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Conservancy in the works to protect North Okanagan mountain from logging

Community advocates are looking to protect Rose Swanson Mountain, which BC Timber Sales plans to log

Amid controversial plans to log on Rose Swanson Mountain in Spallumcheen, a grassroots effort is emerging to protect what many in the community consider to be a treasured recreational site, a wealth of cultural heritage resources and a biodiversity hotspot.

Rose Swanson is also an essential watershed and a critical habitat for at-risk species, and the mountain has a growing list of advocates looking to preserve these values.

The Armstrong Spallumcheen Trails Society, with the help of local advocate Danica Djordjevich, is spearheading the Rose Swanson Wilderness Conservancy Project, an initiative that aims to safeguard all of the non-timber values that exist on the mountain with a legal framework that has the teeth to keep timber proponents in check.

Marge Sidney, president of the trails society, is a former biologist with the Ministry of Environment who was born and raised in the community, while Djordjevich is a retired lawyer who has spent more than three years researching the complex legal issues that have been developing on the mountain for decades. Together, they hope to get more people in the community involved in their push to protect Rose Swanson Mountain with a conservancy.

For Sidney, the history of Rose Swanson is intertwined with her family history. Her father helped build the Centennial Trail on the mountain in the 1960s, in celebration of Canada’s centennial. The trail network on the mountain has been there for 100 years, she said.

Rose Swanson Mountain is the community’s asset, Djordjevich asserts, pointing out that it is Crown land that is 100 per cent within the Township of Spallumcheen boundaries — “not the edge of our township, but actually centred within our township,” she said.

The township, as well as the City of Armstrong and the Splatsin and Syilx First Nations, all have a vested interest on the mountain, and the push for a conservancy is in part a matter of aligning the interests of these different stakeholders.

A total of 712 acres on Rose Swanson Mountain was protected by a Sensitive Area Order in 1996. The Order had the objective of maintaining trails, protecting the visual quality of the area, and maintaining recreational values by limiting timber harvesting to low-impact silvicultural systems.

However, Djordjevich says the forest stewardship plan drawn up by BC Timber Sales in 2018 was presented “as though the sensitive order was gone.”

“Once it is presented as land that has no legal encumbrances on it for the Sensitive Area, BC Timber Sales draws up plans to log it as though the values aren’t there, or they’re not legally binding,” Djordjevich said. “They were saying, ‘we know you have trails and we’ll protect the best of your trails, but we’re free to log,’ so that’s where the dispute arose.”

The community has pushed back sharply against the plans to log on the mountain, with an online petition to prevent logging on Rose Swanson garnering more than 24,000 signatures.

According to BC Timber Sales’ forest stewardship plan, Rose Swanson Mountain was examined in the late 1980s and early ‘90s to see if it could become a provincial park, but BC Parks determined that although the mountain had local and regional recreational value, it did not meet the criteria for a provincial park. It added there are no plans to designate Rose Swanson as a provincial park currently.

As it stands, BC Timber Sales is allowed to harvest a maximum of five per cent of the 712 hectares designated as sensitive in any 10-year period, which is about 35.6 hectares.

But Djordjevich and Sidney say that’s not enough of an assurance that the values on the mountain will be protected — and there are many values, they say. In addition to recreation, they say Rose Swanson is a critical source of water for farmers and residents in Spallumcheen.

“If you don’t get snow up on the mountain or if the hydrological cycle is disrupted by logging, it can compromise our ability to have water, to farm, to live — everything. You can’t be in Spallumcheen without water,” Djordjevich said.

Just over a year ago, when Djordjevich says it became apparent that the B.C. government was “digging in its heels” on wanting to log Rose Swanson, she and Sidney came up with the idea to “leapfrog” a rash of controversy and legal action by building up a conservancy, “just to get to a place where inevitably we’re all going to get anyway.”

But they can’t do it alone.

“We need expert help,” said Sidney. “And that’s where an environmental lawyer has come into the picture.”

The Trails Society has retained the services of environmental lawyer Carla Conkin, who Sidney says will be “providing the off ramp for the government so they can save face.”

Djordjevich says now is the ideal time to create a conservancy because it would align with goals recently announced by multiple levels of government. The push for a Rose Swanson conservancy is intended to dovetail with an agreement made in early November between the federal government, B.C. and First Nations to protect biodiversity, old growth and species at risk through the 30 per cent land commitment, under which the government aims to protect 30 per cent of lands in B.C. by 2030.

“Between now and 2030, the First Nations of B.C. and the federal and provincial governments intend to move 100,000 hectares of B.C. land into some form of protection,” Djordjevich said. “We have situated ourselves as a community to ensure that Rose Swanson is 1,780 hectares of that 100,000 hectares.”

Sidney added that protection of Rose Swanson would also fit the province’s Old Growth Deferral process, which is in part an effort to protect the biodiversity of natural forests that gets lost when timber proponents replant trees and create a monoculture.

“It fits like a glove,” Sidney said. “The timing is perfect for us to pursue (a conservancy) right now.”

Djordjevich and Sidney say BC Timber Sales has failed to recognize any of the non-timber values on the mountain, adding BC Timber Sales did not take inventory of species at risk, and have not acknowledged the existence of many of the creeks, ponds, wetlands and bogs that give Rose Swanson its high biodiversity value.

Djordjevich says BC Timber Sales is incentivized to avoid looking at aspects of the mountain that would get in the way of logging.

“They just keep saying in their logging plan that there’s nothing to be destroyed up there, that it’s a wasteland,” Djordjevich said. “There is a vested interest in not assessing the non-timber values.”

But Djordjevich and Sidney say it is possible to harvest wood on the mountain while protecting it as a recreation site, a source of water, an archeological hotbed and a place with rich biodiversity.

With wildfires posing a greater threat now than ever before, Djordjevich says reducing wildfire risk is “at the top of our agenda” when it comes to creating a Rose Swanson conservancy, and it can be done in a way that allows BC Timber Sales to harvest strategically on the mountain.

Rose Swanson Mountain is a well-used treasure in the community. Sidney says trail counters were installed two years ago which saw 20,000 people use the trails in the first year.

“It’s amazing how many people are using the mountain for many different reasons, not just recreation, not just physical health but also mental health,” Sidney said, adding the mountian is the only Crown land that locals have access to in their community.

Djordjevich added that there haven’t been many mental health services in Armstrong and Spallumcheen over the years, and doctors have been “basically prescribing people a walk on Rose Swanson a day” as a mental health boost.

From a legal perspective, a conservancy would be the “next step up” from Rose Swanson’s 1996 sensitive area designation, said Djordjevich, adding it would preserve the lands until a national or provincial park can potentially be formed.

There’s lots of work to do to create the conservancy, and the Trails Society needs all the help it can get to make it a reality. Anyone interested in joining the Trails Society’s effort as a volunteer, or donating to help cover lawyer fees, can email

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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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