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Province urged to immediately defer logging in key old-growth forests amid arrests

The new analysis identifies about 1.3  million hectares of at-risk forests across the province, which is about  2.6 per cent of B.C.’s timber supply.
Northern B.C. old growth Conservation North
Conservation North is a regional group raising awareness about old growth forests and biodiversity.

B.C.’s rarest forest ecosystems are rapidly disappearing and if the province doesn’t act immediately to  defer logging in key areas, as recommended by the 2020 Old Growth Strategic Review, they will be lost forever, according to a report released Wednesday by a team of independent scientists. 

The analysis of B.C.’s remaining old growth forests and mapping tools aims to help the province meet the recommendations of the old-growth panel.

While the map was designed to flag forests that meet the criteria for deferral rather than note specific at-risk  locations, the authors noted it includes places like the Nahmint River watershed and Fairy Creek  on Vancouver Island, currently a hot spot of protest and near where the  RCMP began making arrests on Tuesday as part of its enforcement of an  injunction. The map also identifies unharvested old-growth in the Babine  watershed near Smithers and rare cedar hemlock old-growth near Nelson  as top-priority areas for logging deferrals. 

The new analysis takes its lead from the independent strategic review  commissioned by the province, which outlined criteria to determine  which forests are of the highest value and most at-risk, and clarifies  which areas should be immediately protected. The review recommended the  province defer development in old forests with a high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.

“It’s been a year since that report went to the government and there have been no meaningful deferrals since that  time,” Rachel Holt, forest ecologist and one of the authors of the  report, told The Narwhal in an interview. “We waited for the government  to map what the panel recommended and there’s been no action — so we  decided to just do it.”

While the province implemented deferrals  last year that ostensibly protected 353,000 hectares of forest, closer  inspection revealed how the numbers were skewed to include already protected areas and 157,000 hectares of second-growth forests open to logging. The province subsequently adjusted its numbers to reflect the inclusion of second-growth.

The new analysis identifies about 1.3  million hectares of at-risk forests across the province, which is about  2.6 per cent of B.C.’s timber supply. According to the analysis, the  actual area that requires logging deferrals will be much smaller and the  province has the tools to put any planned cutblocks and road building  on hold while it works with First Nations and other stakeholders to  develop land use plans. 

“Following the old-growth strategic review panel’s direction, [the province] should take that map and overlay it with planned cut blocks and defer harvest in those areas until the planning is done,” Holt said. 

The strategic review highlighted the  urgent need to stop looking at B.C.’s forests as timber supply and start  prioritizing Indigenous Rights and ecological and cultural values. It  acknowledged this transition won’t happen overnight but noted the urgent  need to put the brakes on logging the rarest trees while creating a new  strategy.

The first step is to figure out which forests need to be saved, which is where Holt and her colleagues come in. 

“Our map represents the key criteria that  the old-growth panel outlined for immediate logging deferrals, including  the tallest, largest forests, plus rare and ancient forest,” Dave  Daust, forester, modeler and project lead, said in a press release. 

“With this blueprint, the province can act  immediately to ensure any existing or planned logging in these areas is  put on hold while it pursues a government-to-government approach for  forest management that puts Indigenous rights and interests, ecological  values and community resilience ahead of timber volume.”

Holt explained that the data and maps were  created based on current provincial information, but said there are  gaps that will need to be addressed. 

“There will be places on the ground that  aren’t on the map. They should be added, like known cultural areas or  known high-value areas that for some reason don’t show up,” she said,  adding that there may also be areas that have already been logged.

In his 2020 election campaign, Premier John Horgan committed to implementing the panel’s recommendations.

“We will act on all 14 recommendations and  work with Indigenous leaders and organizations, industry, labour and  environmental organizations on the steps that will take us there,” he  wrote.

But Holt said the province isn’t acting fast enough.

“There isn’t time to talk and log and try to create perfect maps,” she said. “Nothing is perfect, but we need to move forward.”

Very little remains of B.C.’s old-growth forests. Holt, Daust and ecologist Karen Price calculated that just 415,000 hectares of productive old-growth forest remains  in the province. Productive old-growth supports numerous endangered and  threatened species, including caribou and northern goshawk.

As to whether the province will use the  map to implement meaningful deferrals, the Ministry of Forests, Lands,  Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development told The Narwhal in an  emailed statement it is committed to protecting B.C.’s ancient forests  for future generations. 

“We know there is a lot more work to do.  That’s why this government commissioned an independent panel to advise  us on how we could do better when it comes to protecting old forests.  Now, our government is working on next steps — which includes important  engagement with Indigenous peoples, environmental advocates and  forest-dependent communities around identifying additional deferral  areas.”

Holt emphasized that the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“We are losing biodiversity and we’re  losing carbon storage,” she said. “Old large tree ecosystems hold a  phenomenal carbon store. We don’t have time to plant trees and wait 100  years.”