A clearcut hillside, which most of the tree removed.

Deferring 2.6 million hectares of BC’s most at-risk old growth forests

British Columbia is considering whether to defer logging on 2.6 million hectares of the provinces most at-risk old growth forests

Cropped image from Fairy Creek Blockade Facebook page

Speaking as an individual, rather than Vice President of the Cortes Community Forest Copperative, David Shipway’s response to news of the proposed deferment was, “It’s essential and long overdue.”

According to Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC, the government’s technical advisory panel identified two thirds of the province’s 11.1 million hectares of ‘old growth forests’ as being at risk. These are the big trees that most of us think of, when we hear the term ‘old growth.’ Roughly 5 million hectares of these large trees are unprotected and the government is proposing to defer logging on a little more than half of them. 

“The BC Government was pretty clear about their intentions to implement deferrals for these 2.6 million hectares, but short on details,” he said. 

“Intentions, acknowledgements: these things don’t stop chainsaws. Without any immediate action, forests are still going to fall. Forests are still at risk,”added Torrance Coste of the Wilderness Committee. 

He also recognised, “For the first time we have the government basically breaking down old growth inventory based on science. In the past they’ve just lumped all old forests together and inflated the amount of actual iconic giant tree old growth forest. This analysis is put together by leading experts in the field of forestry and it reflects what is happening on the ground.”  

A much different set of statistics are cited on the Truck Loggers Association website. There are supposedly 13.7 million hectares of old growth forest in the province, 72% of which will never be logged because it is either in parks or protected areas. As three trees are allegedly planted for every one that is harvested, there will eventually be no need to cut down old growth. 

“Old growth harvesting will carry on into the future and the transition to harvesting a higher proportion of second growth trees will continue until we eventually fully harvest second growth,” it says.

The government estimates that the proposed deferment could result in the loss of 4,500 jobs; industry claims the numbers could be much higher.

On top of one of the stumps left in the Mahatta River Valley, northwestern Vancouver Island – courtesy press release from the Ancient Forest Alliance

Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, said, “We are committed to working in partnership with First Nations to make sure we get this right and to supporting workers and communities as we develop a sustainable approach to managing BC’s old-growth forests.”

First Nations have been given thirty days to decide whether they support the deferments, and were offered up to $12.7 million over three years to help them during the transitional period. 

Coste pointed out that the government decision to not move forward on the deferals without agreement from First Nations is inconsistent, as this type of agreement is not sought for logging. 

He added, “More broadly, I want to say that the position that First Nations are placed in economically is only one party’s fault – and that is the province of British Columbia. The federal government as well, but the dispossession of  First Nations, of their lands, of their resources: that’s been done for 150 years by the Province of British Columbia.”

Coste said it does not seem fair to ask First Nations to make the decision whether to protect old growth, which the Government has already promised to do, unless they are offered adequate compensation for the revenues they would lose.

 BC’s announcement came the day after Canada joined 123 other nations, at COP 26, in a joint declaration to “reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.” They promised to “Conserve forests and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerate their restoration.”

“There are few places on the planet that could contribute as much as British Columbia. There are few places with old growth forests that are as rich in biodiversity and carbon storage; rich in cultural values. This is a real opportunity for BC to do our part to inspire action internationally,” said Wieting.  

Meanwhile at Fairy Creek, protesters are attempting to stop Teal Cedar Products from logging what many believe is the last intact old growth ecosystem in southern Vancouver Island, outside of parks. The RCMP tally of arrests reached 1,157 as of Monday, November 1st.

On the other end of Vancouver Island, the Ancient Forest Alliance released photos of a massive clearcut along the valley bottom and lower slopes of the Mahatta River Valley. It stretches across 50 hectares and was carried out by BC Timber Sales, the government’s own logging agency.

Top photo credit: Clearcut logging in the Mahatta River Valley, northwestern Vancouver Island – courtesy press release from the Ancient Forest Alliance

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