Scientists, climate activists and media all around the world said BC’s record-breaking fires in 2023 were “fuelled by climate change”. Largely ignored were the actual fuels that make lightning-ignited fires easier to start and harder to control, leading to larger fires.
The southern edge of the Donnie Creek fire on May 18, 2023. At this point the fire was burning through black spruce, clearcuts, gas developments and melting permafrost exposed by logging and gas development.
HOW MANY OF YOU have noticed that of the 2.84 million hectares of land that burned in BC this year, 1.79 million hectares—nearly 63 percent of the total area burned—was in the far northeast corner of the province?
The four largest fires in BC this year all occurred in the triangle of BC that lies on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. That corner, which is ecologically and geologically distinct from the rest of BC, occupies about 12 percent of the land base of the province. For 63 percent of the burned area to be concentrated in a region that occupies just 12 percent of BC suggests that the factors that have influenced the number and size of fires in the northeast aren’t necessarily the same as those impacting the southern part of the province. Consider the record-breaking 619,073-hectare Donnie Creek Fire.
The BC Wildfire Service early on attributed the aggressiveness of the Donnie Creek Fire to the dryness of the black spruce stands it burned. At the time the fire exploded on May 12, the foliar moisture content of the region’s black spruce was at its annual low point (the “spring dip”), allowing a slower-moving ground fire to more easily become a faster-moving crown fire. Climate change at work, right?
Forest scientists, however, have noted that the “spring dip” of black spruce has been “judged to be not so much a weather-dependent effect but as largely physiological in nature”. I understand that to mean that black spruce’s dried condition in early spring would occur with or without climate change.
Black spruce is a highly flammable conifer. The US Forest Service states that black spruce forests are “the most flammable vegetation types in interior Alaska”. Once it gets burning, it’s hard to stop.
The Donnie Creek Fire encroaching on gas industry drilling site (Photo: BC Wildfire Service)
The range of Black spruce in BC is concentrated in the northeast corner of BC. This is the area of the province lying to the east of the Rocky Mountains, which we might also want to think of as BC’s triangle of fire.
Range of black spruce in BC
How did climate change impact the triangle of fire this year? A review of NASA’s mapping of the land surface temperature anomaly (diagrams below) shows that the region was much warmer than usual in January, colder than usual in February, and not far from normal in March and April leading up to the start of the northeastern fires in early May.
Temperature anomaly in BC’s triangle of fire (denoted by red point) was hotter than usual in January, cooler than usual in February, slightly warmer than usual in March (Mapping by NASA).
While the heating and drying effects caused by higher temperatures and less precipitation from May onwards no doubt increased the flammability of the black spruce forests, there may be additional factors that amplified 2023’s land surface temperature anomaly. This includes the presence of elevated levels of methane at ground level, which raises ground level temperature and may be adding to forest combustibility. Where is such methane coming from? There are two primary sources: Methane released by decomposing plants that were formerly frozen in permafrost and, secondly, geologic methane. Let’s consider each of those, starting with methane released by melting permafrost.
Melting permafrost is releasing methane that comes from both decomposing plants and geologic methane
A 2020 peer-reviewed study (Geological methane emissions and wildfire risk in the degraded permafrost area of the Xiao Xing’an Mountains, China, Wei Shan et al) published by Nature looked at the impact of released methane on ground level temperature in an area of northeastern China underlain by degrading permafrost. The area is experiencing an increase in frequency of forest fires. The Chinese scientists attributed at least part of this increase in fires to warmer temperatures at ground level that are the result of the release of methane from melting permafrost. The scientists also suggested that the methane could be adding to the “combustibility” of forests.
The study noted that “Methane gas released into the atmosphere in permafrost regions is generally believed to be derived from microbial gases released from melted sediments or local release of [geologic] gas.”
Other scientists, too, have reported that melting permafrost releases geologic methane.
Maps of Canada’s permafrost show that the areas in which the largest 2023 fires occurred in northeastern BC are underlain with discontinuous, sporadic or isolated patches of permafrost. In other words, areas where once-continuous permafrost is now degrading.
The effects the Chinese scientists found in their study areas in northeastern China could very well be in play in BC’s triangle of fire.
Besides the increased melting of permafrost resulting from global heating, other human-made physical changes to the land are known to increase methane release from such areas.
Inside the Donnie Creek Fire’s perimeter there are significant areas of forest that have been removed: clearcuts for timber, gas and logging industry service roads, drilling sites and other gas infrastructure sites, and thousands of kilometres of pipelines and seismic exploration lines. Forest removal, whether it occurs as a result of fire or industrial development, is known to increase the rate at which permafrost melts, thereby increasing the amount of methane released.
If the impacts of all of these changes on melting permafrost and the subsequent release of methane are resulting in more and larger forest fires in BC’s and Canada’s boreal regions, then, as scientists have reported, one of the consequences would be an even larger release of methane which is produced by the forest fires themselves. Methane is 28-34 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Comparison of where fires have occurred in Canada’s boreal region shows that a high percentage of them overlap the belt of degrading permafrost. Has the permafrost system been nudged over a tipping point? If so, what role did industrial development play in the nudging?
