British Columbia

Increased logging endangers rainforests in B.C.'s Interior, study says

In a study published last week, conservation scientists say the ecological system of B.C.'s Interior temperate rainforests could collapse within nine to 18 years if the government doesn't stop clear-cut logging in the region.

Rainforest tree loss doubled from 5 per cent in the 1970s to 10 per cent in the 2000s

An example of rainforest in the Interior wet belt bio-region, which is the focus of a recent study by conservation scientists. (Submitted by University of Northern British Columbia)

Increased logging activities have endangered B.C. 's Interior rainforests and, if left unchecked, may lead to their ecological collapse in a decade, warns a new international study.

In an article published last week in the journal Land, conservation scientists from Prince George, B.C., as well as Oregon and Australia say industrial logging has eliminated 2.7 million hectares of forest in the province's Interior wet belt bio-region over the past 50 years — including more than 500,000 hectares of the inland temperate rainforest, the wettest portion of the region. 

The Interior wet belt — named after the warm, moist conditions prevailing in the region — occupies more than nine million hectares of the lower slopes of the Columbia and Rocky mountains.

The study says rates of logging jumped from five per cent of the Interior wet belt in the 1970s, to 10 per cent of the region in the 2000s.

"That [ecological] system, if it continues at this pace and scale of logging, can lose all the core Interior habitat that's really critically important for the species, like lichens that are the base of the food web for endangered caribou," Oregon-based scientist Dominick DellaSala, chief investigator of the study, told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North.

Clear-cut logging over the past decades has endangered caribou habitat, says Dominick DellaSala, an Oregon-based scientist. (Angus Morrison)

Another recent study funded by the B.C. and federal governments shows that caribou have lost twice as much habitat as they've gained over the past 12 years. Research shows that logging and climate change are some of the main factors driving the habitat loss.

B.C. has also committed to implementing 14 recommendations made last September in a report conducted by two foresters. The report was commissioned by the province to review how old-growth forests should be protected.

The report urged B.C. to act within six months to defer harvesting in old-growth forest ecosystems at the highest risk of permanent biodiversity loss.

The Interior temperate rainforests, in dark green, are the wettest portion of the Interior wet belt. (Submitted by University of Northern British Columbia)

But DellaSala says clear-cut logging is still going on in B.C.'s rainforests, and the ecological system of the Interior temperate rainforest may collapse within nine to 18 years if the B.C. government doesn't put a stop to it. 

"What we would like to see all governments do is work with First Nations and [get] more of these places off the logging chopping block," he said.

Early this month, representatives from the Splatsin First Nation and the Syilx Okanagan Nation showed support for a Revelstoke, B.C., environmental group's protest against old-growth logging in the Argonaut Valley rainforest, about 120 kilometres north of Revelstoke.

The B.C. government said it has been consulting with First Nations on the future of forest management.

DellaSala says rainforests regulate climate change by soaking up carbon dioxide emissions, and he urges the federal and provincial governments to take action.

"The Canadian government, just like all other governments of the world, [is] supposed to be complying with the Paris climate agreement, which includes protecting forests because of the climate benefits."


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winston Szeto

Digital journalist

Winston Szeto is a journalist with CBC News based in Kelowna, B.C. in the unceded territories of the Syilx. He writes stories about new immigrants and LGBTQ communities. He has contributed to CBC investigative journalism programs Marketplace and The Fifth Estate. Winston speaks Cantonese and Mandarin fluently and has a working knowledge of German and Japanese. He came to Canada in 2018 from Hong Kong, and is proud to be Canadian. Send him tips at winston.szeto@cbc.ca.

With files from Daybreak North

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