British Columbia

More old-growth logging deferrals coming, says B.C. on anniversary of review promising forestry overhaul

B.C’s forests ministry says more deferrals for old growth logging will soon be announced as officials work toward meeting 14 changes the province committed to a year ago over how large, old trees in ecologically rich landscapes are logged.

‘A New Future for Old Forests,’ made 14 recommendations for a shift to ecology-based forestry

A river runs through a rainforest valley with mountains in the background.
An aerial photograph of the Nahmint Valley outside Port Alberni, B.C., shows protected old-growth groves along the water and replanted hillsides that were previously logged. (Chris Corday/CBC)

B.C's Forests Ministry says more deferrals for old growth logging will soon be announced as officials work toward meeting 14 changes the province committed to a year ago over how large, old trees in ecologically rich landscapes are logged.

"Our government will continue to work with all our partners to do this — we owe it to our kids and grandkids," the province said in a statement.

On Sept.11, 2020, the Ministry of Forests made public the government-mandated old growth strategic review, entitled A New Future for Old Forests.

It was written by two retired foresters, Garry Merkel and Al Gorley, who spent months touring the province talking to stakeholders about how the trees, some more than 1,000 years old, should be logged and protected.

Al Gorley and Garry Merkel pose for a photograph in Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island. The professional foresters authored the province's Old Growth Strategic Review (OGSR) titled A New Future for Old Forests, which was released in September, 2020. (Sasha Chin)

Conservationists have long argued that the most massive trees, cedars and firs, prized by industry for their economic value and by ecologists for their role in defending against climate change and enhancing biodiversity, are on the brink of extinction.

The review made 14 recommendations that, if realized, would usher in a new era of forestry in the province. It would be a system of sustainable logging where value is placed on healthy ecosystems rather than the timber.

Each year, around 200,000 hectares of B.C.'s 57 million hectares of forested lands are logged. The province says 27 per cent of this annual harvest comes from old growth.

A large wester red cedar tree lies on the ground in a cut block with its stump exposed.
Conservationists with the Ancient Forest Alliance say old-growth forests like this one are crucial to the overall health of ecosystems. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

When the review was made public, the government announced logging deferrals across the province for around 197,000 hectares of old growth in nine areas deemed to be at-risk eco-systems.

The deferrals are meant to protect trees and ecosystems until the province can put in place new forestry rules.

The province also enacted a Special Tree Protection Regulation, which it says will protect up to 1,500 iconic large trees. Later, the ministry announced its Modernizing Forest Policy in B.C. through an intentions paper, which incorporates the strategic review.

Environmentalists worry old-growth logging in areas like the Caycuse Valley on Vancouver Island will result in a loss of biodiversity in B.C. (The Wilderness Committee)

In late June, another panel was struck by the province which identified at-risk, old growth ecosystems and which should be prioritized for further deferrals.

"These results will be instrumental in prioritizing the location of additional temporary logging deferrals," said the province this week. "We look forward to sharing more on this important work soon."

It's unclear if new deferrals will be enough to quell ongoing protests in watersheds between Port Alberni and Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, which is now considered the biggest act of grassroots civil disobedience in Canadian history.

As protests intensified in the Fairy Creek watershed in June, the province approved a request from the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations to defer old growth logging in their territories for two years.

But the additional 2,000 hectares protected did little to dissuade protesters, who say they will only stop the civil disobedience once a complete moratorium is placed on all old growth logging.

A row of protesters stands face-to-face with a row of police officers in a forest.
RCMP and old-growth logging demonstrators stand face-to-face at an old growth blockade in the Fairy Creek watershed in September 2021. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

A New Future for Old Forests does not call for a provincewide moratorium on old growth logging.

Conservationists, First Nations and hundreds of protesters occupying watersheds between Port Alberni and Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island are calling out the province for not going further, faster.

"Our assessment is as devastating as a fresh old-growth clear-cut. There is very little time left to protect what is left," said Jens Wieting, a campaigner with Sierra Club B.C.

"Protection delayed is protection denied."

For the second time in the past 12 months, Sierra Club B.C. along with the Ancient Forest Alliance, and the Wilderness Committee have released a report card assessing the province's progress on its promise to protect old growth forests.

'Choosing inaction'

The report card gives failing grades on a number of provincial promises, including immediate action for at-risk forests, the development of a three-year work plan with measurable goals and funding to implement the plan.

The government review calls for the creation of transition plans for communities, including First Nations that are reliant on old growth logging for their financial health.

"Without funding to support old growth protection, the B.C. NDP government is forcing communities to make the impossible choice between revenue and conservation. They're choosing inaction while the conflict in B.C.'s forests worsens," said Andrea Inness with the Ancient Forest Alliance in a statement.

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

The province says it is making progress despite the perception from conservationists and activists that Premier John Horgan's government isn't taking the 14 recommendations seriously.

"Our forests are the foundation of our province," said the statement from the ministry.

"They are more than just timber, and making the transition to secure the environment they nurture as well as the future of forest-dependent communities will take time."

Merkel said he understands people's impatience but believes the province is working hard to implement the 14 recommendations.

He said timelines in the report, which laid out goals over a 36-month period, were made before the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the pandemic has resulted in delays. Properly consulting with First Nations has, as a result, also taken longer.

Still, he says, he is hopeful and optimistic the goals of the review will be met.

"It just doesn't happen overnight," he said. "There's nobody that I have seen that's trying to duck this."