Location of degrading permafrost in Canada aligns well with where forest fires have occurred.
BC gas and oil industry is also releasing geologic methane
But forest removal and subsequent melting of permafrost is not the only pathway by which more methane is being released in BC’s triangle of fire. The region is part of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, an area rich in hydrocarbon deposits. During the last 20 years, BC’s burgeoning hydraulically fractured gas well industry has installed thousands of wells, compressors, pumping stations, tank batteries, valves, processing facilities and thousands of kilometres of pipelines. This equipment is known to leak methane to the atmosphere. Lots of it.
Within the perimeter of the Donnie Creek Fire alone, we counted over 1000 separate gas-industry infrastructure sites. Most of these are drilling sites that contain anywhere from one to twenty individual wells each.
How much methane is leaking? A 2017 study, sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation, estimated that actual methane emissions at ground level, which included all sources, were 2.5 times BC Energy Regulator’s estimates. A 2020 analysis of BC Energy Regulator’s record of leakage from hydraulically fractured wells found that 11 percent of wells are leaking. A study published in 2021 estimated that methane emissions in BC are 1.6 to 2.2 times “current federal inventory estimates”.
In other words, we don’t know. But likely more than is being admitted. In any case, would release of geologic methane have an impact?
The study by Chinese scientists mentioned above stated “On the one hand, the ‘greenhouse effect’ caused by the release of methane gas will increase the air temperature, which creates favorable conditions for wildfires. On the other hand, the combustibility of methane may also promote regional wildfires.”
Global heating obviously played a significant role in the Donnie Creek and other large fires in BC’s triangle of fire in 2023, but ignoring or denying the impact that industrial development could be playing in making those fires larger would be foolish.
Are Canadian government scientists ignoring impacts of industrial development?
So it was a bit surprising to find that a scientific study authored by a number of Canadian scientists (Abrupt, climate induced increase in wildfires in British Columbia since the mid-2000s, Parisien et al) failed to mention any of the above. The study was released this summer and highlighted the Donnie Creek Fire as though it somehow reinforced the scientists’ main finding that climate change is the main driver of BC’s forest fires. Yet the study did not mention known impacts of industrial development on melting permafrost or include data from either 2022’s or 2023’s forest fires in BC.
The lead author of the study, Marc Parisien, is a scientist with Natural Resources Canada in Alberta. The “Raison d’être” of Natural Resources Canada is “to improve the quality of life of Canadians by ensuring that our natural resources are developed sustainably, providing a source of jobs, prosperity and opportunity, while preserving our environment and respecting our communities and Indigenous peoples.”
Aside from noting that the practice of eliminating deciduous species from managed plantations contributes to the growing forest fire problem, the scientists acknowledged little or no connection between industrial development in BC forests and the rapid increase in the rate at which forests here are burning. Instead, they implied that any such connection was “ambiguous”.
Yet one of the contributing authors to the study is BC’s John Gray, a wildfire ecologist. Following 2021’s disasterous fires in southern BC, Gray was interviewed by Jeff Davies of the Northern Beat for a story titled “BC Wildfires—more than just climate change”. At the time, Gray told Davies: “The fire problem is no longer unmanaged stands. The fire problem is all the managed stands full of slash.” No ambiguity there.
In danger of being lost in the din of news stories and scientific studies focussed on “climate-change-fuelled forest fires” is the role that industrial development plays in increasing fire hazard on the ground by creating—year after year—thousands of square kilometres of “kindling”.
As noted above, little attention has being paid, so far, to the unique form of kindling industrial development has left scattered across BC’s northeastern triangle of fire.
In BC’s south (by which I mean south of Prince George), the “kindling” takes the form of logging slash and highly flammable young plantations. That fuel makes it easier for fires to be ignited—by both lightning and humans. Because of the higher rate of spread of fire in logging slash and young plantations, that makes fires initially harder to control.
Those initially harder-to-control fires quickly find—because of their pervasiveness across almost any southern BC landscape—nearby clearcuts and young plantations, where the same rapid growth occurs. This dangerous combination of high-hazard fuel conditions and the widespread availability of those conditions is inevitably leading to larger fires.
While the increased temperature and lower humidity that come with global heating increase fire hazard across the landscape, the impact is higher in clearcuts than in forests. Scientists report that the ground temperature in clearcuts is considerably higher than in nearby managed or unmanaged forests. This means, logically, that on any given extreme fire-weather day, fire hazard will be greater in clearcuts. With the widespread and growing prevalence of clearcuts, the end result should be obvious: Climate change is amplifying the influence of logging on fire.
As well, scientists have reported that the hotter temperature in clearcuts has a heating and drying effect on remaining stands of older forest adjacent to the clearcuts. The effect can extend into the forest more than 240 metres from the edge of the clearcut.
Further, scientists have reported that stands of pine burn at a rate 8.4 times higher than stands of deciduous species. Eradication of fire-resistant species like aspen in plantations of commercially desirable pine—a wide-spread, ongoing practice in BC—is destroying the natural fire break deciduous species provide. Hence, larger fires.
