would have been there before. People who would have known this was an old growth forest."
The most aggravating factor was that the water diversion project itself had been installed 10 years earlier without having to fell old growth, said John Barker, Streamkeeper coordinator, and that the upgrades could have been done the same way, had anyone dug up the old construction plans.
"If they had only followed the pattern of what they did in 2001 when the pipe first went in, we'd be home free. We wouldn't have this problem," he said.
The loss of old growth trees was devastating for environmentalists on the North Shore and around the Lower Mainland, and many still become emotional when the subject comes up, Barker said.
On an environmental level, they are hugely important to the biodiversity of their area, they have hundreds of years of carbon sequestered in them and they can be anchors for slope stability.
But there's something a little more
intangible about their value, like an heirloom passed down for many generations or a rare cultural artifact.
"If I said to you there are only 12 trees in the Lower Mainland that are 700 years old still standing in a forest environment, your ears might perk up. And how many of those did they wipe out? They took two of them out," Barker said.
"People have said this might be one of the few remaining stands of 700 year old Douglas fir trees in the Lower Mainland and they just wiped it out."
The trees also happen to be worth thousands of dollars each. As an act of contrition, the district offered to donate the roughly $13,000 from timber sales to OGCS and WVSS, which the groups have requested be passed on to the West Vancouver Community Foundation. From there, it can be granted out to groups or individuals wanting to carry out environmental improvement projects.