British Columbia

Politicians, environmentalists, industry divided on B.C.'s forestry plan

B.C. Greens, Sierra Club B.C. say old growth forests still at risk; meanwhile, the Council of Forest Industries applauds praises B.C.'s announcement for working collaborative with foresters.

B.C. Greens, Sierra Club B.C. say old growth forests still at risk; industry council praises announcement

Conservationists with the Ancient Forest Alliance say old growth forests like this one are crucial to the overall health of ecosystems. (Submitted by TJ Watt)

After weeks of arrests and attempts to block old growth logging on Vancouver Island, the province's anticipated forestry announcement proved to be a disappointment Tuesday to protesters and environmentalists.

The province unveiled a plan Tuesday for "sustainable forest policy" that largely focuses on redistributing forest tenures — the agreements between government and harvesters.

While the province said the plan is to include more Indigenous Nations, forest communities and small operators in forestry agreements, critics say the move does little to address the need to preserve old growth forests that are actively being logged, including trees inside lots at the Fairy Creek Watershed.

"It was heartbreaking," said Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner with the environmental group Sierra Club B.C. "We are seeing thousands of people across B.C. joining protests, and they know we are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis."

The province says there are currently 13.7 million hectares of old growth in British Columbia, and 10 million of those hectares are protected or considered not economical to harvest. There are about 57 million hectares of forested land in B.C.

But for the past decade, conservation groups like the Ancient Forest Alliance, the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club B.C. have all used provincial data to argue that old growth trees in the areas where the trees grow biggest are being cut down at an unsustainable rate. 

Last year, more than a dozen recommendations were made to the province in a report aimed at protecting old growth forests. The province maintains it is committed to implementing them by 2023.

Critics say that's not soon enough and would rather see immediate deferrals of old growth logging.

"We are losing any and all remaining trust that the B.C. government is serious about implementing these changes before it's too late," said Wieting.

The recently released Old Growth Strategic Review lays out an ambitious set of recommendations meant to help change forest management policies at a systemic level. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

It's a sentiment echoed by Sonia Furstenau, leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Cowichan Valley.

"This really shows a lack of leadership and a lack of understanding of the moment we're in," she told CBC News. "British Columbians want to see the last of this land protected."

Torrance Coste, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, said that while many of the policy intentions laid out by the government are worthy, such as more tenure for First Nations and strengthened enforcement for companies that break the rules, the most important missing component was immediate action.

"These forests are falling now," he told All Points West host Kathryn Marlow. 

"There needs to be some interim action. There needs to be some, not permanent action, but some protections for some holds on logging right now. And instead, we're seeing [Horgan] make more commitments and broaden the issue and really sidestep the commitments that he has already made."

Industry support

The premier was asked why Tuesday's announcement did not include immediate action to prevent logging of old growth trees in the Fairy Creek watershed, where protesters have been defying an injunction in Horgan's own riding.

"The critical recommendation that's in play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders," said Horgan. "If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place there, that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to this week by the discovery in Kamloops."

In a statement, the B.C. Council of Forest Industries applauded the government's announcement, saying a collaboration with various stakeholders moving forward will help "sustain good jobs for British Columbians."

Between wildfires, the mountain pine beetle, and a declining timber supply, the province says there have been 1,620 permanent, 420 temporary and 820 indefinite job losses in the forestry sector.

With files from Chad Pawson