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Conservationist pushes for long-term protection of Lynn Headwaters as lease expires

The future of ancient trees like the recently discovered North Shore Giant could be cut short if the province opens the land to logging.

What’s the best way to protect old trees? Protect the land they live on.

One North Shore resident is trying secure long-term preservation of Lynn Headwaters. In June, tree hunters found what’s believed to be Canada’s fourth-widest tree in what’s now a park under the jurisdiction of Metro Vancouver Regional District.

But the area is only leased to the district by the province, and that 30-year deal is now up for renewal.

Conservationist and lawyer Paul Hundal, who lives in West Vancouver, is using the opportunity to petition for something that would protect the area in perpetuity. In his view, a short-term lease is designed to give the province the option of logging the area in the future if it chooses then to do so.

It’s the same concern Hundal had when he asked for longer-term protection when the lease deal was made 30 years ago.

Instead, he’s pushing for Metro to take the land title from the province for recreational and conservation purposes, or to sign a 999-year lease to the same effect. Hundal shared his arguments with the regional parks committee in a presentation last Wednesday (July 13).

“This place is special enough to deserve permanent protection, not just temporary leases,” he wrote in his report. “One also has to wonder why the province wouldn’t give permanent protection to this area.

“The failure to do so in the past raises concerns that they are looking to exploit the timber values at some future time. They would appear to be preserving their right to do so, otherwise there is no reason to not give permanent protection to this well used recreation and conservation area now.”

Hundal pointed to the “ongoing failure” of the province to support recommendations of its own old growth technical review panel – an issue that’s led to many of the forest protection battles today. He asked how the public could have any confidence that at a future renewal date these increasingly rare trees won’t be harvested for their timbre values.

Speaking to North Shore News, Hundal said members of the parks committee are supportive of extended protection. In particular, North Van district Coun. Lisa Muri and West Van Coun. Bill Soprovich.

Hundal said he’s hopeful that increased public attention to saving old-growth trees will give his proposal a better shot this time around.

“I'm counting on that,” he said. “Especially the person who documented that fourth-widest tree in Canada. That was perfect timing because they actually thought that it was in a protected area. And they didn't realize, legally, it wasn't. And I did.

“As soon as I read that article, I was thinking, ‘It's not protected.’ Just a coincidence of timing – it was perfect timing to bring it up.”

Muri said she’s “massively supportive” of Hundal’s proposals regarding Lynn Headwaters.

“It looks like a park, it acts like a park, it walks like a park and talks like a park,” she said. “So it should just remain in perpetuity a park. And then it takes out any uncertainty as to the future.”

In her two years sitting on the committee, Muri said she’s seen the body do a very good job at managing parks in the region, as well as protecting land. Even within regional parks, there are large areas they don’t allow the public into because it’s environmentally sensitive, she explained.

While negotiations between Metro and the province have started, Muri said there’s a backlog of initiatives, so the Lynn Headwaters issue won’t likely be settled until first-quarter next year.

“We had hoped this would have been done sooner,” she said.

In the meantime, Muri said the negotiations are being done in good faith, and doesn’t expect any logging to be done while the lease is in limbo.

Lynn Headwaters old growth preserved because a fire shut down logging nearly 100 years ago

Hundal has a long history of environmental advocacy on the North Shore, growing up in Lynn Valley and later moving to West Van.

His first battle was as part of a group called Save Lynn Canyon Park in 1988. At the time, he fought against a 1,900-unit subdivision in the area. That’s how the Seymour Conservation Reserve was created, Hundal explained, “And ended up saving not just Lynn Canyon Park, but it also ended up protecting Seymour Valley, where people recreate now.”

He also helped stop a Cypress golf course proposal in 1990. And during the '90s he helped convince the Greater Vancouver Water District – now called Metro water services department – to stop logging the Seymour watershed.

In that time, he became passionate about protecting old-growth trees.

In the late '60s, the provincial government opened up Strathcona Park – B.C.’s oldest – to logging, and they logged the whole back bowl, Hundal said.

After studying forest cover maps over the decades, he’s noticed that the most productive area for timber is the back bowl of any valley. So he started driving around to check on more of them. “They were all logged out.”

Lynn Headwaters is another back bowl.

In 1917, Cedars Limited got the timber rights for most of the area. The company logged most of the way up the east side of Lynn Creek until their activity triggered a large fire in 1925. Cedars shut down logging operations after that blaze.

Importantly, the firm was kicked out before it reached the back bowl. If you go to the site of the old burn today, Hundal said it’s still very dangerous there. He calls it a landslide waiting to happen.

It’s also very steep and treacherous for other reasons, so the area isn’t likely to be preserved for recreational purposes – for now, at least.

But the back bowl has high conservation value, he said, which is why it should be protected even though it's not accessible to the public.

“And it shouldn't be left to the Ministry of Forests to decide what to do with it. Because all they care about are timber values. And they will take a helicopter to log the big cedars out of there and take them back through the watershed quite easily.”

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