BC’s Forests at Risk: Logging Practices Must Change

By Roy L Hales

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 3.43.47 PMThe health of BC’s forest cover is not good. In many parts of the province , our forests are emitting carbon, rather than absorbing it.

According to a story in the Times Colonist, “the province’s own data (shows that) net carbon dioxide emissions from forestland in 2011 were 34.9 million tons, equivalent to more than half of B.C.’s total official emissions for that year. However, only carbon emissions from deforestation and afforestation (new or replanted forests) are included in the province’s official total.”

Using government data, Sierra Club BC estimates the total amount of carbon emissions from B.C. forest lands since 2003 — the first year the provincial forests turned from carbon sink to carbon source — at 270 million tons, equivalent to over six times the province’s official annual emissions.

The immediate problems are wildfires, clear-cut logging and the Pine Beetle infestation,  but according to Jens Wieting, Forest and Climate Campaigner with the Sierra Club BC, one of the rarely discussed main causes is poor forest management, in particular clear-cuts in old-growth forests and practices like slash burning.

“A healthy undisturbed rainforest can store over 1,000 tons of carbon within a single hectare of land, but research shows that half of that is released into the atmosphere when trees are clear cut,” Wieting said. “If coastal rainforest ecosystems fall below 30% remaining old-growth forest, there is a high ecological risk of species loss because of lack of habitat for animals and plants that are now also under increasing stress due to global warming. For many types of rainforests on Vancouver Island and the South Coast the percentage of old growth forest has fallen below 10%, for some Douglas Fir ecosystems as low as 1%.”

Debris left on logging site, near Lake Cowichan, - Photo taken when author was treeplanting in 1980
Debris left on logging site, near Lake Cowichan, – Photo taken when author was treeplanting in 1980

BC’s forests have been emitting, rather than storing, carbon since 2003. In some years these emissions have been higher  than the province’s total official emissions.

In a previous report the Sierra Club has identified approximately 1.5 million hectares of old-growth forest in the Vancouver IsIand/South Coast area that are currently unprotected. Within this area, there are 600,000 hectares of relatively productive stands, with significant carbon storage capacity and a higher likelihood of getting targeted for logging. These forests alone store the equivalent of 13 times B.C.’s annual emissions.

Wieting suggests that conservation efforts should concentrate on preserving old growth forests. This, alone, could significantly help reduce BC’s overall carbon-dioxide emissions in the short-term.

New logging regulations and incentives should  be introduced to encourage selective cutting and longer rotations between harvests.

In the interior The BC Government should stop encouraging logging companies to clear cut stands that have been infested by pine beetles, except in the worst affected areas. Clear cutting also eradicates younger pine trees that have escaped the infestation, as well as trees from other species. In some cases, to keep carbon stored in trees and soil it would be better to just leave the forest alone.

“Keeping more forest carbon on the ground and ensuring more species adapt to climate change should be central to any change of forestry legislation. Instead, this change is now being driven by a myopic focus on feeding sawmills.” said Wieting

“What makes this data so alarming is the fact that we are now approaching a full decade of carbon release from BC forests,” he added. “Poor forest management and climate impacts are a double whammy for our forests. This means we have to double our efforts to save our forests as part of the climate solution.”

(Photo at top of page: A massive clearcut of old-growth forest on a hillside in the Gordon River Valley near Port Renfrew, BC. BC’s endangered ancient forests are quickly being liquidated and replaced with second growth tree plantations = Photo by T J Watt, courtesy wikipedia)

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