Old-growth logging threatens culture, says Nuu-chah-nulth tribal council
'Our whole lives really, and a lot of our spirituality, is wrapped up in the forests'
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council says the provincial government needs to do more to protect B.C.'s remaining ancient forests for both cultural and environmental reasons.
Nuu-chah-nulth territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island is home to some of the province's largest remaining old-growth trees.
But tribal council president Judith Sayers says the province needs to stop — or at least slow down — the rate at which they are disappearing.
"Our whole lives really, and a lot of our spirituality, is wrapped up in the forests," she said.
Nuu-chah-nulth Nations use old-growth yellow and red cedar for traditional purposes, such as canoes, totem poles and long houses.
Other nations often come to Nuu-chah-nulth territory for access to ancient cedar because it is no longer available in their own regions, Sayers said.
Current logging practices also have a negative impact on salmon-bearing streams in the territory, she added.
There are protections in place, through parks and wilderness areas, for about 55 per cent of the 3.2 million hectares of old-growth forests. On Vancouver Island that translates into roughly 520,000 hectares where logging is off limits.
Environmental groups have been pressuring the government to expand restrictions on old-growth logging and shift the industry entirely to second-growth trees. But old-growth trees are more valuable.
Rights and title
A number of Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nations do have timber harvesting businesses, and some are involved in land-use planning as signatories to the Maa-Nulth Treaty signed between five First Nations and the federal and provincial governments.
But they work to preserve old-growth, Sayers said, while calling on the province to ensure other forestry companies do the same, especially in light of outstanding issues around Indigenous rights and title.
"These are our territories. We have title to these lands. We still haven't resolved that title," she said.
The province is in the process of modernizing its land use planning policies.
In a statement, the Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said it recognizes the close connection Indigenous communities have to old-growth forests.
It said it is committed to working with First Nations to sustainably manage ecosystems.