“Old forests, especially those with very large trees, are the product of ancient ecosystems, icons of British Columbia’s landscape, and a key aspect of the province’s unique identity. In addition to their intrinsic value, the timber they provide is important to the provincial economy, and a primary source of income in many communities. These same forests anchor ecosystems that are critical to the well-being of many species of plants and animals, including people, now and in the future. The conditions that exist in many of these forests and ecosystems are also simply non-renewable in any reasonable time frame.”
So wrote Al Gorley, RPF and Garry Merkel, RPF, in a strategic review of British Columbia’s management of old growth forests, which was commissioned by the B.C. government. That report, complete with recommendations, was submitted to the provincial government in April 2020.
Since then, says Eddie Petryshen, Conservation Specialist for the East Kootenay-based conservation group Wildsight, there has been lots of talk and little action on actually protecting the forests.
He says the report offered a pathway to protect old growth and transform the way we use, value and view our forests in B.C.
“Premier Horgan and the BC NDP promised to fully implement the report’s recommendations,” Petryshen said in a press release. “But instead of an immediate deferral of critically threatened old growth, our globally unique ancient forests continue to be loaded onto logging trucks.”
One of the key requests in the Merkel/Gorley report was to consider the report’s recommendations as whole rather than piecemeal. They sited an earlier report done in 1992, which also made recommendations around old growth protection.
“Had previous old forest strategies and recommendations been fully implemented, we would likely not be facing the challenges around old growth to the extent we are today, i.e., high risk to loss of biodiversity in many ecosystems, risk to potential economic benefits due to uncertainty and conflict, and widespread lack of confidence in the system of managing forests.”
“In jurisdictions around the world old growth logging has become an archaic practice of the past,” said Petryshen. “Yet here in B.C., we’re logging like there’s an endless supply of old growth.”
Many jurisdictions around the world have moved to protect old growth, he says.
“In the 1990’s the US “Timber Wars” in Oregon, Washington, and California, brought about the Northwest Forest Plan which largely ended the practice of logging ancient giants on public lands. In 2001, the state of Western Australia banned the logging of old growth forests. In 2002, New Zealand banned the logging of its irreplaceable old growth forests on public lands.
“Today, less than three percent of B.C.’s productive old growth forests are left and the majority of these forests are at risk of being logged in the near future.
He notes that while the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs passed a resolution calling on the province to work with First Nations to protect old growth forests, the recent budget did not include any dedicated funding for old growth.
Petryshen acknowledges that last September, Forests Minister Conroy deferred logging in nine old growth areas, but says very few of the forests in these areas were immediately threatened by logging or made up of productive old growth forests.
“John Horgan’s government has to chart a new course. These forests are worth so much more standing than they are logged,” said Petryshen. “Let’s protect these globally unique forests and ensure that we are leaving an old growth legacy for future generations.”
Wildsight is calling on the provincial government to protect old growth immediately, starting with deferring logging in the most at-risk productive old growth forests.