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Despite the B.C. government's stated commitment to protect old forests, old-growth logging approvals in British Columbia jumped 43 per cent in the last year, a new study based on provincial government data shows.

According to mapping research by the Wilderness Committee, logging was approved in 84,669 hectares of old-growth forest in 2020-21 compared to 59,228 hectares the year before.

Torrance Coste, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, says the increase in cutblock approvals is the result of a “fire sale” on old-growth forests announced by the B.C. government.

“Horgan himself has said publicly multiple times that he believes old growth is more valuable standing,” Coste said. “Essentially, these kinds of statements and these kinds of commitments without on-the-ground change, it's a huge signal to the industry to get it while you can.”

Map of old-growth forests and approved logging in B.C. Source: Wilderness Committee

Logging approvals contradict promises, environmental group says

In September 2020, the B.C. government announced a “new, holistic approach” to protecting old forests based on the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review panel.

The strategy would be “a break from the divisive practices of the past” and involve fully engaging with Indigenous leaders, industry, labour and environmental groups.

Coste says that divisions come from weak follow-through on commitments.

A new environmental mapping study found #OldGrowth logging approvals in British Columbia jumped 43 per cent in the last year, despite government commitments to protect old forests. #BCpoli

“For government to say, ‘Hey, we get it, we're committed to this paradigm shift, we understand the report that says timber is prioritized above all other values and that's the problem and we're gonna save old growth’... then they appear to have approved a massive spike in the logging of those forests. That's where the division comes from,” said Coste.

Using a site index scale that measures average tree height, the Wilderness Committee found 80 per cent of new cutblock approvals are in at-risk, biodiverse high- and medium-productivity old-growth forests.

Coste highlights that old growth forests have ecological, recreational, spiritual and cultural value, especially to Indigenous communities.

“From a climate change perspective, the same things that create that abundance and that huge level of growth, that's also what creates the biggest trees with the most abundant and the most valuable timber that’s so coveted by industry,” said Coste.

More needs to be done to protect old growth

When asked for comment on the findings, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy referred Canada’s National Observer to the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

“We do not believe the conclusions drawn from the Wilderness Committee’s analysis accurately reflect what is happening in B.C.’s ancient forests,” the office of Katrine Conroy, B.C. minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, said in a statement.

“The fact is, 10 million hectares of old growth is already protected and since coming into office our government has protected hundreds of thousands more. We are committed to work with the committee to better understand their results and to provide a true account of our old-growth forest.”

Coste says that before a management strategy can be put in place, the government needs to follow expert advice and defer logging in old-growth forests while supporting communities whose livelihoods depend on the industry.

“What they need to do is a broad suite of deferrals aligned with what science on this is telling them and they need to defer all logging, permitted or not, in the most at-risk old-growth forests,” Coste said.

“And provide support in the meantime. You know, First Nations, some communities draw job benefits from this logging. Government needs to be providing funding to make up for any of those shortfalls.”

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Bring on the trolls, I guess, but...can we really be surprised when license applications shoot up along with the price of lumber? The increase over the last year is around 300%. If demand and prices of cars or Levi's jumped 300%, wouldn't you expect production to skyrocket?
I get that the special nature of old growth is just that...special. But the operative word is "old". Give it a few decades and it will be rotting on the ground.
I don't support logging ALL old growth, no. But how much is ever accessed by anyone other than forestry companies? Where is the data or demonstrated evidence that logging (mostly in much smaller cut blocks than days of yore) is significantly harmful to the environment or fauna?
Ok, trolls: open season. Bring it on.

You make one or two valid points, one or two invalid ones. But has it occurred to you that pre-defining anyone who might disagree with you as a "troll" is basically . . . trolling?

The increase in price leading to increased demand makes sense. Although that doesn't necessarily mean that a democratic government should respond by increasing supply. The government has, or should have, additional policy concerns other than the preferences of logging companies.

But your comment about 'The operative word is "old"' is a bit silly. Obviously, in any forest that is not a plantation and has existed for a long time, the trees are of varying ages. There are very old trees, there are seedlings, there are saplings, there are trees at various stages of maturity. Sometimes a very old tree, or a younger tree that got damaged one way or another, dies. It may fall quickly and, as it rots, feed many small forest dwellers and serve as a nursery for seedlings. It may stand for some time, hollow out, and again, act as habitat for various creatures. So no, an "old growth" forest is not a forest of very old trees which will all die in a few years, leaving some sort of cemetery of dead trees. Rather, it is in a fairly steady state, with older trees dying and newer ones growing old. A term which might defend better against silly linguistic-based assumptions would be "climax forest".

