Wildwood deal angers society

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The Land Conservancy has decided to sell Wildwood Ecoforest to a private individual instead of the non-profit group currently managing the site, which says it is “shocked” by the plan.

The 31-hectare Cedar property was made famous by former owner and ecoforestry pioneer Merv Wilkinson, who demonstrated that selective forestry rather than clear cutting could be a profitable and sustainable practice. Wilkinson (who died in 2011) made an agreement with TLC in 2000 to allow the charity to preserve the area in a land trust.

But the pledge to preserve the site forever was not to be, at least not through TLC, after the land trust overextended itself on its mortgage commitments as it acquired property. As a result of poor financial management, TLC has been in creditor protection since 2013. Wildwood is just one of the properties, including Ross Bay Villa in Victoria and the modernist Binning House in Vancouver, TLC was forced to sell.

The new prospective owner of Wildwood is Mark Randen, an ecoforester who had worked with Wilkinson for over a decade and who runs another ecoforestry site on Gabriola Island. His accepted offer is $725,000. TLC plans to protect the property for the future through a restrictive covenant on the title. The accepted offer is mortgage free, eliminating concern about possible foreclosures. The proposed transfer would recover $625,000 in direct funds to pay creditors and $100,000 in creditor forgiveness. TLC said that Randen will include opportunities for education, visitation and apprenticeships in his management plan.

“TLC acquired Wildwood Ecoforest from Merv Wilkinson and his family to see the site operated as an example of sustainable ecoforestry,” said Frances Pugh, TLC Board Co-Chair. “Merv Wilkinson’s legacy will continue to be protected through a covenant and management plan while TLC’s creditors will be paid to the greatest extent possible.”

The Ecoforestry Institute Society (EIS), manager of the site since 2001, has reacted by threatening to challenge the deal in court, arguing that the private sale is a “betrayal of the public trust and a misuse of public donations.”  What irks EIS is that it offered to buy the place – and had made several accepted offers in 2015 backed by donations which fell through. The group admits it has had a few funding difficulties.

The two groups seem far apart on perceiving how their negotiations unfolded. TLC was willing to give EIS a chance to follow through on the offer, setting three dates for court approval, but EIS claims the TLC negotiated in bad faith.

The deal will be finalized when TLC gets Supreme Court of B.C. approval for the transfer, expected in the fall. The TLC was required to give EIS, the site managers, six months’ notice to terminate their agreement, so the society has until January 2017 to wind up its operations.

The angry reaction to the sale is an example of the very polarized attitudes in B.C. The charitable sector is often highly suspicious of business profit motives even when they are ecologically sound.

It makes sense that showing to forest industry that a different type of logging can be practised here should be done by a business. There will be no logging by committee, no layers of bureaucracy, but rather an efficient one-owner business operated just the way Wilkinson intended. If they could work together with EIS handling education and Randen managing operations, that would be ideal. Not likely though as long as these attitudes persist.

 

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susan@localeye.ca'

2 Comments

  1. klcode@shaw.ca'

    Thank you for the article and the opportunity to clarify what the overarching issue is in this situation. The difficulty is that the TLC Board has sold a publicly donated property, for which donors contributed $1 million, only to sell it to a private individual. This despite their promise to Merv Wilkinson that they would protect the property in the interests of ecoforestry and keep it in the public domain. That’s why Merv asked the TLC board to take on the property in the first place. This is not a question of running Wildwood as profit vs non-profit operation. The field of ecoforestry itself has a philosophy and practice that covers that. It’s about fulfilling moral, ethical and legal obligations. According to the Charitable Purposes Preservation Act, the TLC Board can only sell or transfer properties purchased with public donations to a like-minded charitable organization. End of story. It’s no wonder that some of the original donors are asking for their money back. Disclosure: this post is written by Kathy Code, Communications Director of the Ecoforestry Institute Society. Should anyone have further questions, please contact me at klcode@shaw.ca

  2. shelleylockwood@shaw.ca'

    Wow! I remember when I watched a piece on Merv’s donation and thought “how wonderful”. His legacy is to prove that the land can heal if it is left to do so.

    How can something that was donated to the public be sold at all?

    “The deal will be finalized when TLC gets Supreme Court of B.C. approval for the transfer, expected in the fall.” Why in the world would they be given approval?

    Of course, when I watched it I wasn’t aware of how efficiently the memory of land being donated to the public is blotted out by government and the courts. You would be surprised (or maybe not) how much “donated” land is not being used in the way it was intended.

    I wonder how people would feel if their last wishes were not respected.

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