Renowned Wildwood forest changing hands

Ownership of Wildwood — a renowned 77-acre ecoforest near Cedar — will go to the Ecoforestry Institute Society in December under a recently signed agreement.

The Land Conservancy of B.C. has owned Wildwood since 2000. Its future has been hotly debated since the Victoria-based non-profit group went into creditor protection in 2013.

In the past two years, the Land Conservancy has worked to climb out of debt, and transfer many of its properties to other owners. The 18-year-old Land Conservancy once held about 50 properties around B.C., bought or donated and kept for their environmental or heritage values.

But it ran up about $8 million of debt. Its survival plan would see it retain only a handful of properties.

Wildwood was established by the late Merv Wilkinson, who was a leader in sustainable forestry. He starting working on Wildwood in 1938.

A proposal to sell the site to a private buyer, who was to have maintained the ecoforest, was nixed as the Ecoforestry Institute and other supporters rallied to raise money. The Ecoforesty Institute has managed Wildwood since 2001.

If all goes according to plan under the new agreement, the Land Conservancy will receive a total of $900,000 for the property. Of that, $790,000 will be cash and another $110,000 will be from creditors forgiving money owed by the Land Conservancy, a news  release states.

For the sale to go through, the agreement calls for a covenant and management plan to be approved by ecoforestry expert Herb Hammond to ensure the operation continues as Wilkinson would have wished.

Also, the sale has to be approved by the Supreme Court of B.C.

TLC will bring the offer to court by early December, the organization said. The hope is that the property will be transferred by Dec. 11.

Money from the sale will go toward paying creditors.

Briony Penn, chairwoman of the Land Conservancy’s board, said, “The board and I are pleased that we could come to an agreement for the best use and future care of Wildwood.

“We are on track to do what we intended since entering CCAA [Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act] two years ago; our properties will remain protected through appropriate new ownership and covenants while we raise funds to repay creditors.”

Peter Jungwirth, chairman of the Ecoforesty Institute, said it is “thrilled to acquire Wildwood and hold it on behalf of the public.

“EIS has a long association with Wildwood and our ability to continue as stewards of Wildwood honours Merv Wilkinson’s vision and legacy.”

Kathy Code, Ecoforestry Institute communications director, said plans call for a capital fund-raising campaign to pay for future ventures, including educational initiatives.

So far, the Ecoforestry Institute’s efforts include completing a forest inventory and developing an ecoforestry management plan, along with staging workshops and tours.

In October, a total of 26 Land Conservancy properties were transferred to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Following that move, the province of B.C. committed $1 million to take on ownership of some of those properties. These include land along the Cowichan River.

As well, the Land Conservancy is launching high teas at its Abkhazi Garden in Fairfield, and is also selling holiday baking.

TLC on the web:
blog.conservancy.bc.caa – See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/life/islander/renowned-wildwood-forest-changing-hands-1.2116861#sthash.gSbrQKvk.dpuf