‘A calculated strategy:’ B.C. logging deferral fails to protect old-growth, say critics

Temporary deferral of logging in some B.C. forests leaves First Nations stranded, and may be too little, too late for the province’s ancient ecosystems
Photo: Province of British Columbia
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The B.C. government announced this week that they will temporarily defer logging of old-growth forests in a vast area, consult with First Nations and, for the first time, release scientific data on the status of the province’s old-growth forests.

Though a significant shift for John Horgan’s NDP government after more than a year of large protests in the Fairy Creek area, conservation and Indigenous groups say the plan fails to actually protect the province’s rarest forests while leaving First Nations stranded.

The government has “identified 2.6 million hectares of our largest, rarest and most ancient old-growth forests,” said Katrine Conroy, minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, in a Nov. 2 press conference.

The area, which is about 226 times the size of the city of Vancouver, was mapped and defined by the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel, an independent group of five scientific and ecological experts. The deferral of logging in such a large area is unprecedented but in line with the panel’s recommendations.

“It looks to me to be a calculated strategy to avoid blaming themselves for the status quo of continual old-growth logging, [and instead] pin it on First Nations’ leadership.”

The B.C. government describes logging deferrals as a temporary measure to prevent irreversible biodiversity loss.

“There had been a lot of information wars around the status of old-growth for many years, which made it very hard for the province to come up with conservation solutions. But now, thanks to this technical panel, there is an agreed-upon set of facts to guide decision-making going forward,” said Andrea Inness, a campaigner with the Ancient Forest Alliance.

To support the deferral process, the B.C. government will immediately cease advertising and selling forestry licences in the deferred area through B.C. Timber Sales, the government’s own logging agency, which controls about 20 per cent of the province’s annual harvest. Inness described this as a positive sign.

“Other logging companies will be asked to defer logging voluntarily. And if a First Nation consents to deferrals, then the government can force companies to defer logging,” said Inness.

The province is requesting that First Nations indicate within the next 30 days whether they support deferrals in their territory.

But Torrance Coste, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, pointed out that more than a year has already passed since the release of the Old Growth Strategic Review, a report that outlined 14 recommendations the government said it would follow.

“It’s way too late to just clarify intentions without acting on them,” said Coste. “Irreplaceable forests are still being clear-cut every day. The more than one thousand people arrested trying to protect old-growth since May proves the public wants to see these ecosystems set aside, not just mapped accurately.”

More than 50,000 hectares of old-growth are logged every year, said Ken Wu, founder of Vancouver-based Endangered Ecosystems Alliance. The big trees are logged first, and those trees make up the most endangered types of forest, where biodiversity is the greatest.

“The best stuff is going to be gone in just a few short years. Time is of the essence,” he said.

It’s a fact the government cannot escape. Garry Merkel, a member of the advisory panel and a co-author of the Old Growth Strategic Review, said the same in the press conference.

“Once the old trees are gone, the ecosystems in most cases are not renewable,” he stated, noting that the oldest trees in B.C., which range from 200 to 1,200 years old, have created stable ecosystems that support rich and complex biodiversity.

Wu said the deferral is an important step towards old-growth protection, but added that the government plan is missing a critical element: funding.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are needed from the province and the federal government to support First Nations-led land use plans ... and economic alternatives to old-growth logging.

Many First Nations have revenue-sharing agreements, employment agreements or joint ventures with logging companies, and they have their own logging rights. If the B.C. government doesn’t provide funding for relief and economic alternatives, they’re just asking First Nations to accept greater financial hardship.

“If you’re trying to consult with First Nations right now without providing the funding, it looks to me to be a calculated strategy to avoid blaming themselves for the status quo of continual old-growth logging, [and instead] pin it on First Nations’ leadership,” Wu said.

The provincial government has fostered First Nations’ economic dependency on logging over the past 20 years, and so it’s up to the government to provide support, he said. Otherwise, “it’s like building an amazing car without an engine.”

“The lack of proper consultations with First Nations prior to the announcement, as well as the government’s failure to provide details on transition financing and financing for Indigenous-led conservation solutions, all point to the province’s repeated pattern of advancing a mismanaged forestry landscape that fails to uphold Indigenous Title and Rights, jurisdiction, and decision-making,” stated Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations in a release.

Inness told Ricochet that hundreds of millions of dollars are needed from the province and the federal government to support First Nations-led land use plans, Indigenous-protected and -conserved areas, First Nations guardians programs, and economic alternatives to old-growth logging.

The B.C. government’s preliminary detailed socioeconomic analysis shows that up to 4,500 jobs could be impacted if all 2.6 million hectares were immediately and permanently closed to logging.

“In response, we are developing a comprehensive suite of coordinated programs to support workers and communities,” Conroy said. These supports will include short-term employment opportunities, skills training and educational opportunities, and funding for early retirement.

“We will have more to say on the specifics of the support programs in the weeks ahead,” she added.

The logging industry says the losses could be much worse than the government estimates. Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, said in a statement that the deferrals would cost 18,000 jobs and over $400 million in revenues to the government each year.

The government needs to do more to help forestry workers than simply help them transition out of old-growth logging, noted Inness, highlighting opportunities for B.C. to create more forestry jobs by stopping the export of raw logs to other countries and keeping them in the province for manufacturing.

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