NDP blamed for failing to save Vancouver Island old-growth giants from logging

The Ancient Forest Alliance says trees up to 70 metres tall and as wide as three metres in diameter were recently felled on Crown land, despite an NDP election promise to protect old-growth forests.

Ancient Forest Alliance says huge cedars, firs and spruce trees need to be protected

Andrea Inness, a member of the Ancient Forest Alliance, walks beside a western red cedar logged in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni in May 2018. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

Environmentalists on Vancouver Island are calling on the NDP government to deliver on an election promise to protect old-growth forests.

The demand follows the recent felling of huge, ancient trees in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni.

The Ancient Forest Alliance says in late May trees up to 70 metres tall and as wide as three metres in diameter were cut down as part of logging on Crown land made possible by the government agency B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS).

TJ Watt, a member of the Ancient Forest Alliance, created this before and after composite of a 66-metre tall, three-metre wide Douglas fir that was felled in the Nahmint Valley in May 2018. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

"These are some of the biggest, oldest living creatures that have ever existed in Earth's history," said Ken Wu, executive director for the alliance. "It's ethically wrong, it's ecologically destructive."

The organization says the Nahmint Valley, which lies in the territory of the Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations, has extensive stands of old-growth forests similar to those in Clayoquot Sound.

Hupacasath member Brenda Sayers says she was dismayed upon learning that trees that big were being logged.

"I was horrified," said Sayers, a former federal Green Party candidate. 

She often visits the area and describes it as magnificent and magical. She also says it has cultural significance as a sacred site for her nation.

"We are caretakers of the land," she said. "It's our responsibility to safeguard what is there for future generations."

Brenda Sayers, a member of the Hupacasath First Nation, says she is 'horrified' by the felling of old-growth trees in the Nahmint Valley. (Mid-Island Chapter Council of Canadians)

Sparing legacy trees

In January, the BCTS implemented a best practices management plan for coastal legacy trees, which it describes as exceptionally large and old trees.

The document says the specimens are a unique feature of B.C.'s coastal forests that help with habitat conservation and support ecotourism.

It sets guidelines for loggers to spare yellow cedar, coastal Douglas fir, sitka spruce and western red cedar. For example, a Douglas fir with a diameter of at least 2.1 metres must be preserved.

The alliance says a Douglas fir felled in the Nahmint Valley was larger than this and is surprised it wasn't saved — but the BCTS document also includes operational factors, such as safety hazards, that allow legacy trees to be felled.

"Right now it's generally legal to log these old-growth forests. It doesn't make it right," said Wu.

Focus on second-growth

Environmentalists on Vancouver Island have for years campaigned to have B.C. stop the practice of logging old-growth forests and focus solely on second-growth instead.

As part of its 2017 election platform, the NDP promised to partner with First Nations to modernize land-use planning.

That included using the ecosystem-based management of the Great Bear Rainforest as a model.

In 2016 an agreement was struck to protect 85 per cent of the forest — 3.1 million hectares — from industrial logging.

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

Wu says that, so far, the NDP has not committed to its election promise.

"I think they're trying to figure out their position as we continue to push and as there's a massive old-growth logging industry lobby that is also pushing them," he said.

Old growth protections

A statement from the Ministry of Forests said BCTS has awarded five timber sales worth 319 hectares since August 2016 in the Nahmint Valley, and that logging continues to support jobs in places like Port Alberni.

The ministry says there are 2,760 hectares of old growth protected in the valley and that there are 520,000 hectares of old-growth forests that will never be logged on Vancouver Island.

"Government is continuously reviewing practices to ensure healthy ecosystems and that logging is sustainable," said Forests Minister Doug Donaldson in the statement.

The NDP committed $16 million over three years in its latest budget to modernize land-use planning. It says there will be an update on progress in the fall.