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Community angry after company clearcuts beside cemetery

The forest company planted seedlings on Friday in the area beside the cemetery
Grave markers and headstones in the foreground at Alberni Valley Memorial Gardens with tree stumps in the background. ALBERNI VALLEY MEMORIAL GARDENS

A forestry company planted evergreen seedlings beside a cemetery in Port Alberni on Friday, weeks after its logging crew harvested a stand of mature trees up to the edge of the property — despite assurances that it would not do so.

Alberni Valley Memorial Gardens, a cemetery along Highway 4 near Port Alberni, had a reputation as a peaceful and tranquil place, with a mature forest serving as a backdrop to the headstones. That changed when Mosaic Forest Management exercised its right to harvest a plot adjacent to the cemetery in January.

The work caused an uproar in the community.

“Shame on you for timbering those trees near a cemetery, where my relatives and friends are buried,” Leslie Walerius, 72, wrote to Mosaic. “It’s difficult to believe that you couldn’t come up with an alternative way to manage/harvest the forest.”

Walerius said while she understands the safety risk of trees being toppled by high winds, she couldn’t understand why foresters employed by the company could not come up with an alternative.

“If they were concerned with blowdowns, arborists could have been called to spiral prune the trees. We know they could have done better,” she said.

Barry Tuck, the owner of the cemetery and Yates Memorial Services, said the deforested area looks like a war zone.

“They have literally cut right up to the property line, despite assuring me that they would leave a berm of trees at the border with the cemetery. There are literally just five or six small trees left standing.”

Tuck said it’s frustrating because he has the original emails and maps of the proposed logging from Mosaic Forest Management from November, which clearly show a harvest plan for a 10- to 12-acre swath, with a defined buffer zone running along the side of the property adjacent to the cemetery.

“I got a call from a forest planner with the company in November, explaining what they were planning to do, along with a map showing the proposed berm,” said Tuck.

He said that the company said that while it was aware of the desire for a berm, at some point a decision was made to take down the remainder of the trees because the cut “created loose roots,” increasing the likelihood of the remaining trees coming down in strong winds.

“If they had stayed back 50 feet, like they had planned in the first place, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” said Tuck.

In a statement, Mosaic Forest Management said it initially planned to retain a patch of trees adjacent to Alberni Valley Memorial Gardens. “However, further professional review indicated that retaining large trees in this area would create public safety risks with potential future blowdown.”

The company said it had communicated the change to Alberni Valley Memorial Gardens.

But in response to community complaints, it returned to the property to plant nursery cypress trees on Friday. The company plans to return again before the end of March to plant Douglas fir seedlings.

The company said it has a policy of planting at least two seedlings for every tree it harvests, typically in the first planting season after the harvest.

“It’s just not good enough,” said Tuck, surveying the sea of stumps left behind. “They need to plant at least 1,000 trees to cover the area.”

Walerius, who has lived in Port Alberni since the 1970s, did find a silver lining to the whole episode. “Many of the people in that cemetery grew up with trees. Perhaps, with the trees gone, they get a better view of heaven.”

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