It’s 7:30 on a warm summer morning. The air smells fantastic. After days of lingering smoke, the wind brings freshness and scents full of life. You ask Alexa for the forecast and she/it tells you that today’s high will be 42 C. Your partner laments, “When is this heat wave going to end!?” You shrug and say, “Just be thankful we still have air conditioning!”

The doorbell rings and two men in overalls announce they’re here to remove your air-conditioning system. You protest loudly, but they show you their licence for removal. Further resistance is a bad idea. The news has been running stories of people being arrested for refusing to give up their ACs, sometimes getting injured in the process.

As the workers haul the precious cooling system out of your house, you remind them that people are dying from the latest heat waves.

“Sorry buddy, I’ve got a family and this job puts food on my table,” is the reply.

“Besides, we’ll be back next week to start building you a new AC unit. It will only take 10 or 15 years for it to be back up and running.” You hold your tongue, but you’re well aware that these new units are of much poorer quality than the one that is being removed and they provide no help in the short term when you need it desperately.

The old-growth forests of B.C. are the cooling systems for Vancouver Island and the mainland. They’re also the air filters, the oxygen supply, the water management system and a massive carbon storage unit. In spite of the importance of these ecosystem services in a time of global heating, governments are still allowing ancient trees to be felled. The Wilderness Committee’s Charlotte Dawe writes, “In the last decade on Vancouver Island alone, industry has logged the equivalent of more than thirty-four soccer fields of old-growth forest every single day.”

By the numbers, the B.C. government and forestry industry make a strong case that they are engaged in sustainable forestry. A Ministry of Forests report from 2003 estimated that British Columbia was blessed with nearly 60 million hectares of forest and 95 per cent of that was publicly owned.

Today, the B.C. government says there are 56.2 million hectares of publicly managed forest in the province, nearly the same amount as in 2003. That seems sustainable! The problem is that old-growth forest is being substituted for tree farms and recovering new growth. Creative accounting isn’t just for financial reports.

The 2003 forest report estimated 43 per cent of the publicly owned forest, or 25 million hectares, was old-growth. The B.C. government is now stating that old-growth makes up 20 per cent of the forest, or 10 million hectares. This means more than half of B.C.’s old-growth forests have been wiped out in the last two decades. If that were to continue, all the currently unprotected old-growth will be gone within the next 20 years.

B.C. old-growth forests are the cooling systems, air filters & oxygen for Vancouver Island & the mainland. Why are governments still allowing ancient trees to be felled? asks Rob Miller @winexus. #fridaysforfuture #oldgrowth #ancientforest #forests

Much of the lost old-growth is replaced with mono-crop tree plantations that have significantly less biodiversity. On a tree farm, natural vegetation like birch trees are considered competitors. Seedlings are planted on clearcuts and the area is sprayed with herbicides like glyphosate in massive quantities. This eliminates any naturally competing trees, shrubs and grasses while also damaging important microorganisms in the soil. This practice has many of the same problems as unsustainable agriculture.

There is something unsettling in the simple arithmetic behind the amount of old-growth that has been lost in the last 20 years. The B.C. government reports that an average of 500,000 hectares of forest was lost each year over the last decade due to harvesting and forest fires.

That only accounts for two-thirds of the missing old-growth. The B.C. government states that only 27 per cent of the annual harvest is old-growth forest and wildfires don’t target stands of ancient trees. There are millions of hectares of precious forest that are unaccounted for. As the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

In November, the B.C. government announced two-year logging deferrals on 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forest. This is not permanent protection. John Horgan’s NDP government has said there are 13.7 million hectares of old-growth forest remaining in B.C., a number also used by forestry industry representatives such as the Truck Loggers Association. Curiously, the difference between the industry estimate and the number reported on the BC Ministry of Forests website is exactly 2.6 million hectares.

Are the people of B.C., and all Canadians, being misled about the management practices and sustainability of our forestry industry?

Are current and future generations being cheated out of the natural asset value and ecosystem services that are being provided by these forests?

Indigenous people walked these forests thousands of years before mechanization allowed people to profit from their removal. For millennia, the forest ecosystem provided communities with food for their tables, materials for their homes, clean air and fresh water.

The people were mindful to only take what they needed and leave plenty for future generations. Today, we aren’t paying attention. We allow politicians and industries to make false claims about being good stewards when they continue to exceed the boundaries and limits of nature.

Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer formerly with General Dynamics Canada who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action. As a climate activist, he works to stop old-growth logging in B.C., to reject coal mining on Alberta’s eastern slopes, to facilitate community involvement in urban afforestation and to advocate for renewable energy. Miller uses a “systems thinking” approach to learn, understand and defend the ecosystems that are under threat by climate change and unrestrained resource development. He lives in Calgary.

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We might as well build caskets of all that old growth lumber being harvested in B.C.....because that destruction of intact ecosphere and its replacement by monoculture's tree part of the degradation of the natural systems that have made our lives possible.

Technology won't save us. And monoculture isn't going to be able to cut it either.

We either stand up to the Big Extractivists or we go down with them.

If old-growth was the magic air conditioner as claimed here, why is the CoastalWestern Hemlock Biogeoclimatic Zone, the ecosystem in which all of Vancouver Island’s rainforest occurs, experiencing warmer weather and year-over-year summer water deficits? Isn’t the definition of rainforest a region where water deficits NEVER occur? Indeed, it never has on the outer Coast until just the last few years.

But eulogization, personification, theofication, partisan-politicization, and polarization are the propaganda of radical preservationists these days. I guess we can add air-conditionerization to the growing list of unhelpful fantasies and distractions.

