Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. urged to protect at-risk old growth while it works to transform forestry policy

Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said in an interview the deferrals protect 196,000 hectares of old growth

The most at-risk ecosystems should be set aside from logging while British Columbia shifts its forestry policies toward a more sustainable system,says a forester who helped write a provincial report on old-growth forests.

The report last April co-written by Garry Merkel urged B.C. to act within six months to defer harvesting in old forest ecosystems at the highest risk of permanent biodiversity loss.

“There (are) some of those ecosystems targeted for harvesting right now,” he said in an interview this week, six months after B.C. released the report and pledged to implement the recommendations from the panel of two independent foresters who were commissioned to write it.

“I do share the impatience of a lot of folks.”

At the same time, Merkel said he doesn’t question the government’s commitment to implementing the panel’s recommendations and the process overall will take years.

“This is very much in my mind an intergenerational process that we’re working through.”

Old-growth forests are crucial to the overall health of ecosystems in the province, said Merkel, affecting everything from the raindrops that collect in the tree canopy to the water that runs in salmon streams below.

The risk of biodiversity loss is high when at least 30 per cent of the natural old forest in an ecosystem is not kept intact, he said, adding B.C.’s old growth retention targets in some areas are lower than that threshold.

The old growth panel’s report says it’s projected that almost all of B.C. would be at high risk of biodiversity loss once most of the available old forest is harvested under the current management approach.

Just over 13 million hectares of old forests remain in B.C., according to provincial data. The report notes as much as 80 per cent of that land consists of smaller trees with lower commercial value.

A separate analysis by independent ecologists published and submitted to the province last spring says about 415,000 hectares of old-growth forests that produce the biggest trees with the highest ecological and cultural value remain in B.C. It also says the distribution of large protected areas was“biased towards higher elevation and lower productivity ecosystems.”

The province announced last September it would temporarily defer old growth harvesting in close to 353,000 hectares in nine different areas, while further work was underway to protect up to 1,500 exceptionally large trees.

The deferral areas consist of a combination of old growth and second growth, or trees that are planted or regenerate in previously cleared forests.

Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said in an interview the deferrals protect 196,000 hectares of old growth, and that road maintenance and harvesting second growth are still allowed.

The province was able to act quickly in those areas because it had already been working with nearby First Nations, she added.

B.C. will hold discussions with First Nations and others, including forestry companies, workers and environmental groups, to determine the next areas where harvesting may be deferred, said Conroy.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and conservation groups in the province wrote a letter last month calling on the government to provide funding for First Nations that would forgo revenue in the event of harvesting deferrals.

The letter also requests funding for economic diversification through eco-tourism, stewardship programs and activities consistent with protecting old growth, similar to the plan for the Great Bear Rainforest on B.C.’s north coast.

It points to a value-added forest industry using second growth trees as a sustainable way forward, which would mean exporting fewer unprocessed logs and manufacturing more wood products, such as treated lumber, timber-frame homes, shakes and shingles.

“We need to be retooling mills all across B.C. to process smaller, second-growth trees,” said Andrea Innes, a campaigner with the Ancient Forest Alliance. “We need to be investing in research and development to make sure that we’re staying competitive in the global market and being able to produce high-quality products … while also making jobs.”

In statements released Thursday,the Ancient Forest Alliance, Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club B.C. say the province has yet to develop an old growth transition plan with key dates and milestonesfollowing the panel’s recommendation to approve one in six to 12 months.

They urge the government to immediately defer logging for all at-risk old growth and commit to transition funding for First Nations affected by deferrals.

Inness said much of the 353,000 hectares set aside last fall consist of lower productivity forests, and only about 3,800 hectares of that land was previously unprotected, productive old-growth forest that would have been logged otherwise.

The Forest Ministry said in an email the deferral areas contain both old and younger trees because old forests don’t always grow in continuous patches.

The proposed timeline in the panel’s report was drafted before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the province’s work “quite significantly,” said Conroy.

Susan Yurkovich, president of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, said no one wants to harvest beyond what is sustainable because the future of the industry relies on access to wood fibre at a reasonable cost.

About one per cent of the land available for harvest in B.C. is logged each year, she said, and old growth represents about a quarter of the trees cut.

It amounts to about 56,000 hectares of old growth felled annually, according to provincial data, while Inness said many at-risk and ecologically valuable old-growth trees are still being cut.

About 38,000 jobs are tied to harvesting old growth in B.C., said Yurkovich.

The province needs a clear plan that reflects an array of views, prioritizes forest health and provides stability for everyone from industry to Indigenous communities to tourism operators, she said.

“I value parks and protected areas as well. We would also like to say out loud that we also value the working forest,” she said. “It builds communities, it provides very significant contributions to the GDP of our province and those things fund schools and hospitals and roads.”

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Environment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Regional District of Nanaimo plans to make its operations more efficient as it works on long-term goals around carbon-neutrality. (PQB News file photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo works to become carbon neutral by 2032

RDN committee of the whole members endorse plan developed by consultant

The Millstone River in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Regional district looks at value of Nanaimo’s natural assets

Report focused on the Millstone River could inform future decisions on corporate asset management

Protesters gather along the Pearson Bridge on Terminal Avenue in downtown Nanaimo last month as part of an event called Worth More Standing. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: B.C. hasn’t managed forests properly

Protesters opposing logging in Fairy Creek speak for many British Columbians, say letter writers

Nanaimo singer Victoria Vaughn recently released an EP with local producer Austin Penner. (Photo courtesy Taylor Murray)
Nanaimo singer and recent VIU grad releases EP about becoming an adult

Victoria Vaughn’s ‘Growing Pains’ recorded with local producer Austin Penner

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has listed Harbour Air and Air Canada flights to and from Nanaimo, from April 3, 4 and 12, on its list of flights with COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported for Air Canada, Harbour Air flights, says disease control centre

Nanaimo flights for April 3, 4 and 12 listed on BCCDC’s list of flights with COVID-19

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Housing crunch or not, it’s illegal to live in an RV in Nanaimo

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Noel Brown, Snuneymuxw First Nation carver, observes the house post he carved, which now is situated in front of the Kw’umut Lelum centre on Centre Street in Nanaimo. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
House post representative of work of Kw’umut Lelum in Nanaimo

Snuneymuxw First Nation artist Noel Brown’s carved red cedar house post unveiled Friday, April 16

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Most Read