The Schmidt Creek watershed is a mix of remnant and still beautiful old growth forest and ugly logging debris on steep slopes adjacent to the forested upland of the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve. The Reserve was established in 1982 to protect vital habitat for orcas. Part of that habitat and a core reason for establishing the Reserve is the presence of “rubbing beaches” the orcas come into to play and rub their bodies on beds of smooth pebbles. They are a little bit like massage parlours and using them has been a cultural tradition of Northern Resident orcas for thousands of years. To say they are important to the orcas is a very large understatement.
The eastern boundary of the Reserve is just beyond the “Main” orca rubbing beach and right beside Schmidt Creek. A kayak camp is set up during summers to take advantage of the orcas heading into or out of the Reserve. It’s a great place to see orcas from land and a popular tourist destination. The area is wild and beautiful. Even without the orcas it attracts visitors, but with the orcas it is a gem. To my mind, logging Schmidt Creek amounts to a tragic waste. So little old growth forest is left on Vancouver Island that every tree still standing is precious. But cutting this old growth forest potentially has consequences far beyond wasting a precious resource.
I’ve been involved in monitoring the orcas’ use of the rubbing beaches for decades, and in recent years have seen disturbing changes. The orcas are visiting less often and their rubs are shorter. I believe the changes are directly related to changes in the quality of the rubbing beach which has more sand and fewer pebbles than in the “old” days. I believe that logging which has happened in the Schmidt Creek watershed is largely responsible for the changes. It’s a difficult case to prove of course. Just the same, the issue has been on the table for years and one would hope it to have grabbed the attention of government. Most unfortunately, to this point it has been totally ignored – by both our present government and the previous one. For me as a person who believed that real change would come with the last election, the unwillingness of our new provincial government to stop or even pause logging in the Schmidt Creek watershed is beyond disappointing.
It is a betrayal.