Paradise lost concluded

Columnist Rob Brown explores the privatization of public lands

When Pat Roy bought his property at the end of what later became Pat Roy Road, a branch of it ran between his house and his shop. This was the route the loggers used to get at the trees that lined  the river from Llewellyn’s Crossing to Grieve’s Pool, four kilometres upstream.

The planning in the forest industry in those days was driven by the desire to get to the largest trees in the valley bottoms expeditiously. The road that split Pat’s place in two was typical. It ran straight down a bank then straight across a swamp where a creek drained the dark brown water from a sprawling swamp that extends about two kilometres north. That the spot where the road crossed was prime salmon spawning habitat, that the swamp was an important staging area for many species of waterfowl, and a nursery for juvenile salmonids, got scant notice from the road builders.

In some of the Western United States, logging companies are required to maintain the roads that gave them access to timber. Here roads built by timber companies are allowed to decay or are deactivated once the profit has been extracted. Although this seems manifestly unfair to those of us who are eager to enjoy the outdoors, the latter approach does restrict access to the point where it significantly reduces pressure on wildlife.

When I first began walking to the river on the road through Pat’s property, a person could drive right to the river. Noel Gyger, who was guiding sports to chinook and steelhead then used the road to access the boat launch at Llewellyn’s. People drove RVs to stream side, while property owners upstream used the road to get to the places.

The Roy family tired of the traffic. Pat approached the Department of Highways and asked that the public easement be located somewhere else. His request was granted. Those people desiring access to the river now had to follow a road heading north a few hundred metres from Pat’s property, drive down a steep hill then turn south on a really rough old logging spur, then turn west on the original road leading to river. This route change filtered out the vehicular traffic. A few seasons later, at the request of DFO, the Ministry of Transport (MOTI) dropped a concrete barrier just before the place where the original road crossed the creek and erected a sign declaring that the road would no longer be maintained beyond that point.

The end of rubber tire traffic was a relief to the habitat staff of DFO, who had been negotiating with MOTI to have a bridge put across the creek to prevent further damage from the people who were driving through the prime salmon spawning habitat there. The change allowed the creek to revert to something approaching its natural state.

When concerned citizens complained about the sizes of clear cuts and the rate of logging, the companies and government foresters tried to placate us with the simplistic assurance that the trees would grow back. It’s much more complex than that of course, but there was a modicum of comfort in the notion that all that logged crown land was still ours and, as such, there was hope that when the woods eventually greened up again more enlightened logging practises would be in place.

What actually happened was that huge chunks of land that were supposed to be used for forestry in perpetuity were transformed into real estate. The Kalum Valley is replete with examples.

It turned out that the wet lands adjacent to the swamp was one of them. Something we found out about when a local guide bought it. After developing it, he sold out to a consortium of fishing guides and rich guys from away. They changed the already changed easement by building a private road on top of it. Fortunately DFO Habitat was there during the construction of the road and the bridge across the pond to ensure that damage was minimal and that the route of the road didn’t infringe on any riparian zones. Still, none of this should have been necessary because the land in question, being irreplaceable and therefore beyond value, should not have been for sale in the first place.

Now there is a palatial lodge smack dab in the middle of that land. There are also surveillance cameras and big signs warning trespassers they are being watched. The place now has an unfriendly aspect and is looking more and more like a private game preserve.

You can’t blame the guides who purchased it for this development. The bad actors are the politicians who enabled the privatization of public lands. Thanks to them a valley that should have remained a wilderness corridor to preserve its existing wildlife values then been left alone to heal to the point where it could regain its status as a truly great salmon river, has no chance of doing that.