The southern part of BC, where almost all logging occurs, now has a vast, constantly-being-renewed area of monoculture clearcuts and young plantations where deciduous species are erradicated. As primary forests continue to be liquidated and plantations are logged at a younger and younger age, the area of dangerously flammable clearcuts and young plantations is continuing to grow relative to the volume being extracted. Unless the overall allowable annual cut is reduced significantly, this issue will get more acute and dangerous. As global heating creates longer fire seasons with hotter maximum temperatures, lower humidity and stronger winds, all this human-created danger is combining to produce larger forest fires, which, in turn, amplify climate change.
Has southern BC, too, reached a tipping point? In many of the big fires of 2021, a high percentage of the area within a fire’s perimeter had been previously disturbed by logging (see image below; see more images here). At some point, presumably, there would be too much logging slash and young plantations to be able to suppress fires. Have we already reached that point, or are we just getting closer?
The August 6, 2021 perimeter of the 60,000-hectare Flat Lake Fire (black line) superimposed on top of the BC ministry of forests’ RESULTS Openings record of logging (red-shaded area). The green-shaded area is Flat Lake Provincial Park.
There doesn’t appear to be any organized plan by government or industrial forest scientists to confess to what is turning out to be the crime of the century: The intentional liquidation of BC’s much more fire-resistant primary forests and the production of tens of millions of hectares of “kindling” during a time of a growing climate emergency—and a cover-up to blame the effects on “climate change”.
There is, however, a glimmer of light that has begun to appear in Ministry of Forests records of the total volume of trees removed from BC clearcuts each year. That volume has begun to fall. In the twelve months from the beginning of December 2022 to the end of November 2023, the overall volume cut in BC was about 36 million cubic metres. This is approximately 50 percent below what ministry timber supply analysts had predicted for this year in 2004—at the height of the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation. It is unlikely that this fall in volume is being intentionally orchestrated by the machinery of the Ministry of Logging; it is more likely that past misjudgments about future timber supply are beginning to assert themselves.
In either case, since clearcutting and plantations raise fire hazard for up to 30 years or more, the current era of dangerously large fires in the south will likely get worse for many more years. In the north—in BC’s triangle of fire—the impacts of industrial development, including logging and further exploration and development of gas fields, will melt more and more permafrost. In each case, without a drastic decline in the area of BC being logged each year, further industrial development will simply worsen the impacts of climate change. Why are British Columbians allowing this to happen? Why are they not outraged?
Teal Cedar’s claims of “irreparable harm” are not supported by the numbers.
Forest defenders march into Waterfall Camp near Fairy Creek Valley in June 2021. (Photo by Alex Harris)
ON OCTOBER 4, 2023, Teal Cedar Products Ltd filed a statement of claim in BC Supreme Court against 15 individuals, an air service company and the “Rainforest Flying Squad”, all of whom, Teal claims, caused damage and loss to the company as a result of the blockades near Fairy Creek in TFL 46. The blockades began in August 2020 and peaked in the summer of 2021.
The claim alleges that “the Defendants and co-conspirators not named as Defendants in this action agreed, combined, and conspired to use unlawful means to conduct the Blockades and to engage in Blockade Support (the “Conspiracy”). The predominant purpose of the Conspiracy was to injure Teal Cedar by obstructing, delaying, and preventing lawful forestry or road construction activities in and around TFL 46. The Defendants knew or ought to have known that the Conspiracy would cause harm to Teal Cedar.”
While a BC Supreme Court will have to weigh for itself the validity of Teal’s claim that “the predominant purpose of the Conspiracy was to injure Teal Cedar”, the basis in law that Teal is making its claim is that the actions of the blockaders did the company “Irreparable harm”.
This is also the legal basis on which Teal sought an injunction against the blockades in 2021. At that time, Justice Frits E Verhoeven gave Teal an injunction. I wrote about this here, stating that Verhoeven’s decision was flawed.
In his judgment, Verhoeven stated, “There is also no doubt that Teal will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted.”
But there was doubt then, and there is even more now.
Back then, Verhoeven based his judgment on numbers that were provided to him by Teal Cedar. The numbers that Teal provided were a moment-in-time analysis of how Teal could be affected—in terms of the volume that it wouldn’t be able to log because of the blockades, and the money that it would then lose as a result.
However, because the volume logged in a TFL is governed by a five-year cut-control period, the court won’t be able to blame a drop in volume in TFL 46 for the year 2021, for example, and say it was because of the blockades. The court is going to have to look at the entire 5-year cut-control period and the volume Teal was allowed to cut under the conditions of its TFL.
An internal Teal document shows that the total volume it was permitted to log in TFL 46 for the five-year cut-control period between 2018 and 2022 was 1,837,155 cubic metres. That was the company’s production goal. All of its planning was based on that goal.
Ministry of Forests’ records show that the volume of logs Teal trucked out of TFL 46 during those five years was 1,774,421 cubic metres. In other words, Teal cut 97 percent of what it was legally entitled to cut without incurring carryover into the next cut control period or incurring financial penalties.
By the way, in the previous 5-year cut control period (2013-2017), Teal was able to log 99.5 percent of its permitted cut.