Anything which casts shade on the ground keeps the local environment cooler. Forests—any closed- or semi-canopy forests, not only old-growth, do the same thing as efficiently as they have evolved in order to capture sunlight. The value of urban forest canopy in cooling terms is very well known.

I suspect this piece is yet another appeal to readers unfamiliar with forests that makes OG the saviour of the planet, slayer of climate-change, mother of all nature, and goddess of all souls. The design, I guess, is to motivate voters to pressure governments to preserve more old-growth, never mind the falsehoods and misconceptions fostered. It’s unethical to that extent, at least. Citizens should base their political action on facts, not fairy tales.

I’ll keep rebutting the canard that preserving OG will ameliorate climate-change in some way. It will not: the atmosphere is way to big and OG far too small to measure any such notion.

I’ll keep telling the simple truth that forests do not absorb atmospheric CO2 indefinitely, that OG does store CO2, but only to its capacity and no more, and that fungal decay typical of old stands respires their stored CO2 back into the atmosphere. I’ll keep reminding ideologues that many OG stands are net emitters of CO2 as a result of low-to-zero growth rate and increasing fungal decay, the latter eventually succeeds the former.

Who doesn’t know this? In my experience, most people have a very fuzzy understanding of trees. silvics and silviculture. An acquaintance who worked with logs and wood most of his life once explained to me that the scar at mid-log we were considering must have been human made because it would have been within human reach from the ground when it was made and thence progressed up the tree as it grew. Naturally this doesn’t happen. I’ve met others who thought trees only photosynthesize, only absorb water and atmospheric CO2: in fact, all plant growth is a result of respiration, the ‘burning’ of the solar ‘fuel’ the tree made when the sun shone and uses to get the work of growth done—that is, they respire like animas and fungi—mostly at night, as one would expect of organisms long evolved to intercept sunlight as efficiently as possible during the day. The net difference between photosynthesis and respiration being the built and assembled biomass, the plant’s ‘profit,’ as ‘t were. Some people I’ve met are astounded to discover that only an inch or two of the thin bark and cambium of a red cedar bole is actually alive, the rest of its great bulk being dead as a door nail —and definitely not absorbing CO2. I was educated for and employed by the forestry industry so I know, like most of my colleagues should and do know, a lot more minutia than that—in fact, if one is doing cher job properly, chi will discover something new almost every day out there. Everybody should know at least tree basics before self-graduating to the much more complex matters of ecology, policy, and politics.

Preserving more old-growth is a good thing to do, too, but by way of misinforming citizens and stokIng their ire is wrong. It will lead where all lies do. And then, of course, wrong attitudes have to be corrected in order citizens understand what’s at stake and what are the best options to achieve a preservation policy.

The demand by radicalized preservationists to stop all OG logging immediately or the planet is doomed is like the boy who cried wolf to Chicken Little. Not only is it incorrect in carbon terms, it is so fantastic as to ignore one big problem: the great big climate has changed a lot In the last 40 years and will continue to change—only even more rapidly— for the foreseeable. That’d be true if all fossil-fuel combustion magically stopped tomorrow, which, given that unlikelihood, means much OG will find itself maladapted to the new, fast-approaching environment. Even f all OG logging were stopped immediately, the atmosphere and ocean’s (don’t forget the ocean is a much bigger heat sink than the atmosphere) momentum will undoubtedly change the climate in such a way.

Naturally, radical preservationists don’t want to acknowledge these facts because they don’t gin emotion as well as alarmism in the face of serious challenges. So what if all OG is saved from the axe tomorrow? What’s the plan, then? I haven’t heard, nor do I expect to hear a cogent plan from reactionary orgs like Save Old Growth. They don’t know what they’re talking about—unless they do an spout falsehood on purpose—but because neither do most of the people they alarm, so it’s okay? No, it really, really isn’t. SOG and their ilk are a menace rather than a help.

Whatever the target for OG preservation, it needs to be done in context of rapidly changing ecosystems. OG itself cannot stop this, but some locations, elevations, and aspects of stands will have a better chance of surviving these approaching changes than others.

The complexity of forest tenures, private lands (the private E&N Land Grant, for example, covers most of the east slope of Vancouver Island), and indigenous nations’ unsettled sovereign claims is daunting, but overlying a forest-cover map to see what’s feasible in silvical terms is an easy first step. Anything else is unhelpful, counterproductive and bound to fail, even at its most modest objectives. Simply demanding the moon and the sky cannot be taken seriously—except where risk of life and limb in the perpetration of radical action are concerned. Ramping up disobedience and sabotages of ordinary people’s lives and livings is going diametrically the wrong way.

Nice pic of second —or maybe third-growth, BTW. I can almost feel the nice, cool shade...

Great article. Just want to remind people that all this is true for the Inland Temperate Rainforest as well. This is an often forgotten inland rainforest, the last of its kind of any substantial size on the planet. It was deemed in critical danger of imminent collapse by Delasalla et al in the journal Land in 2020.

Excerpt from an article by Marina Richie:
David Mildrexler is a systems ecologist for Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands. He’s a mapping expert who uses remote sensing to look at the land surface temperatures of forests around the world.

In 2018 he published research that showed the planet’s profile of high temperatures is fairly stable from year to year. Next to ice-covered areas, forests are the most important factor for keeping it cool. “We can see how forests are cooling the land surfaces in a major way,” says Mildrexler.

Large trees function as giant water towers that cool the planet through evaporation of water from leaves. With their deep roots, big trees tap groundwater sources not available to shallow-rooted plants, enabling trees to maintain their cooling role even during dry conditions.

“Older and intact forests are better at cooling the Earth’s surface,” says Mildrexler. “Where we deforest areas or significantly log them, the land surface temperatures spike rapidly.”