The BC government released its much anticipated old growth forests report recently, and cautious optimism best describes the reaction to its recommendations from its independent panel.
On the plus side, Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, acknowledges that old growth forest management needs to change.
However, he also states that a moratorium on logging old growth forests will not happen. Scientists and community advocates have been recommending a moratorium until better practices are in place to ensure that ancient forests remain intact to continue to provide clean air and water for people and habitat for wildlife.
“The old growth forests in the West Kootenays are truly spectacular. When my toddler and I went hiking in old forests last weekend, and they asked me why the big trees were important, I was reminded of how old forests help us live better together by cleaning the air and filtering the water so people can stay healthy,” says Montana Burgess, West Kootenay EcoSociety executive director.
“Making sure Indigenous Peoples are involved immediately is key to ensuring the health of people and the health of the land.”
The Province says it will defer logging in almost 353,000 hectares of forest in nine old growth areas in response to the report. While much of this deferral is in Clayoquot Sound and the coast, it includes 40,000 hectares in the Incomappleux Valley in the West Kootenays. Permanent legal protection for this important inland temperate rainforest habitat may finally be possible.
“While it’s great the BC Government responded to the report by deferring logging in some old growth areas, they have neglected to defer logging in the most critical areas - those landscapes where there is almost no old growth remaining,” says local conservation ecologist Greg Utzig.
“I hope the BC Government immediately dedicates resources to identifying the critical stands and implementing appropriate policies before it is too late. Old growth stands are disappearing at an alarming rate, and climate change makes their protection even more critical. Government must consider the full range of recommendations in a timely manner, not just those that are convenient."
“These recommendations open the door to start a process around last old growth forest protection. Communities can be empowered to show the province local critical old growth forest areas that are still at risk of being logged. There’s now a glove for the hand to fit into, before we had no glove,” says Candace Batycki, member of EcoSociety’s Conservation Committee.
Another sticking point may be the government’s definition of old growth claiming that 23% of the forested land base in B.C. is made of old growth forest. This calculation was recently contested by an independent old growth report which states that the majority of this 23% consists of small trees - which are not valuable for logging - and only about 3% of B.C.’s forested land contains large, iconic, ancient old trees.
“I am pleased to see that the provincial government has committed to deferring the logging of some of the unprotected old growth forests in B.C., like our local Incomappleux Valley. I hope to see an even stronger commitment, in the near future, to preserve our old growth forests for generations to come,” said Nelson City Councillor Brittny Anderson.
Old forests are vital to the health of people and communities. The 14 recommendations from the independent strategic review of old growth forest management in British Columbia is a good path forward to ensure B.C.’s old growth forests are around for today and generations to come, but only if the provincial government commits to fully implement all the recommendations.