So Teal was able to cut most of what it planned to cut in TFL 46 in its 5-year cut-control period, 2018 to 2022. But the Teal document referred to above also shows that Teal planned to cut 367,431 cubic metres in TFL 46 in 2019. In fact, however, it cut only 238,947 cubic metres. That is 128,484 cubic metres less than it had planned to cut. This loss in what it had planned to cut can’t be attributed to the blockades, which didn’t start until August 2020. And this loss in the planned cut is greater than the difference between what Teal planned to cut during its 5-year cut-control period and what it did cut.
In other words, the blockades didn’t cause Teal’s slight decline in volume taken in 2019—something else did.
For more information, the court would need to consider nearby TFLs—and news reports.
Western Forest Product’s TFL 44 lies just north of Teal’s TFL 46. An internal Western Forest Products document shows that for the five-year cut control period between 2016-2020, the company was permitted to log 3,912,410 cubic metres. But Western was only able to produce 2,422,220 cubic metres—62 percent of what it was permitted to log. Western’s production was not limited by blockades. The internal document makes it clear that a significant portion of the area of TFL 44 that it is permitted to log is, in fact, “economically challenging” to log.
Could Teal’s slump in production in TFL 46 be related to similar “economically challenging” times? According to Teal itself, this loss in production was either caused by excessive stumpage rates or it was caused by poor market conditions. Take your pick.
In other words, there are other factors at play—besides whether or not a TFL has been the subject of blockades—that can have a much greater impact on how much of the permitted volume a TFL holder is able to extract. One of those factors is the market price for wood products, which clearly wasn’t so good in 2019. But nearly 43 percent of the volume Teal logged during its 2018-2022 5-year cut-control period was logged in 2021 and 2022 during a period of extraordinarily high prices for wood products.
Teal will also need to explain to the court why it reduced its production in Forest Licence A19201 in Timber Supply Area 30, where there were no blockades. A review of Teal’s total production during its 5-year cut-control period for that licence shows that Teal undercut its AAC there by 138,465 cubic metres, an even larger undercut than occurred in TFL 46. Had it not undercut in A19201, it would have had more than enough volume to meet its needs.
It’s difficult, then, to fathom why Teal is claiming in its statement of claim that, as a result of the blockades it incurred, for example, “the cost of acquiring timber from outside of TFL 46.”
Teal may claim that only TFL 46 can provide it with the old-growth cedar that it turns into shakes and shingles at its Surrey Mill. But here, again, Teal’s reliance on old-growth cedar—in the face of broad public criticism of the use of old forest for short-lived building materials like shakes and shingles—indicates a failure of the company to recognize it needs to implement changes in how it conducts its business. If it had to acquire “timber from outside TFL 46”, that self-inflicted cost may have been a function of its own poor corporate judgment.
Teal is seeking general damages, special damages and special costs. The company is also seeking a “permanent injunction enjoining the Defendants and anyone with knowledge of the Court’s order from interfering with Teal Cedar’s forestry and road construction activities, or that of its contractors” within the area established by the injunction granted to the company in 2021.
Hopefully, the “Fairy Creek Fifteen” will get themselves a team of good lawyers armed with a deep understanding of all the reasons most British Columbians want to see the remaining highly biologically-productive old-forest ecosystems in the province conserved and protected. In any case, the numbers shouldn’t hurt them.
Fire-resistant aspen and birch can put the brakes on those recurring fires while rebuilding the soil and sequestering more carbon.
Photo courtesy Conservation North
OUR BOREAL FORESTS ARE CHANGING. More intense fires following in greater frequency are occurring from Alaska clear through to Quebec. This is giving deciduous species like aspen and birch the upper hand in our unmanaged northern forests.
This is an undeniable fact, but what I want to zero in on is how Americans feel about this shift compared to Canadians.
Last week, Toronto writer Hannah Hoag wrote an article on this phenomenon in the Globe and Mail.
The headline was ominous.
“As Canada’s boreal forests burn again and again, they won’t grow back the same way,” she wrote, before noting this shift “threatens to recur across Canada’s boreal forest.”
On Twitter (now called X) Hoag channeled the archaic dogma of forest management used to justify glyphosate spraying of local forests to summarize the issue.
“The transition from spruce and pine to birch and aspen in boreal forest[s],” she offered, is a “regeneration failure.”
Not only are shifts from conifer to deciduous after fire a well-documented fact of life well before climate change was happening, but the only thing those aspen are threatening is the curated postcard image of the pure conifer forest type at the heart of our national identity.
Compare that to how writer Nathanael Johnson wrote about the same conifer-deciduous forest shift in the American publication Grist two years ago. You couldn’t come up with a more contrary headline:
“Rising from the ashes, Alaska’s forests come back stronger,” he wrote, pointing out that “A new study brings a rare glint of hope from climate science.”
Similar optimistic headlines were reported in the Smithsonian Magazine and The Conversation.
In a world of doom and gloom, the American coverage was quick to highlight one of the climate change defence tricks nature holds up its sleeve: How “these changing forests could mitigate the fire-climate feedback loop, and maybe even reverse it.”