You don't support logging ALL old growth . . . what percentage, then? Because whatever percentage you might name, we've probably already logged that percentage. The fact is that as a percentage of total original forest cover in BC, the amount of old growth is now vanishingly small, unless you count unloggable mountaintops with tiny scrubby trees. There comes a time when the question needs to be asked: If the logging industry cannot make do with the vast majority of the forests that has been logged and subsequently managed, what good is taking the last sliver of old growth going to do them? There's so little left that if you gave them every last old growth tree in the province, a few years later they'd be confronting the same problem.
So why not try to live within their means now, instead of after doing yet more damage? Why should logging companies get to postpone their responsibilities at everyone else's expense?

The OG cut fluctuates considerably year to year. It might go up 43% this year, but down as much in another.

The complainants rather seem to be bent on “protecting” all OG, and use all sorts of stats to press their cause. Let us mark the twain where statistics run aground. Here they’re used to criticize the government, to suggest it is breaking promises when, in fact, it is not. It never said it was going to protect all OG, just more of it—which, indeed, it has.

Yet it never seems enough to absolutist ideology. I been around a while, worked in the woods half my life (retired now) and seen huge changes in harvest policy—all toward protection of the environment and, in many cases, protection of OG for its own sake. The battles are legend: the NitNat Triangle, Meares Island, Lyell Island, The Stein, Carmanah, Clayoquot Sound, the Flathead, &c. But more than just preserving OG, these battles changed policy, notably the Forest Practices Code which Mike Harcourt’s NDP government brought in in the early 90s. It reduced cut across the board by 25% (although some Timber Supply Areas —there are about 35 of them in BC—were reduced by up to 75%); it implemented logging waste surveys, across the board, for the first time; it beefed up water protection (more and bigger buffer zones around waterways and de-building of logging roads); it also beefed up wildlife and rare ecosystem protection. It was a huge change in how logging is done.

Harcourt also initiated a new approach to Aboriginal sovereign claims (the Haisla/West Fraser Mills Agreement, the Treaty Commission, for examples) to deal with these forest resource matters interim to treaties. (The NDP government also signed the first modern-day treaty with the Nisga’a.) Despite erosion of some of these provisions by the 16-year BC Liberal regime, this approach has been significantly bolstered by subsequent SCoC decisions which effectively armour it against further encroachments on unceded indigenous territory without consultation. The current NDP government, when a minority supported by the Greens, adopted the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and, now as a majority government, is working to fit it in with Canadian Common Law by way of resource development in unceded indigenous territories— which includes not only preservation of OG for traditional uses (spiritual and hunting/gathering) but also allocation of timber for indigenous nations to harvest. Although still nascent, with bumps and glitches along the way (the Wet’suwet’en standoff, for example, taught the Crown how not to do things, forcing it to more closely observe protocols for resource disposition on unceded lands outlined in the 2014 SCoC William —“Tsihlqot’in”—decision), the government is moving in the right direction—if not as fast or as totally as some would like.

Harcourt also doubled the area of parks and ecological preserves to comply with the UN Brundtland Report (which recommended 12% of the jurisdiction should be preserved in natural state). Then there’s the Great Bear Rainforest policy which preserves and/or places special restrictions on harvesting in a huge area of West Coast forest. Recently the Current NDP government has added millions of hectares more. Yet absolutists still want all OG logging stopped.

The more reasonable position is one of working compromises between sovereign claimants (the Crown and most First Nations effectively share sovereignty on lands with no treaties) and particular preservation efforts to protect special areas of OG—like, Fairy Creek, for example, which is of special, significant, local concern and does not include stopping OG logging anywhere else.

Or does it?

I sometimes wonder how strong the convenient partnership of Fairy Creek preservationists and protect-all-OG-now totalitarians really is. Does the demand to stop all OG logging in the province make the local Fairy Creek action more likely to succeed or less? After all, not all places are as special as Fairy Creek (it is one of the last pristine drainages in the region); indeed, the vast majority of forested places in BC will not be visited by anyone but hunters, trappers and loggers (maybe a few prospectors, too) and are not particularly special; most British Columbians—that is, who live in the urban/exurban southwest—would wish they were home if they were ever dropped into the vastness of this province. And yet all of these places are covered by the protective provisions of the FPC, UNDRIP and SCoC-ordered protocols for developing resources of unceded indigenous territory. Remember: parks and ecological preserves (where no harvest is permitted) are not located where there’s human traffic from which to profit. Harcourt intentionally tasked real forest ecologists (instead of industry reps) to identify proposed preservation areas by ecological criteria alone. That is, the distribution of protected areas is considered and fair, not weighted toward profit. The remainder is also heavily encumbered with regulations to protect various, non-timber values, not least of which is with respect future treaties (which the Crown is constitutionally obliged to settle) and dispositions interim with respect Aboriginal Title.

Simply put: OG logging can’t be as rampant as preservation totalitarians say it is. The Crown is obliged to retain a considerable portion of harvestable timber (not in parks of ecological preserves) for negotiating with indigenous nations which, as co-sovereigns (interim to treaties), are entitled to harvest OG as they see fit. As such, First Nations generally do not want a ban on OG logging: they want to realize wealth from it for much the same reason government, industry, and workers do. FNs might be at one end of a spectrum with respect how, when and why they intend to realize wealth from the OG resource—but it isn’t necessarily the kind of sacred or slow wildcrafting some non-aboriginal ideologues imagine: it might or might not be slower or more careful than the other end where industry wants to maximize profit and workers make their wages.

