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

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The board is planning a 2021 festival no matter the conditions, they are going to make it work! (BCMF directors Buddy Thatcher (from left), Kristen Boulier, Rose Clark, Jeff Gray, Corissa McNeilly and Jayme Kennedy (front), and her hair. (photo submitted)
Bella Coola Music Festival planning on 2021 fest

The BCMF is planning for a 2021 festival on July 17 and 18, however it may look.

The Lost Lake trail is a popular hike for locals and visitors for it's accessibility (Khya Saban photo)
LETTER: Lost Lake trailhead trees shouldn’t be cut down

The area is slated to be cut by the Bella Coola Community Forest

Easter is on Sunday, April 4, 2021. How much do you know about Easter history and traditions? (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz about Easter and its traditions

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

Most Read