Well, those fire-resistant aspen and birch can put the brakes on recurring fires while rebuilding the soil and sequestering more carbon. For the same reason we call them weeds, these fast-growing species can sequester carbon between 400-500 percent faster and, once mature, lock up around 160 percent more carbon than black spruce.
This forest fire in a pine plantation was stopped by a wall of aspen
None of this was mentioned in the Globe and Mail article. And I suppose one of the reasons is because singing aspen’s praises in this country doesn’t get you very far.
I guess you would be much wiser to use the age-old fear of the aspen “threat,” hammered home relentlessly in Canadian forestry programs, to sell climate change action: You better do something or these worthless aspen are going to take over!
Who knows, but I prefer the American approach. They love their aspens. They recognize the healing power they have on the landscape and their importance to wildlife.
And so should we.
James Steidle is a Prince George writer.
The Ministry of Environment, in fact, gets the maps before spraying. They just don’t have to alert the public.
FROM ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY to the Magna Carta, it is a fundamental democratic principle that the taxpayer may scrutinize the public expenses they contribute to.
So why don’t they let us see what we are brushing and spraying?
It’s our money private companies are spending to grow dried out, herbicide-contaminated pine farms.
Every cent that is spent doing this could have instead been collected through stumpage to pay for hospitals, schools, and fighting fires.
So you’d think, as a basic requirement of democratic transparency, that we’d have a right to see how and where our money is being used. Right?
But you don’t.
Those spray maps and brushing maps showing the locations where this public money is being spent, which Stop the Spray BC demanded two years ago, are still not published, despite new reporting requirements in forestry.
It’s not like they can’t do it. The Ministry of Environment in fact gets the maps before spraying. They just don’t have to alert the public. And indeed they don’t.
Worse, there are no reporting requirements for proposed manual brushing. If a cutblock is getting simplified with brush saws, and no herbicides are being used, maps don’t have to be submitted to government until after the fact.
So what happens when companies frivolously waste your money spraying and brushing things that don’t need to be sprayed or brushed? Who keeps tabs?
It’s 100 percent legal, by the way, to treat an entire cutblock with not a single competing broadleaf on it. It’s also 100 percent legal to kill above and beyond what is legally necessary to achieve the “free growing” criteria (you can actually have quite a few broadleaf mixed in).
So companies can legally waste your money. And, as the Forest Practices Board discovered in a 2017 investigation, they do.
Back in 2018, when I got the spray maps directly from Canfor, I publicized a cutblock that shouldn’t have been marked for spraying. And what do you know? The company backed out of spraying it.
This oversight saved taxpayers thousands of dollars and saved the moose a few aspen. But it wouldn’t have happened without the maps.
Naturally, Canfor stopped giving me the maps after that.
You’d think the Westminster tradition that we’ve inherited, with its comptroller generals and financial reporting requirements, would be keen to have some extra eyes on the public purse and the public forests.
You would be wrong.
Unelected bureaucrats, probably in tandem with corporate lobbyists, have created a despotic system that shields from public scrutiny the private expenditure of roughly $10 million of your dollars out in the bush, year after year.
Maybe it’s better they brazenly undermine our democracy.
After all, who wants to witness the sad and completely worthless practice of eliminating the landscape-cooling, fire-repelling broadleaf forest type in an era of megafires, dry lightning, and weeks of heat?
James Steidle is a Prince George writer.
BC’s Chief Forester Diane Nicholls (third from right) attended a wood pellet trade show back in 2019. After supporting the industry’s controversial growth in BC, she recently left the ministry of forests for a job with the UK company that now dominates the new industry in BC.
AROUND THE SAME TIME as the Chief Forester’s Office was editing a report to remove evidence that would question the maladaptation and risks of deciduous suppression, it was providing false reassurances to then minister of forests Doug Donaldson regarding the safety of glyphosate products.
In a December 16, 2019 briefing note written by Shawn Hedges of the Chief Forester’s Office, a document reviewed and initialed by Chief Forester Diane Nicholls and Deputy Chief Forester Shane Berg, Donaldson was told that: “The effects of glyphosate on human health have been extensively reviewed by international regulatory agencies, including Health Canada, with the conclusion generally being that exposure to glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic or genotoxic risk to humans.”
There is little evidence to support this statement.
Health Canada, like other major regulatory agencies, has relied overwhelmingly on industry-written studies, few of which adequately analyzed the actual commercial formulations of glyphosate. Studies have shown these formulations of proprietary and unidentified ingredients to be more toxic than just the “active” ingredient of glyphosate itself.
Based on this information, in 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer described glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” well before the CFO wrote their briefing note. Extensive research and discoveries since then, including evidence in 2018 showing industry systematically misrepresented their science to regulatory agencies, has further supported this determination.
More significantly, recent studies from northern BC have shown vegetation and berries to contain on average 0.79 parts per million of glyphosate contamination 1 year after application. Yet 0.1 parts per million is the maximum residue level allowed for non-designated food in Canada. The Chief Forester’s Office was aware that people may eat berries with far higher glyphosate levels than is legally allowed in stores at the time it reassured then Minister Donaldson there was no risk.
