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

B.C. urged to protect at-risk old growth while it works to transform forestry policy

VANCOUVER — 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.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

forestry

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read