Letter demanding old-growth forest protection signed by 20,000 B.C. residents

Protesters rallied outside MLA offices across the province urging restrictions on logging.

Protesters rallied outside MLA offices across B.C. urging restrictions on logging

Dozens of protesters rally outside the Vancouver constituency office of B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman on Wednesday to demand restrictions on logging old-growth forests. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A letter signed by more than 20,000 British Columbians demanding protection for old-growth forests was delivered to MLA constituency offices across the province Wednesday.

Activists rallied outside B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman's Vancouver office, hand-delivering the petition to staff. The effort was spearheaded by Sierra Club B.C. and LeadNow.

The letter was also delivered to the office of Premier John Horgan.

Ken Wu, executive director for the Ancient Forest Alliance, stands with a four-metre-wide stump of a Western red cedar felled at Gordon River, near Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

"The letter is calling for immediate steps and for an old-growth protection act, or a similar solution to make sure we protect the remaining intact old-growth areas and endangered ecosystems," said Jens Wieting, Sierra Club B.C.'s senior campaigner.

Wieting was among the dozens of protesters outside Heyman's office calling for immediate restrictions on active logging on old-growth sites on Vancouver Island — similar to rules governing parts of the Great Bear Rainforest.

He said the forests are essential in B.C.'s fight against wildfires and climate change.

Letter signed by 22,000 British Columbians was delivered to multiple constituency offices, including Premier John Horgan's. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"They have unique habitat for species, record high carbon storage, [and] they are critical for clean air and clean water," he told CBC News.

Old-growth concerns

There are about three million hectares of old-growth forests in B.C. — about five per cent of the total forests in the province.

About half of that — or 1.78 million hectares — are protected in parks and wilderness areas, according to the B.C. government.

TJ Watt, a campaigner with the Ancient Forest Alliance, looks up a an old growth cedar in a grove slated for logging outside Lake Cowichan B.C. on Vancouver Island. (Chris Corday/CBC)

But much of what's left over falls into the timber harvesting land base — forests that can be logged in B.C.

At the moment, old growth makes up about half of what's logged on the B.C. coast and Vancouver Island.

"Our best ally in the fight against climate change is these trees, and we're cutting them down — it's insane," said Brynne Morris, one of the Sierra Club B.C. workers who helped secure the more than 20,000 signatures attached to the letter.

Last year, the organization released a similar letter signed by more than 200 international scientists urging the province to improve forest protection.

The group says the province needs to introduce more incentives for the logging industry to transition away from old-growth logging, and toward second-growth harvesting.

Sierra Club B.C. campaigner hands the signed letter to staff at George Heyman's constituency office. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Loggers transitioning away

In a statement, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says the province is taking environmentalists' concerns into consideration as it refines its upcoming old-growth strategy.

The province has also protected an additional 1,000 hectares of coastal Douglas fir since 2017, although not all of it is necessarily old growth.

Members of the Truck Loggers Association (TLA) said the transition away from logging old growth is underway, but it will take several decades — if not an entire century.

"[A moratorium] would have a major economic impact," said David Elstone, the TLA's executive director. "People would be out of work, communities would suffer, you would create ghost towns. We don't want that."

Elstone says there needs to be a balance between harvesting, and conservation.

"Our industry is sacrificing a substantial amount of potential areas we could be harvesting in the name of forest stewardship, and I think that message gets lost," he added.

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