By Roy L Hales
On September 18th BC’s Ministry of Forests gave Teal Jones approval to start logging in what is believed to be one of Canada’s most important stands of unprotected old-growth rain-forest. The Walbran Valley, on Vancouver Island, contains some of the nation’s oldest and largest red cedar and sitka spruce trees. Teal Jones has applied to log eight cutbacks. So far, they have only been permission to log a 3.2 hectare section known as Cutblock 4424. Yet when you consider the role that trees have fighting Climate Change, how does BC defend logging the Walbran?
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Forests provided most of the answers that follow.
Black Diamond Grove
Question 1: Was the government aware that Cutback 4424 contains the section of old growth forest now called Black Diamond Grove, or that one of the tree, “Leaning Tower Cedar,”is believed to be a thousand years old?
Ministry Spokesperson: The government is aware that this area is old growth forests. As noted earlier, the neighbouring Carmanah Walbran provincial park is a wilderness park which protects over 16,000 hectares from development.
- There are over 445,000 hectares of land on Vancouver Island protected in parks.
- In addition to old growth forests protected within parks, there are 30,300 hectares of forests protected in old growth management areas in the South Island Natural Resource District.
- There are 12,979 hectares of wildlife habitat areas for marbled murrelets, red-legged frogs, Scouler’s Corydalis and various other wildlife elements or ecosystems in the South Island Natural Resource District.
- There are over 10,000 hectares of ungulate winter range protected in the South Island Natural Resource District.
- Special Management Zone 21, which includes Cutblock 4424, covers 2,600 hectares and is subject to the Vancouver Island Summary Land Use Plan. Only about 24 per cent of this zone has been developed through timber harvesting or roadbuilding. Seventeen per cent of it has been legally established as old growth management areas.
Karsk Limestone in The Walbrun
According to Mark Worthing of Sierra Club BC, attempts to log the Walbrun are further complicated by the fact the trees may be growing out of karst limestone.
“When karst is logged and there is very little soil left, it is impossible for regrowth. So when you log it, that’s the end. There won’t be any trees coming back,” said Worthing.
In a subsequent conversation he added, “I am unsure whether there is Karst under the Black Diamond grove (#4424), but I am certain there is Karst under much of the other blocks in the Walbran (#4401 + #4409) …. I know for sure that there is. In fact, it’s everywhere. I have lots of photos of caves, sinkholes, exposes limestone creeks etc. (it’s very pretty).”
This is what the ministry had to say:
Question #2: Is there Karst Limestone in cutblock 4424?[1.Original question was phrased differently as I was under the impression there was karst in cutblock #4424. That seems like a rabbit trail right now, so I have taken the liberty of changing the wording of that question.]
Ministry Spokesperson: “No karst features have been identified within cutblock 4424. There are karst features (known as the “Walbran Bite”) in the general area, but (they) are located outside the cutblock.” (i.e. #4424)
Question #3: How can you definitively say there are no karst features in cutback #4424?
Ministry Spokesperson: The ministry’s mapping information shows that there is no karst or potential for karst in that cutblock. Additionally, the company’s professional forester confirmed there was no karst.
BC’s Forests Are Emitting Carbon
BC’s forests have been a net source of carbon to the atmosphere since 2003.
Question #4: Is the Ministry aware that due to extensive deforestation BC’s forests are currently emitting rather than storing carbon & how do you plan to restore the province’s forests to a healthier balance?
Ministry Spokesperson: Deforestation[2. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary deforestation means “the act or result of cutting down or burning all the trees in an area”] refers to forests that are permanently converted to other uses, i.e. urban forests.
- In B.C., by law, companies are required to reforest areas they harvest.
- B.C.’s forests are emitting more carbon than they store each year because of the mountain pine beetle epidemic killing millions of trees in the Interior and the increased harvest rate to capture the value of the wood.
- To restore the carbon balance, Allowable Annual Cuts are being adjusted to levels sustainable post mountain pine beetle, the Forests For Tomorrow program is replanting areas affected by natural disturbances, and the ministry is encouraging forest carbon offset projects to reduce emissions and increase carbon sinks.
How Does BC Defend Logging the Walbran?
Question #5: We all know that old growth forests are healthier and store more carbon than younger second growth forests, but how important is the Black Diamond Grove in the overall scheme of things?
Ministry Spokesperson: This is not true. Old growth forests are not necessarily healthier than second-growth forests.
- Coastal forests over 300 years have been shown to store more carbon than second-growth stands that are only a few decades old. However, some second-growth forests store more new carbon each year than old growth stands. Age and species composition are both important factors in a stand’s carbon storage.
- It’s not possible to assess the importance of a single stand, since the carbon balance of the provincial forests is estimated at a relatively coarse level.
Question #6: Is the government aware of the idea that old growth forests should not be cut, they should be preserved as part of an effort top restore the health of our forests and only second growth forests should be cut? Does this sound like a good plan?
Ministry Spokesperson: Old growth forests are important for biodiversity reasons and that’s why over 4 million hectares of old growth forests across the province have been set aside from development.
Keeping The Logs in BC
Question #7: There has been a great deal of criticism about raw log exports, and suggestions that there would be more jobs if British Columbia exported finished wood products instead. What does the government think of the idea of putting more emphasis on the development of the manufacturing sector? (Example: Everything from sawmills to furniture making).
Ministry Spokesperson: Government’s preference is to see logs remain in B.C. However, allowing a limited number of log exports is an integral part of the coastal forest economy. The price premium on exported logs allows companies to harvest otherwise uneconomic areas and direct more logs to domestic mills. Additionally, logs must be offered for domestic sale first. Only if there are no domestic bidders can they be exported.
- Under the Forest Sector Competitiveness Strategy being developed, the ministry will be releasing a value-added discussion paper later this fall.
(Click here to read Jens Wieting’s perspective on the loss of BC’s old growth, or use the tabs below to access further articles about logging the Walbran, Old Growth Forests other forestry issues.)
Top Photo Credit: Sierra Club BC’s Mark Worthing sits on an old-growth stump in earlier Teal Jones clearcut near Black Diamond Grove. (Credit: Torrance Coste)