ECOFORESTRY INSTITUTE SOCIETY
For Immediate Release
June 18, 2015
EIS APPLAUDS TLC MEMBERS FOR PROTECTING WILDWOOD ECOFOREST
VICTORIA – The Ecoforestry Institute Society (EIS) is buoyed by the support shown by members of The Land Conservancy who rejected TLC’s amendment to amend its inalienability bylaws at the June 12th Extraordinary General Meeting. TLC required the amendment to transfer 28 properties to the Nature Conservancy of Canada and The Nature Trust of BC. However, that amendment would also have allowed TLC to sell Wildwood to private interests as written into the Plan of Arrangement.
“To save Wildwood, TLC members were forced to vote against the entire amendment,” says EIS Chair Peter Jungwirth, RPF. “EIS did everything it could prior to the meeting to avoid this situation. Despite talks mediated through the Attorney General legal counsel, board to board meetings and last ditch efforts in the hours leading up to the June 12th meeting to secure a binding declaration from TLC that they would not sell to private interests, TLC has not taken the necessary steps to clearly exclude this possibility of a private sale.”
TLC had committed on Monday that they would “remove Wildwood from the bylaw amendment to be voted on at TLC’s Extraordinary General Meeting on Friday,” but they informed EIS the day before the meeting that they were unable to fulfill that commitment. TLC proposed signing a binding declaration instead that would protect Wildwood. EIS drafted one that committed to placing Wildwood in a charitable purpose trust, as TLC had already publicly promised to do, along with the backup option of transfer to a charitable society. TLC refused to sign, then submitted a draft that still permitted the sale or transfer of Wildwood to a non-charitable society. Such a society, when dissolved, could allow the transfer of assets to the members. EIS would not agree to it. In short, TLC refused to commit to a sale or transfer of Wildwood to a charitable purpose trust, as they committed publicly on May 21st, or to charitable non-profit society.
“All TLC had to do was put in writing the commitment they already made publicly – to transfer Wildwood to a charitable purpose trust, and none of this would have happened. But they refused to do so,” said Barry Gates, EIS vice-chair and forest manager, “EIS has no wish to endanger the Plan, or to place TLC creditors in jeopardy. The question to be asked is, “Why is TLC willing to risk the Plan for a private sale of Wildwood?”
In the weeks before the vote, EIS spoke to TLC board members of their concerns and actions EIS would take in the event TLC failed to honour Wildwood as a donated property in the public domain. EIS, along with the Wildwood Protectors, a citizens’ group, actively rallied TLC members, collected proxy votes, and ran a public awareness campaign. EIS had also previously offered a $600,000 contribution to help pay down TLC’s significant debt, along with a trust and covenant proposal that would secure Wildwood’s future in perpetuity.
Yet, TLC has continually refused the EIS offer as a stand-alone option, attempting to combine it with that of the private interests. Instead, they asked EIS to contribute the funds to a trust structure that would in turn, license Tisha Wilkinson (Merv Wilkinson’s daughter and an oil and gas consultant) and Mark Randen (a sawyer) to operate Wildwood on a for-profit basis. This would apply to the development of logging operations as well as educational programs. EIS is at a loss to explain TLC’s rejection of a well-qualified charitable society with a long history at Wildwood and a significant contribution in favour of a private deal. The bottom line is that EIS will not contribute if any private interests are involved in Wildwood trust or covenant structure.
TLC Chair Briony Penn has stated that TLC has now spent $2million in legal fees attempting to recover the more than $8million debt on behalf of creditors and does not want to resolve this issue in court. EIS would also like to avoid court proceedings and would again like to offer TLC the $600,000 and trust proposal.
Further costs to TLC of clinging to the possibility of a private sale of Wildwood could be far reaching, including the original donors who have stated they want their donations refunded if Wildwood is sold to private interests, the loss of future donations and faith in TLC as a charitable purpose society, and the tax implications if a for-profit organization is created at Wildwood.
EIS will continue efforts until Wildwood is protected by a charitable purpose non-profit trust or society that will operate Wildwood as a working and sustainable ecoforest in Merv Wilkinson’s vision and legacy.
EIS Vice Chair
EIS Communications Director
Wildwood Protectors Citizen’s Group