British Columbia

Old-growth forest should be returned to 30% of original level, researchers say

A team from the University of Victoria is pushing for more stringent protections of old growth forests in British Columbia in a report that calls for at least 30 per cent of the original forest preserved.

There are currently about 32,000 sq. km of old growth in province — about 5% of total forested area

An old-growth cedar in a grove slated for logging near Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island. (Chris Corday/CBC)

A team from the University of Victoria is pushing for greater protection of old-growth forests in British Columbia in a report that calls for at least 30 per cent of the province's original forest to be preserved. 

Keith Schille, a law student at UVic and lead author of the new report, said preservation quotas often look at the amount of forest currently standing rather than taking into account what was there in the past. 

"We don't want to just protect 30 per cent of what little of the trees are left here on the Island," he told CBC's All Points West.

"If we want to conserve biological functioning and ecological integrity in these ecosystems, we have to protect 30 per cent of what naturally would be in these systems."

Schille estimates that only about 20 per cent of Vancouver Island's original forest is still standing compared to before deforestation initiatives. 

Across B.C., there are about 32,000 square kilometres of old-growth forests — about five per cent of the province's total forested area.

About half of the old growth is protected in parks and wilderness areas, according to the B.C. government.

But much of the remainder falls under the timber harvesting land base — forests that can be logged in B.C.

An aerial shot of clearcuts near Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island. (Jens Wieting/Sierra Club BC)

At the moment, old growth makes up about half of what's logged on the B.C. coast and Vancouver Island.

"Other steps have to be taken to increase the old-growth forest here," Schille said. 

"Obviously, that's a difficult task, so putting aside a lot of forest to let it mature and return to its original state is very important."

The new report, prepared by the university's Environmental Law Centre for the advocacy group Sierra Club B.C., draws inspiration from other forest protection laws already implemented in the province. 

The Great Bear Rainforest, which stretches from B.C.'s Discovery Islands to Alaska's Tongass Rainforest, is one of the largest protected wildlife areas in the world. (Credit: Andrew Bruce Lau)

B.C. is home to one of the largest protected wildlife areas in the world: the Great Bear Rainforest. 

That area — equivalent in size to Ireland — has strict rules where 85 per cent of its forests are protected from logging.

Forestry downturn

The report comes at a "fortuitous time," Schille said, as the B.C. government looks to reform forestry laws by 2020.  

But it also comes as B.C.'s forestry sector is going through a major downturn, with companies curtailing production and closing mills due to poor market conditions. 

About 3,000 forestry workers in coastal B.C. are currently on strike. 

B.C.'s forestry sector is going through a major downturn. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

However, Schille argues that preservation shouldn't be matter of the environment versus the economy. 

"You cannot have human wellbeing without ecological integrity," he said. 

"This isn't about simply protecting the forests, it's about protecting the people who live and rely on these forests as well." 

The report also calls for traditional ecological knowledge from First Nations in B.C. to be incorporated into the protection plans. 

"Hopefully, they'll take into account some of these suggestions because, if we don't, our forests are going to disappear," said Schille. 

With files from All Points West

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