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800-year-old tree at Vancouver Island park falls to illegal loggers

Wilderness Comittee

Torrance Coste, an activist with the Wilderness Committee on Canada's Vancouver Island, surveys the stump of an 800-year-old red cedar that poachers cut up and hauled out of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.

The death of an ancient cedar tree inside a remote park on Canada's Vancouver Island is being showcased by an environmental group seeking more protection against illegal loggers.

The 800-year-old tree was attacked by poachers with power saws over time at Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, the Wilderness Committee reported Thursday. Cedar is valuable as material for roofing shingles.

The poachers, still at large, were able to cut through 80 percent of the base of the tree -- which had a diameter of nine feet -- before park staff finally noticed what was going on, Wilderness Committee campaigner Torrance Coste told msnbc.com. The damage was so severe that park staff had to fell the entire tree for safety reasons.

The park left the fallen tree at the site so that it could decompose, returning nutrients to the soil, Coste said, but since then poachers "have returned at their leisure without fear of consequence and cut up, hauled out, and taken away the tree in sections.

"This has required seriously heavy equipment," he added. "The area has been trashed, and there are huge steel cables lying around all over the place ... sections of the trunk have been removed up until as recently as two weeks ago."

The Wilderness Committee urged British Columbia, which incorporates Vancouver Island, to beef up funding for park rangers. 

Wilderness Committee

The cedar was left by park staff to decompose at the site, but only this section and a few pieces are still there after poachers got to the tree.

"While the poachers themselves have obviously committed a terrible crime, fault for this incident should also lay with the Ministry of Environment and their long-time negligence of our parks," Coste said. 

The controversy has reached British Columbia's government, with the opposition New Democrat Party criticizing the Liberal Party government, The Canadian Press reported

"To suggest that anyone is able to protect all of those areas to the level that the member suggests is fiscally irresponsible," responded Environment Minister Terry Lake.

"I'll tell you what irresponsible is," countered New Democrat Scott Fraser, "10 years ago there were 194 park rangers in British Columbia, there's under 100 now."

The Wilderness Committee, for its part, also fears illegal logging of cedar might be happening elsewhere on Vancouver Island. 

“What we need to know" from the environment ministry "is if cedar poaching is happening anywhere else," Coste said.

A parks official said investigators have little information to work with.

"We have no eyewitnesses or license plates," Don Closson told the Canadian Press.

A police officer echoed the lack of evidence, adding that the poachers were likely after the cedar for roofing shingles.

"It's obviously much more gain than going out and taking a whole pile of firewood," Sgt. Dave Voller told the Canadian Press. "A logging truck loaded with cedar would be worth thousands and thousands of dollars."

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