Saving Cumberland Forest

Cumberland, nestled at the base of the Beaufort Mountain Range on the east side of Vancouver Island, defines itself as the “Village in the Forest”. 

Bikers and hikers make good use of the extensive trail network throughout the surrounding forest
Bikers and hikers make good use of the extensive trail network throughout the surrounding forest

The community is surrounded by a coastal Douglas Fir forest rife with flora and fauna, and a system of trails long ago established by both wildlife and outdoor recreational enthusiasts. However, there is a shadow looming over this idyllic scene: all the unprotected forest is slated for logging.

“The Cumberland Forest is privately owned as part of the legacy of the E&N Railway land transfer from the 1870s that saw over two million acres of land on east Vancouver Island transfer into private hands in exchange for building a railway,” says Meaghan Cursons, project coordinator for the Cumberland Community Forest Society.

When logging became a real threat in 2000, community members formed the Society with the intent of buying the land back and returning it to the community for recreational use and preservation.

“The Cumberland Forest is important to the local community and the broader Comox Valley for many reasons,” says Cursons. “It forms part of two watershed systems, both the Trent River and Comox Lake/Puntledge system, the latter of which is the drinking water source for the Comox Valley.”

The Cumberland Community Forest Society in 2005 purchased 72 hectares of forest on the south side of the Village of Cumberland for $1.2 million. The society is trying to buy the forest parcel by parcel. “The community would like to see this forest have the opportunity to ‘retire’ from its service as a working forest,” says Cursons. 

It is an important habitat corridor and home to diverse plant and animals species including blue list species like Red-legged frogs, Small Eared bats and Roosevelt Elk. “In fact it is worth far more to the community standing than cut, with a vibrant eco-tourism scene on the rise in the Village that draws visitors from near and far.”                 

This year is pivotal for the forest society, which has set its sights on an aggressive goal for 2016. Purchase agreements are under development “and we are so excited to be realizing our goals and saving these very special places in our community for future generations,” says Cursons.

Their latest campaign was for a 40 hectare piece called Space Nugget, which was due to wrap up at the end of June. Space Nugget is the first of four parcels that make up Phase 2 of the Cumberland Forest Acquisition. This particular phase is right next to the Village of Cumberland. “Space Nugget is a playground for forest explorers of all ages and skills,” says Cursons, “ a beautiful green threshold to the upper trail systems and a beautiful backyard for the whole Comox Valley.”

Then they will turn their attention to a 60-hectare parcel featuring forests, creeks and riparian areas alongside Perseverance Creek. Other parcels slated for purchase in the future include China Creek and Japanese #1 Heritage Forest and Perseverance Creek Wetlands.

The community has embraced the forest society’s goals, and residents from across the Comox Valley and beyond turn out in large numbers to support their fundraisers - from the popular trivia nights, which always books up quickly, to the annual Perseverance Day Run, which in November 2015 raised $131,784 through runner registrations and donations.

The society has a monthly donation program and one-time donations can be made online through their website at www.cumberlandforest.com. They are a registered charity.