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Protecting former forest land may require direct action: activist

If the provincial government fails to participate in plans to protect former forest lands on southern Vancouver Island, it may find itself facing major environmental protests on the outskirts of the provincial capital.

That's the assessment of Gordon O'Connor who has been working on the file for the environmental group the Dogwood Initiative.

“When 'please' just isn't being listened to this community is going to have to find some other way to protect its resources,” he said. “We're running out of options.”

Three years ago then forests minister Rich Coleman approved the release of 28,000 hectares of Western Forest Products' private land from management under the province's tree farm licence system. Some of the most scenic properties are set to go on sale March 8.

A University of B.C. proposal would see the land bought for use as a research forest, but O'Connor said UBC needs a $50 million loan from the province to do it. Considering what it would mean for jobs, eco-tourism and clean drinking water, “It's actually a pretty reasonable investment to ask for.”

Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan raised the issue in the legislature this afternoon. The province has refused to allow UBC to borrow the money itself, he said, and called on the government to intervene.

Community and rural development minister Bill Bennett said he's been talking to many of the local politicians involved. “We're going to be as constructive in this situation as we possibly can,” he said.

The Jordan River Steering Committee is organizing a public meeting at 7:00 pm on Wed., March 3, 2010 at S.J. Willis School, 923 Topaz in Victoria. Speakers include T'Sou-ke First Nation chief Gordon Planes, the Otter Point and Shirley Ratepayers Association's president Arnie Campbell, the steering committee's Vicky Husband and the UVic Environmental Law Centre's Calvin Sandborn.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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