Two people are on a hunger strike on Vancouver Island, demanding an end to logging of old-growth forests in B.C., and Canada’s federal environment minister says he shares their concerns over biodiversity loss.

During a media teleconference Tuesday, National Observer asked federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson about James Darling and Robert Fuller, who are on their ninth day of no food, protesting in front of the office of Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley.

Darling and Fuller, who are representing Extinction Rebellion, have written a letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan saying they won’t eat until he implements a ban on old-growth logging.

“I think the topic that they’re trying to raise, certainly old growth is one element of it, but it’s around sustainable forestry practices ... I would share their concerns with respect to ensuring that we are thinking about forestry in a sustainable lens, on a go-forward basis,” Wilkinson said.

“Certainly I have a lot of sympathy for trying to ensure that we can continue to extract value from our forest resources, but do so in a matter that is not continuing the decline in biodiversity that we’ve seen over the past couple of decades.”

In an interview following the minister’s comments, Darling said he didn’t know what Wilkinson meant when he described their cause as being based around sustainable forestry practices.

“It’s not like old-growth is renewable. It takes thousands of years for old-growth forests to develop (ecosystems). Just the trees themselves are hundreds of years old. So once it’s logged, it’s gone,” Darling said. “I’m not really sure what he means by sustainable. It’s inherently unsustainable, logging old-growth.”

Wilkinson was speaking to media after announcing a $2 million expenditure over four years for Kootenay Connect, a program meant to help “protect and restore species-at-risk habitat and ecological connectivity in four biodiversity hotspots in the Kootenay region.”

The minister said the funding would help conserve habitat for 28 species at risk, including grizzly bears and northern leopard frogs, in the four regions of “Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor, Creston Valley, Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor, and the Columbia Valley Wetlands.”

Two people are on a hunger strike on Vancouver Island, demanding an end to old-growth logging, and Canada’s environment minister says he shares their concerns over biodiversity loss. But one striker made it clear they don't see eye-to-eye.

‘Politicians are really good at saying the right things’

The two hunger strikers have pointed to findings by the University of Victoria that say habitat loss is the main threat to B.C.’s at-risk species, and habitat destruction and degradation threatens a vast majority of the species at risk in the province.

Darling said he was inspired to take a stand after reading about an independent scientific report released in June that showed that there is little left of the province’s old-growth forests containing tall trees, and only a small portion of that is being protected from logging.

The provincial government, which has launched a review of old-growth forest management, says old-growth forests make up about 23 per cent of forested areas, with “mature forests,” meaning “largely natural” and generally greater than 80 years old in the interior, are about 46 per cent of the forested area.

But the report, “B.C.’s Old-Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity,” said those numbers obscure reality. The scientists found that only about three per cent of forests with very large, old trees still remain, and only about eight per cent of the original extent of intact forests with old trees remain as old-growth forests.

“This current status puts biodiversity, ecological integrity and resilience at high risk today,” the report stated. Last year, the United Nations put the spotlight on biodiversity, warning that nature is more vulnerable than at any point in human history, with the activity of humans threatening the extinction of over a million species of plants and animals.

“In general, I feel that politicians are really good at saying the right things and expressing their concerns for the environment, and saying they want to protect species. But we’re living, globally, in a mass extinction event that’s driven by human activity,” Darling said.

“I just think that destroying what remains of our old-growth forests is just totally insane. Humans are animals too, and to think that we’re not going to be affected is wishful thinking.”

Wilkinson said Tuesday that, through both his current and prior government work, he had become very familiar with the issue of protected spaces that can allow for the continued functioning of key species such as caribou. He said the announcement Tuesday for Kootenay Connect “is actually about that — it’s about connectivity and about habitat restoration.”

The hunger strikers have received a positive reaction so far from the community, Darling said. He said he plans on continuing his protest for the time being. “At some point I’m going to have to stop, but for now I’m going to keep going.”

Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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The trouble is that current sustainable forestry practices may make sense in principle but that does not make up for the loss of these unique forests, the loss of biodiversity and habitat associated with old growth. I’m not a biologist or a forester but after reading the passionate book titled The Hidden Life of Trees By Peter Wonlleben ( a forester himself), I cannot look at trees the same way. Current forestry practices may produce wood but they are almost like a monoculture where they grow fast with less competition producing inferior wood. Think of old growth forest like any other nearly extinct species. Grow new forests elsewhere, areas already cut, and allow them to grow more slowly, with less intervention, to mimic life in old forests, with more diversity and competition.

What can we do to support the striker's cause? I also want to help preserve the essential old growth forests. In addition to the many functions old trees provide an ecosystem, these forests are the only place unique fungi - such as agarikon - are found that contain the antibiotics and antivirals of the future. Mycologist Paul Stamits is lobbying the US government to preserve the nation's old growth forests for national security, suggesting that the nation's ability to fight biological warfare depends on preserving these areas where agarikon fungi is found. There are a million reasons to preserve these forests, is there anything we can do?