While our understanding of the risks around glyphosate formulations continues to expand in recent years, the Chief Forester's Office has stuck to its guns.
On March 31 of this year, Forest Minister Katrine Conroy, standing in Oral Question Period in response to yet more public outrage about a plan for forestry herbicide spraying, made the almost identical, outdated claim made by staff in the Office of the Chief Forester. She said: “The effects of glyphosate on human health has been really extensively reviewed by international regulatory agencies, including Health Canada, with the conclusion being that exposure to glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic or general toxic risk to humans.”
Several days later, on April 5, Green Party member Adam Olsen raised a question of privilege in the BC legislature, calling this misleading statement “a grave and serious breach” of public trust. He pointed out that glyphosate safety had not been conclusively proven and provided evidence to support his claim.
The question of privilege is probably misdirected. The origin of Conroy’s statement can be found in a briefing note the Chief Forester’s Office wrote. Like the broader public, Conroy simply had the misfortune of trusting that the Chief Forester’s Office would provide advice that considered the public interest as opposed to the interests and claims of industry.
Allowable Annual Cut Determinations
It may be possible for the Chief Forester’s Office to gloss over and hide the cracks in the logic and assumptions of sustainable forest management with words and expensive reports, but the reality on the landscape tells the truth.
Fred Marshall, a forester in the Boundary/Kettle River area, who manages a woodlot, points to the heavily clearcut landscapes of southern BC north of Grand Forks as evidence that the CFO’s maximization of the Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) can no longer be sustained on the landbase.
Fred Marshall walks through a clearcut in the Boundary area (Louis Bockner/The Narwhal)
“I have serious issues with several of the timber supply review determinations of AAC that Nicholls has signed off on,” Marshall wrote to me. “Many are not in the best public interest, but in the forest industry’s interests.”
In 2018, wind storms and floods on the Kettle River caused hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of damage in the Boundary area that over-cutting greatly exacerbated.
A BC government 2021 cumulative effects report on the drainage titled “Analysis of the Kettle River Watershed: Streamflow and Sedimentation Hazards” showed massive disturbance of the watershed from logging, with 30-40 percent of the Central Kettle River drainage deforested. The West Kettle River was considered 20-30 percent deforested, meaning 20-30 percent of the land base exhibited features of a clearcut and had not regenerated to a point where forest-like characteristics existed.
The government calls this deforestation the “equivalent clearcut area.” Watersheds with an equivalent clearcut area of 30 percent are considered to be at high risk of flooding during spring melt or heavy rainfall events. Watersheds with 20 percent have a medium risk. Without forest cover, rainfall is not as effectively absorbed. Factor in the more intense rain storms occurring as a result of climate change, and the probability of floods increases.
In an article for The Narwhal written by Judith Lavoie, watershed geoscientist and hydrologist Kim Green said “without question, the removal of forests both increases the frequency of landslides and frequency of flooding…You take off the trees, you end up with more water in your soil and you get those slides.”
Following the flood, a 2020 forests ministry report, “Watershed Assessments in the Kootenay-Boundary Region”, determined that a significant portion of the Kettle Valley drainages sampled “were found to be not properly functioning,” mostly due to flood damage, which was indirectly impacted by over-cutting.
Politicians have long known about over-cutting of the Kettle River drainage and the need to prepare for climate change. In 2017, then forests minister Doug Donaldson wrote a letter to Diane Nicholls directing that her upcoming timber supply review determinations of AAC for the area “should incorporate the best available information on climate change and the cumulative effects of multiple activities on the land base.”
Yet in her February, 2022 timber supply review for TFL 8—a large tract of land in the watershed that Interfor logs—Nicholls did not incorporate climate change or cumulative effects into the determination. Instead, she wrote: “Without knowing what the magnitude or management responses to climate change will be, I have not accounted for them in this AAC determination.”
Nicholls did reduce the AAC by 14.8 percent, maintaining 85 percent of the annual clearcutting in a large part of the already devastated watershed. But she also increased the percentage of logging on steep-sloped areas (“steep” meaning more than a 45 percent grade) due to her concern that “full utilization of the AAC without adequate performance in steep-slope areas will result in an over-harvest in areas with lower slope.” Her determination required 17 percent of the projected logging to come from steep-slope areas. That was 17 times more than the 1 percent of the AAC that was allowed on steep slopes in the prior 10 years.
“I think that 17 percent steep-slope logging should be taken right out of the AAC. It shouldn’t be cut. It’s too risky,” says Marshall. “And, I believe that the AAC should be reduced another 17 percent to allow for climate change effects and cumulative impacts on the landscape. This would then mean a reduction in the AAC of around 50 percent—which is much more appropriate.”
Map from the 2021 Cumulative Effects Report showing 30-40% Equivalent Clearcut Area for the Central Kettle River drainage, and 20-30% ECA in the West Kettle River drainage
“Half of the TFL watershed was not properly functioning because of logging, yet Nicholls made no reduction in the AAC for that even though she must consider the status of the forest in all timber supply review determinations,” Marshall says. “Well the forest is all degraded and yet she made no deductions for this degraded state in this timber supply review. To the contrary, she dramatically increased the amount of steep-sloped logging that will be required.”
