British Columbia

If you care about old-growth trees in B.C., now's your chance to speak up

An expert panel is collecting feedback on how to manage the massive, valuable trees, says the province. But conservationists say that's a stalling tactic and action — not talk — is needed now.

Expert panel gathering feedback on managing ancient trees, but conservationists say action is needed now

A cedar tree in a forest near Port Alberni B.C. on Vancouver Island. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The province will spend months collecting more public feedback on how old-growth trees should be protected or cut down in yet another round of engagement over new rules for forestry and conservation in B.C.

The Old Growth Strategic Review follows a similar consultation process, intended to result in the overhaul of B.C.'s forestry rules to better protect ecosystems, maintain jobs and reconcile with First Nations.

The overhaul was a central plank of the NDP's election platform in 2017. 

However, conservationists say the review is a stalling tactic and argue new legislation is needed now to slow the cutting of B.C.'s huge trees, some as old as 800 years.

Andrea Inness, a campaigner with the Ancient Forest Alliance, says the planned meetings are another delay to meaningful action such as announcing increased protections for old growth forests.

"They are kicking the ball down the field," she said.

Sierra Club B.C.estimates that more than 140,000 hectares of old-growth forests — those with trees at least 120 years old — are logged each year along the B.C. coast and in the Interior. 

The conservation group says these types of forests should be preserved because of their significance to First Nations' cultural values, but also because they're good for the environment, helping to clean air and water, store carbon and house other plants and animals.

Earlier this month, the Sierra Club of B.C. said a poll it commissioned found that 92 per cent of British Columbians support taking action to protect endangered old growth forests.

It used the results to call for action from the province to protect old growth forests.

Inness and others like Ross Muirhead, with a conservation group on the Sunshine Coast, hoped an earlier six-week public consultation, which ended in July and which dealt with the Forest and Practices Act, would mark the final step in achieving a meaningful update to rules that manage the province's wild spaces.

The announcement of another round of consultation has them frustrated.

"One can get kind of cynical around their true intention for another round of review of an issue that should be taken more seriously and acted upon in a more urgent manner," said Muirhead.

Old growth déjà vu

In July, when the province wrapped its six-week consultation process for FRPA, the Ministry of Forests said it received 2,398 online submissions and 54 from stakeholders.

Legislative amendments based on that feedback is expected as early as the spring, with regulations in force by 2021.

The ministry has not yet released a summary of what feedback it received, which it promised to do in early November.

Campaigners with Elphinstone Logging Focus on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast are hoping for increased protections for old and mature forests through provincial legislation. (Ross Muirhead/Elphinstone Logging Focus)

Right now, two professional foresters are travelling the province meeting with conservationists, unions, First Nations and the public to ask about the ecological, economic and cultural importance of old growth trees and forests.

Garry Merkel, a natural resource expert and member of the Tahltan Nation, along with Al Gorley, a former chair of the Forest Practices Board, will collect submissions, which can also be made online, until the end of January.

Biologist Wayne McCory, who lives in the Slocan Valley and is a director with the Valhalla Wilderness Committee, recently met with the pair to tell them about how preserving more old-growth in B.C. will help slow climate change.

"They seemed very open, they asked a lot of questions," he said about the meeting. He said he was concerned though that two former foresters with resource development backgrounds were appointed to the panel and not someone with a ecological background.

"I just think it would have been better balanced and had more credibility," he said.

Merkel and Gorley will submit a report and recommendations based on their findings in the spring to "inform a new old-growth management plan for British Columbia," according to the ministry.

It will then consult more with First Nations before announcing any changes to legislation based on the report.

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