What can we do? Call CBC, etc to get this on the TV news !!!!!

Make that Wohlleben, for anyone looking for it. And I highly second the recommendation, not so much for its passion, but for its science.
Reforestation *is* single species, and like other single-species plantations, are open to infestation by disease, insects, and susceptibility to fire and flood.
Kind of analogous to a group of primary school children left to fend for themselves with no adults.
An engineer in the neighbourhood told me that the strength of re-forested wood is much inferior to that which was produced when he graduated from university. I.e., those tree plantations are not producing good wood, at the same time as they're incapable of fulfilling the functions of forests in the larger ecosphere.
It takes centuries to re-establish underground root networks and tiny creatures (insects, bacteria, fungi) that make forests healthy and abundant, and feed the waters that make coastlines and marine species healthy.
But people who consider entire cohorts and populations of members of their own species to be expendable are hardly likely, methinks, to give a crap about fish and whales ... much less squirrels, woodpeckers, etc.
Even the squirrels and woodpeckers don't know what to do with what's now available to them: squirrels have been planting green grapes in my yard. I watched a woodpecker repeatedly get its beak stuck in a roasted-in-shell peanut it was repeatedly unsuccessfully trying to crack against the crotch of a tree branch outside my kitchen window, while a young male looked on.

I agree with Valerie and fully support the hunger strikers. Our voices and votes are the only power we have as individuals. We count on leadership at all levels of government to protect the planet. We cannot pretend BC is doing all it can to protect forest ecosystems - they are literally disappearing before our eyes. Jobs in forestry, tourism and more will be gone with the trees. We cannot pretend government is doing something meaningful when yet another study is proposed, delaying any action that matters now. Denial, divert and delay hasn’t really worked out for BC’s caribou, owl populations, salmon, whales and other ‘iconic’ species, has it? The only time we have is right now.

I support the hunger strikers too.

I support them too. We cannot continue to cut down the old growth forests. These trees are critically important to the entire environment.

I totally support the hunger strikers. The so call forestry review that Horgan talks about will happen AFTER ALL the old growth is cut.

It seems the BC NDP leader and federal Minister of the Environment have no concept of the importance of “Old Growth Forrests” vs sustainable Forrest practices. The former is a matter that touches on “Ecocide” the latter is a matter of a decade old mismanagement on the part of the BC government. Both must be addressed immediately!

Someone needs to educate that minister: he's clearly uninformed.
1A) An 80-year old stand of trees is not "old growth forest."
1B) Why does CBC airing a program allowing a "profit consultant" (Doug Stevens, the "Retail Prophet") to get away with characterizing old growth forests as "dead wood," and for that matter, retail workers as well.
2) There is no such thing as "protecting key species" without protecting their entire habitat.
3) "Corridors" and "reserves" are cute, but don't mean anything in terms of grand schemes of things.
4) Anyone who thinks human health and safety hasn't already been affected is not looking at disease stats vs. the pollution unleashed when resources are extracted -- especially with our basically non-existent enforcement of hugely inadequate environental safety laws.
5) When I was a kid, we'd occasionally have deer or moose in our yard, when snow got deep in the mountains and the available food was downhill ... and we'd at times hear wolves howling, but never saw them: they stayed away from humans -- my parents recalled seeing them at night in the 1940s. Now, it's unsafe to hike where we used to as kids, because of the bears ... on Vancouver Island, it's bears and cougars. They're hunting on highways, garbage dumps and rooftops because their habitat has been destroyed. Humans aren't exempt as prey.
5) Then, there's the broader safety and conservation issue of climate change. Believe it or not, there are still lots of people talking about "when climate change comes." Seriously. But it's impossible that our Environment Ministries whatever the level of government, do not have the facts available to them. They might be deaf to anyone but industry. I doubt that covers their duty of care when it comes to protecting the entire population, as opposed to filling the coffers of rich men so they'll kick back by way of campaign contributions.
6) There *could* be measures put in place to prevent such, but they don't now exist.
7) Lobbyists representing non-domestic industry (there are lots of extraction companies subsidized by our taxes, whose profits (and often product) all go offshore, and aren't taxed. That's got to end.
8. And why, in God's name, are we still granting charitable status to industry promotion groups? That is not educational, and it doesn't benefit the general society: only members. I suppose it is somewhat akin to religion ... lots of faith, no science, control by elites and no room for dissent ...
I wish the strikers well, but fear that to an administration elected on the promise of environmental sustainability and, broadly, human rights, doesn't care whether they live or die. And CBC, certainly, isn't making an issue of it. Maybe we could all call our national news outlets, and ask them to report on the strike? In depth: not treating them as wing-nuts.