Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Beachcomber hauls BC government to court

Long time log salvor Shirley Weishuhn will finally get her day in Federal (Admiralty) Court Friday. Represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund, she will try to stop the environmental degradation of critical fish habitat and the increased danger to mariners caused by logs floating in the Fraser River.

“The provincial salvage regulations discourage salvage,” said Weishuhn. “The current compensation system drives salvors out of work and results in timber being left to drift. British Columbia is now the only place in the world with wooden beaches. With so many BC forest workers out-of-work, it’s a shame to see so much wood go to waste. The Fraser is choked with stray logs that are a hazard to boats and that pile up on marshes, but the vast majority of this wood is not worth salvaging under the current Provincial regulations. What they pay doesn’t even cover the cost of fuel. That’s why we’re going to court.”

Sierra Legal lawyers contend that the salvage regulations under the Provincial Forest Act are unconstitutional. They violate the Constitution Act of 1867, which gives the Federal Government exclusive jurisdiction over navigation and shipping. They will also argue that the Provincial regulations conflict with Canada’s obligations under the International Convention on Salvage, 1989 and the Canada Shipping Act, which require that salvors be adequately compensated especially when they prevent harm to the environment.

“The Province’s log salvage rules don’t take the environment into account, and the Federal rules do. Thousands of valuable logs are being wasted and left to destroy nursery habitat for Fraser River salmon,” says Sierra Legal lawyer Margot Venton. “This is totally unacceptable at a time when wild salmon stocks are in steep decline. To add insult to injury the regulations also create hazards to navigation.”

Every year, about 800 million juvenile salmon migrate down the Fraser River and many must remain for up to a year in the semi-saline marsh waters of the estuary before they can head out to sea. These marshes are crushed by partially submerged logs and are so clogged with salvageable logs and wood debris that fish habitat is severely degraded.

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