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

B.C. Centre for Disease Control maps showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 4-10. (BCCDC image)
Parksville-Qualicum passes Nanaimo in new COVID-19 cases

Greater Victoria had more new cases than any other Island area: B.C. Centre for Disease Control

‘For Sale’ signs quickly turned to ‘Sold’ signs as record-high demand for housing meets record-low inventory. (Cole Schisler photo)
Multiple offers and unconditional sales rampant in Ladysmith housing market

Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Zone 3 director Susan Perrey says the market is ‘crazy all around’

From left to right: Vicki Barta, Bruce Ormond, Greg Heide, Gord McInnis, and Charles Harman rehearse via zoom for the upcoming radio play, “Visitor from Planet Zoltan”. (Submitted photo)
Radio plays prove successful for Ladysmith Little Theatre, four more in production

Ladysmith Little Theatre pivoted to producing radio plays during the pandemic

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees in Oyster Bay

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

Ladysmith’s Taylor Walters received the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award and is hard at work pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human-Computer Interaction at Quest University. (Submitted photo)
Ladysmith teen receives Terry Fox Humanitarian Award for advocating equal access to STEM opportunities

‘Different people think differently and that’s so important for innovation,’ Taylor Walters says

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

An armed officer walks outside Cerwydden Care on Cowichan Lake Road near Skinner Road Wednesday, April 14 around 5:30 p.m. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Police standoff at Duncan apartment ends peacefully

Officers surround building as homeowner held in apartment for nearly four hours by adult son

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Hwy. 4 was shut down in both directions for 10 hours on March 23 as a rock bluff was blasted as part of Kennedy Hill’s ongoing construction. Commuters can expect five more 10 hour closures on five consecutive Wednesdays beginning April 28. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Five 10-hour Pacific Rim highway closures planned in the next 6 weeks

Closures needed for rock blasting as part of the Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project.

Most Read