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Enviro. groups dismissed

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has dismissed an application by environmental groups claiming the province fails to adhere to its own laws in protecting endangered coastal Douglas fir trees.

Justice Gordon Weatherill sided with the government in ruling that the application for judicial review filed by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and ForestEthics Solutions Society was premature.

Weatherill said in a decision released Friday that the groups should have first applied to the Forest Practices Board, which conducts independent audits and investigations to determine if the province is complying with laws to protect endangered forests.

"Although the recommendations are not binding on the government, such a process is still an adequate remedy that should be sought before seeking judicial review," Weatherill said in his written ruling.

The issue involves interpretation of the Forest and Range Practices Act and its regulations and whether the government has a mandatory legal duty to issue so-called section 7 notices to logging companies, the judge said.

"If issued, these notices would, in effect, prevent logging operations that will impact the remaining 275 hectares of old-growth (coastal Douglas fir) in the coastal region."

The environmental groups sought judicial review of the government's failure to issue the notices to logging companies operating on Crown land on southern Vancouver Island but also the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast.

However, lawyers for the Forests Ministry and the Environment Ministry argued that step is discretionary, not mandatory.

Torrance Coste, spokesman for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, said the dire state of the forest is exactly why the groups took the drastic step of going ahead with court action instead of the Forest Practices Board.

"It's one step above extinction, and this ruling proves that that's perfectly legal in this province. The province does state that it's proud of its policies, proud of its oversight and should be held up as an example to the world."

While forestry provides employment and First Nations need to get their fair share from the resource, a mere one-per-cent remainder of old-growth forest is not an example of balance for all sides, Coste said.

The environmental groups are considering whether to file an appeal of the decision.

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