The industry to ministry to industry revolving door
An explanation of this prioritization of logging at the expense of other values is perhaps found in a story that has made waves recently: Diane Nicholls’ jump from BC’s chief forester to a senior executive position at Drax, a large bioenergy company based in the United Kingdom with partial or full control of half the wood pellet plant operations in British Columbia.
In an article for The Tyee, Ben Parfitt reported that prior to taking this position, Nicholls promoted the very industry that will now employ her, including appearing in promotional videos.
As chief forester of BC, Nicholls appeared in a 2020 Canadian Wood Pellet Association video promoting the wood pellet industry.
Appearing in a video produced by the Canadian Wood Pellet Association, Nicholls portrayed the growth of the industry as a good thing because it would utilize waste produced by logging that wouldn’t “necessarily” be used. But in office, Nicholls made AAC determinations that allowed additional logging of whole trees (mostly deciduous) for pellets, above and beyond the supposedly sustainable AAC. This was done to help the pellet industry, which is dominated by Drax—where Nicholls now works.
The wood pellet industry’s claim that it is a “climate solution” has been widely debunked by scientists. A 2020 letter from 200 forest and climate scientists to American legislators noted that “[T]he scientific evidence does not support the burning of wood in place of fossil fuels as a climate solution. Current science finds that burning trees for energy produces even more carbon dioxide than burning coal, for equal electricity produced.”
Yet Nicholls placed the Chief Forester’s Office prestigious stamp of approval on the Canadian Wood Pellet Association’s dubious claims. At what price?
The delusional hope that industry promoters will somehow transform themselves into effective regulators that look out for the public interest is a longstanding condition at the ministry of forests. Since the 1970s, leadership of the ministry and industry has been interchangeable. Examples of this revolving door include Mike Apsey becoming the deputy minister of forests in 1984, after working for major forestry companies and their lobby group, the Council of Forest Industries (COFI), and then returning to COFI as its president and CEO. Another example would be former deputy minister of forests, John Allan, who afterwards became a long-term president and CEO of COFI before returning to the forests ministry, again as deputy minister.
Historically, the chief forester came from the public service, not industry. This changed with Diane Nicholls, who was the first chief forester since the Second World War who did not have a career background of rising—on merit—through the ranks of the public service within the forests ministry. Instead, she came to the ministry from industry: Island Timberlands, MacMillan Bloedel and Weyerhaeuser.
In other words, Nicholls had no field experience in inventory and management with the forests ministry, and much experience serving private corporate interests.
Perhaps reflecting her greater comfort with industry, Nicholls was responsible for another first: the Chief Forester’s Leadership Team, a group that included only the top corporate foresters from major forestry corporations in the province.
Nicholls’ team conducted meetings and excursions where the interests of industry were discussed, but little of these discussions is known. We got a hint of what they discussed, though, in an October 2016 Forest Professional magazine article by team member Chris Stagg. According to Stagg, “the team looked at two timber supply areas as pilots and discussed various ways of ensuring the full AAC could be realized. I believe this was a very constructive exercise.”
The leadership team meetings provided Nicholls with numerous opportunities to reassure the corporate sector that she would fight for their interests. The record shows she worked to maximize logging at the cost of the public interest.
Nicholls’ apparent blurring of the line between government and industry has not (publicly) been deemed to have violated conflict of interest rules or crossed over into outright corruption. Nevertheless, it should be apparent in the examples described above that an important public office has favoured private interests over those of the public, with possible expectations of corporate favour and employment in return. There is, to say the least, the appearance that something corrupt may have occurred.
It is unclear how much longer the façade of “sustainability” can hold up. BC’s forests are rapidly deteriorating and the impacts of climate change—including forest fires, forest health and floods—are already upon us. The assumption that what is good for the industry is good for the public no longer holds water as over-cutting and stand replacement with vulnerable, flammable, industrial tree farms speeds up.
With Nicholls’ departure, Minister Conroy should take the opportunity to recognize this hard truth: Industry’s desire for maximum timber supply and the public’s desire for functional, resilient forests are no longer one and the same thing. It’s time for the institution of the Chief Forester’s Office to get back to what it’s there for: serving the public good.
James Steidle grew up south of Prince George in the bush and worked as a tree planter for 3 years and in Clear Lake Sawmills for 4 years. He currently runs a woodworking company and works with aspen wherever he can. He is a founder of Stop the Spray B.C.
In the first instalment of a two-part story, James Steidle examines how the chief forester and her office shaped a study on the use of glyphosate so that it would support continued use of the controversial biocide.
This almost-pure lodgepole pine plantation, partly the result of spraying glyphosate, might look healthy, but is less resilient to the impacts of climate change and supports a lower level of biodiversity than forests that include deciduous species. But such monoculture plantations might be—if they survive the larger forest fires and pine beetle epidemics expected to come with climate change—more profitable for logging companies. If they don’t survive, at least they can be turned into wood pellets.
