In recent months, British Columbia’s government has made a show of protecting old-growth when really it is approving forest destruction at an alarming rate. B.C.’s grandstanding has been a jarring contrast to reality: the most at-risk old-growth forests are being cut down, while Indigenous Peoples, scientists and advocacy groups continue to call on B.C. to immediately stop logging in proposed old-growth deferral areas.

Old-growth forests not only play an integral role in the biodiversity and health of ecosystems, but also possess incalculable cultural value for First Nations who rely on old-growth for traditional purposes. Old-growth deferrals are a legal tool to stop logging activity in these irreplaceable forests, providing time for First Nations and B.C. to pursue a paradigm shift in forest management that upholds Indigenous title and rights.

Instead, the province has signed off on the destruction of thousands of hectares of old-growth logging deferrals since those places were identified in November 2021. Satellite analysis also documented areas logged before last fall, including to make way for pipelines like Coastal GasLink and the Trans Mountain expansion project. As old-growth logging continues, the reason behind B.C.’s misinformation campaign may be as insidious as it is predictable.

Last year, the province collected an astonishing $1.8 billion in logging revenue, much of it from targeting old trees. Earlier this year, Canfor — the company with the largest stake in logging proposed old-growth deferrals — posted record profits. According to an analysis by Stand.earth Research Group, Canfor alone threatens more proposed deferrals than 127 First Nations’ companies. So, who is B.C. really serving by refusing to protect these forests?

The B.C. government has cited a lack of Indigenous consent as its reason for failing to implement deferrals, even as it pursues a strategy that blocks deferrals sought by First Nations, and risks pitting First Nations against each other based on overlapping land claims. In June, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) passed a resolution denouncing this approach and calling for the immediate implementation of all old-growth logging deferrals, along with funding for First Nations.

As part of the resolution, UBCIC outlined, “the current divisive picture of old-growth logging has been, and continues to be, exacerbated by the B.C. government fostering an economic dependence on logging for First Nations through limited revenue-sharing, joint ventures, employment, and tenures in contentious areas where First Nations face limited alternate economic opportunities as a result of years of colonialism and racism.”

The disparity of access to wealth generated from Indigenous lands is an egregious, systemic issue. When First Nations must choose between logging remaining old-growth forests and having funds to support their communities, it violates their inherent rights to self-determination.

Logging deferrals are neither permanent protection nor a long-term solution to the deep-rooted injustice associated with old-growth policies. We support deferrals because they keep forests standing while we create lasting changes that centre First Nations’ title and rights.

We cannot leave forests to the mercy of logging companies and the province while these hard-fought changes are enacted. The B.C. government must consult with — and learn from — First Nations' land and forestry plans and practices, and work in partnership with First Nations to develop policies that support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the B.C. First Nations Forestry Strategy, and First Nations’ need to retain old-growth for spiritual and cultural purposes.

When we stand together for old-growth forests, we must also stand for an abundant, just and equitable future for our communities and future generations. Indigenous Peoples sustain vital cultural and spiritual relationships with the environment and have derived their livelihoods, way of life, traditional knowledge and well-being from the stewardship of their lands and waters since time immemorial. These forests are vital to us all: from harvesting foods and medicines, to mitigating the devastating impacts of fires, floods and climate change.

Opinion: Old-growth deferrals are a legal tool to stop logging, providing time for First Nations and B.C. to uphold Indigenous title and rights, write Grand Chief Stewart Phillip & Tegan Hansen @talltegan @standearth. #OldGrowth #BCpoli

Immediately implementing all proposed logging deferrals is essential to restoring hope and trust in the province’s old-growth strategy. With deferrals in place, we can move forward on the real work of overhauling a system built on land theft and exploitation, to one that restores Indigenous management and enshrines human and ecological well-being.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip is president of UBCIC. Tegan Hansen is senior forest campaigner at Stand.earth.