All stakeholders have had significant influence on timber harvesting policy; no longer is industry the dominant influence—proof that government has taken other interests like environmentalism, as well as jobs, into account, as it should. It is also constrained by policy guides like UNDRIP, which it freely adopted itself, as well as SCoC decisions (Delgamuukw and “Tsilhqot’in,” for examples). It isn’t always perfect (as Wet’suwet’en showed), but government is obliged to do the “art of the possible” to respond to everyone’s concerns as best it can. I can tell you from personal experience, these challenges are exceedingly complex, glitches are inevitable, but government is the appropriate agency to respond to citizens’ concerns and comply with SCoC (and other courts’) decisions. They spend a considerable amount of time doing this and, I think, they’re doing a much better job than the BC Liberals ever did.

But they cannot meet an uncompromising demand at the same time.

There isn’t a soul in government or bureaucracy who doesn’t understand the issues and stakes involved in forest policy—it touches every citizen and square inch of the province whether ordinary citizens know it or not. Government especially knows about perceptions and, if they see what I see here, they are aware that many of these absolutist demands are about winning the hearts—but probably not the minds—of citizens and voters. Most propaganda I see demanding and end to OG logging is typically biased and plays heavily on emotional tropes and stereotypes of forests perceived by city folks. For example, stats have been propagated lately that vastly underestimate the amount of remaining OG (the statistical abuse technique is well-known but often not recognized in sensationalized context: omit the true size of the sample in order to exaggerate the amount of OG left in this smaller sample while disingenuously implying a province wide —or even worldwide—emergency, or sometimes to conflate with other, real crises; it is stock statistical abuse). For anyone who cares or dares question these abused stats, the response is usually revealing: “oh, we didn’t mean ALL OG, just the really big OG”; or “we don’t count OG in parks as OG,” and so forth. I my view, such tactics undermine goodwill towards preservation —and trust in the sources of these claims which should be, in a better ethical world, openly and heavily qualified. Unfortunately, unconsidered distrust tends to be easily deflected onto the wrong party.

We are nowhere near logging the last of the OG in BC, but one day, years and years from now, the last OG tree that’s allowed to be cut will be felled. And we’ll still have lots of OG.

Some preservationists (not necessarily totalitarian absolutists) parry with the fact that we as living beings need shelter and food, and cut down forests to plant filed crops, build houses and civic infrastructure and, yes, provide jobs for citizens to pay for food and housing. They say that we can do all of this without cutting any more OG. While it’s true a lot of second growth is now coming on-stream that could—eventually—obviate the need to cut more OG for, say, framing lumber used for housing, government is responsible to businesses and workers, as well as to the public purse which pays for social services we all enjoy. It is prudent that OG not specifically preserved for its own sake be harvested —always with utmost respect the environment—in order to regenerate faster-growing stands for subsequent, periodic harvesting. These new stands obviate the need that might otherwise be filled by logging old stands: they effectively take the pressure off of OG. (I also chuckle when certain naysayers demand we replace wood fibre with hemp: simply put, hemp does not grow well nor is economically feasible on 95% of the terrain where trees grow, and, on the 5% we use for settlement and farming, hemp cultivation, while more profitable as a filed crop, only displaces our more primary need: food. Trees grow on rocky terrain where nothing else will.)

Government is sensitive to perceptions—that’s why preservation totalitarians are propagating their accusative, hypercritical, demanding screed in order to make government look as if it doesn’t care, is in the pocket of profiteers or other ‘special interests,’ is breaking promises, and not listening to ‘the people.’ It is activism by embarrassment the government does not deserve. It simply cannot cave to the absolutist demand because it has bigger responsibilities. And thus it counters and parries with perception as well.

Finally, I would caution anyone who advocates for better forestry to be mindful of which org one hooks up with. Just being organized and social-media savvy —and full of piss and vinegar—might be impressive, even widely talked about, but the truly concerned citizen must recognize that the government, as well as industry, workers, FNs, citizens and visitors have already, altogether, submitted to many compromises with respect OG.

We might have a ways to go yet, but we’re not going in the wrong direction (as naysayers insist) nor abandoning commitments to do better (again, as propagandists imply). And we are certainly not going to stop OG logging anytime soon. Let’s try to be reasonable.

Now THAT was a very thoughtful and informative post. I may not entirely agree with it, but I can certainly respect it, and it doesn't open with "If you don't agree you're a troll".


One caveat I might suggest to your account of misleading statistics--surely that 12% park cover you mention is not all old growth forest? Some of it isn't forest at all, and plenty of parks were logged, in whole or in part, before they became parks. So citing 12% parks as 12% old growth is surely somewhat misleading as well.