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.”
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.
“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.
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
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.”