For immediate release
Ladysmith, BC – The Ecoforestry Institute Society (EIS) is seeking public support to protect Wildwood Forest from sale to private owners to help satisfy debts owed by The Land Conservancy (TLC). We are acting on behalf of the hundreds of donors who so willingly gave time, effort and money to ensure that Wildwood will remain a sustainable, educational and publicly accessible working forest in perpetuity,â€ said Roger Burgess, chair of EIS. â€œSelling Wildwood to pay off TLC debts is to ignore the wishes of former long-time owner, Merv Wilkinson.
TLC has filed court documents of its intent to sell Wildwood to private interests. The money would be used to pay down the multi-million debt for which TLC is now under court protection.
EIS has managed Wildwood Forest for the past fifteen years. Sympathetic to TLC plight, EIS has offered a significant cash donation to help TLC out. TLC has deemed this insufficient, favouring a deal selling to private interests. Wildwood is an inalienable property, which under TLC bylaws, prohibits the property from being transferred to anyone other than a suitable charity.
TLC is willing to transfer other properties such as Ross Bay Villa for a fraction of its appraised value to its long-term managers. Despite the long-term relationship between EIS and TLC, TLC is not willing to do the same for Wildwood.
Wildwood is a rare preserve of old and second growth forest with significant wildlife and non-timber values that attracts visitors and forestry experts from around the world. EIS is the non-profit organization of professional foresters and other experts who have managed Wildwood since 2000 with the blessing of Merv Wilkinson, the owner who entrusted the property to TLC that year. EIS provides educational and professional forestry management services that respect Wilkinson world-renowned sustainable forestry practices. Now they are working to respect his wishes that Wildwood stay out of private hands.
Selling the property to private owners is an affront to the hundreds of people who gave more than $1 million in donations, and provides no guarantee that the old growth trees would be managed sustainably or that the educational services would continue to be available to the public.
TLC says they can protect the forest with a covenant, but this does not guarantee that the charitable purposes will be maintained. It requires significant technical experience to enforce an ecoforestry covenant and EIS is the only organization on the Island with the seasoned professionals and experience to back it up. We’ve managed the forest for fifteen years and will continue to do so. This is about protecting Wildwood for future generations. said Burgess.
Patrick Canning, lawyer for EIS added: When the final donor paid off the mortgage in 2011, TLC declared Wildwood inalienable, and said they’d protect it forever. Now they want to sell it even though they acquired it through donations. It’s my opinion that Wildwood is a discrete purpose charitable property under the Charitable Purposes Preservation Act and TLC only holds it in trust. They just can’t sell it on the market; it must be transferred to another suitable organization, a charity, if they are unable to keep it. The Ecoforestry Institute is tailor made for this. Now that TLC has put the sale before the court, I have asked the court for a hearing. EIS has not directly challenged the Plan of Arrangement to spare creditors, and we still hope to make a win-win deal with TLC, and create the least expense and trouble for creditors. If there are any Wildwood supporters out there among the creditors, now would be a great time to step up.
EIS invites the public to take action to express their disapproval of the sale: write letters to the editor, spread the word through social media, write directly to EIS, visit the Wildwood Ecoforest Facebook page, visit the Wildwood Ecoforestry site or email email@example.com. Once Wildwood is gone, it is gone forever.
Wildwood is a 77 acre preserve of old and second growth forest and wildlife habitat, the last of the 136 acre property bought by Merv Wilkinson in the1930s. An increasingly rare ecosystem, it is a world-renowned site, attracting visitors and forestry experts from around the world, including Jane Goodall, Robert Bateman, and hundreds of school children eager to learn about sustainable forestry and wildlife habitat.
TLC purchased the property in 2000 with a public funding campaign from hundreds of donors, among them Wilkinson himself, who donated back $150,000 of the purchase price and a benefactor who donated over $200,000 to pay off the mortgage.
Over the 70 years he lived on the property, Wilkinson forestry practices evolved from high-grading to sustained yield and then towards ecoforestry. As he put it, I grew up believing that forests are my friends. They are here to use. They are here to be maintained. They should never, never be destroyed. He worked with the cycles of nature to harvest the forest for both lumber and specialty wood products. EIS worked very closely with Merv for 15 years and follow his ecoforestry principles that evolved over time to take far less timber than the forest can grow.
Wilkinson was instrumental in the founding of the Ecoforestry Institute. An iconic figure in the area of ecoforestry, Wilkinson was awarded many honours, including the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia, an honorary degree from the University of Victoria and professional forester designation in recognition of his forestry work.
Recognizing Wildwood vulnerability to economic greed and determined to keep the property out of private hands, Wilkinson took steps to ensure that Wildwood would be held as a trust in perpetuity. In 2000, he sold the property to TLC, believing the property was safe under the auspices of the Conservancy.
There isn’t much coastal Douglas fir forest left on the Island and there is good chance a private owner would high grade the older growth timber, irreparably destroying the age profile of the forest for hundreds of years.
HOW EIS PROPOSES TO PROTECT WILDWOOD FOR THE FUTURE
* Rezone the property from 5 acre rural residential use to ecoforestry. This unique zoning is already included in the Regional District of Nanaimo OCP but is not enshrined in a bylaw.
* Seek an entity who is a well-established reputable large land trust organization to hold title and for EIS to hold a long term management position. Preliminary discussions have been held with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) who are favourable to the concept.
Create a ecoforestry covenant on title with a reputable covenant holder
* Place a revert-er on title that would require the property to be handed over to another suitable entity in the event of failure of the existing owner
* Ensure the property is declared inalienable and falls under the provisions of the CPPA
* Continue to manage Wildwood under the terms of the existing management plan which limits logging activity to a cut well below the annual growth, encourages the use of the forest as an educational site and promotes ecologically sound practices.