THE RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT by the BC ministry of forests that Chief Forester Diane Nicholls was leaving to join the wood pellet industry—after years of working to promote that controversial industry’s growth in BC—is not the only supporting evidence that the Chief Forester’s Office has become increasingly corrupted by BC’s logging industry.
Taxpayers spent close to $100,000 on a report commissioned by Nicholl’s office that documents reveal went out of its way to mislead the public on the consequences of forestry glyphosate spraying.
The Chief Forester’s Office released the report, titled “Review of Glyphosate Use in British Columbia Forestry,” in late 2019, in response to public outcry over the spraying of glyphosate on regenerating cutblocks to kill “competing” trees and shrubs.
The report defended the practice, and that was used by government to sway public opinion.
But it was not an independent study that considered the public interest. The Chief Forester’s Office, under the direction of Deputy Chief Forester Shane Berg, direct-awarded the $75,000 contract (later increased to $82,500) to an industry-connected think tank, FP Innovations, and appeared to require it to come up with a pre-determined conclusion: to show how glyphosate supported forest management and therefore industry.
FP Innovations is not an independent research body. It is funded by industry and government. Their board is dominated by representatives of the corporations who utilize glyphosate for their operations, including Canfor, West Fraser and JD Irving. Chief Forester Diane Nicholls also sits on the board, as an “independent” representative of government. There are no ecologists or advocates for wildlife on the board.
The official contract appeared to require an unbiased report. It required FP Innovations to analyze forestry glyphosate within the context of the “objective outcome of promoting the establishment of healthy and diverse forests.” That wording suggests FP Innovations and their researchers, Pamela Matute (who worked for West Fraser) and Jim Hunt (a forester who has worked for industry), could come down on either side of glyphosate, depending on the evidence.
But documents obtained through an FOI request reveal the behind-the-scenes direction was a little less objective. In a briefing note to Forests’ Minister Doug Donaldson, project lead Shawn Hedges, former Director of Sustainability and Forestry in the Chief Forester’s Office, characterized the contract as requiring an assessment of “How glyphosate use supports the overarching objective of promoting the establishment of healthy and diverse forests.” (Emphasis added.)
The final report did just that, failing to question the underlying raison d’être of spraying the fire-resistant deciduous forest type, which is known to sequester the most carbon and absorb the least amount of solar radiation.
Instead, it claimed glyphosate spraying has a “minimal impact on forest ecosystems” despite admitting—or perhaps boasting—“it is very effective because it is easily translocated within the target plant, and usually kills it.”
More significantly, it concluded “glyphosate remains an important tool for establishing conifer or conifer–deciduous mixed stands and ensuring future timber supply,” just as government statements appeared to request.
A record of the report’s evolution suggests that conclusion shifted as the report was reworked. A leaked draft version suggests interference from the Chief Forester’s Office’s had resulted in removal of contradictory evidence and affirmation that deciduous trees can only ever be a threat to the “timber supply.”
For example, in the leaked draft, numerous statements are made that indicate deciduous forest types can diversify landscapes in the face of climate change and reduce wildfire. This would suggest glyphosate spraying of fire-resistant deciduous forest is neither in the public interest nor in the interest of growing “healthy and diverse forests.”
These statements were deleted.
The statement that “a potential expansion of deciduous species in boreal forests, either occurring naturally or through landscape management, could offset some of the impacts of climate change on the occurrence of boreal wildfires” was removed.
Mention of a 2001 study that quantified the exponentially greater burn potential of pine forests compared with aspen, which showed pine burned 840 percent more area than aspen over a 36-year period, was removed. A detailed explanation of the Canadian Forest Service’s Fire Behaviour Prediction system, which quantifies the fire-resistance of deciduous versus various types of conifer forests, was also removed.
A forest fire burned through this pine plantation but was stopped cold by a grove of aspen. Deciduous stands make forests much more fireproof, but they have little commercial value. So logging companies want to use glyphosate spray to get rid of deciduous growth so more-profitable conifers can be planted.
These key statements would have portrayed aspen as a potential benefit to the timber supply by significantly reducing wildfire. This, however, would contradict the baseline assumption of the report, that any “increases in deciduous volume in a stand negatively affect conifer volume.” Indeed, the conclusion notes that glyphosate must be sprayed to “ensure stand productivity and sustainable timber supply.”
The final report did keep some qualified statements about deciduous fire resistance, but cast doubt on their effectiveness in the recommendations. The report concludes that “the level at which vegetation management (i.e. deciduous suppression) affects the risk of wildfire is not clearly understood,” a statement that the burn rates they had previously deleted showed to be untrue.
Key statements in the draft document that showed more deciduous could help with climate change adaptation were also deleted.
In the leaked draft, mention of the adaptation strategy of “promoting stand-scale species diversity (e.g. retain broadleaves and plant more species)”, was deleted. The admission that vegetation management, including glyphosate application, “can impact stand-scale and landscape-scale species diversity,” was deleted. A statement mentioning the “need for forested landscapes that are resilient to management actions and a range of potential future climates” addressing “the anticipated impacts of fire, insects, and disease,” was also deleted.
In fact, all the statements suggesting that more deciduous on the landscape would benefit timber supply by facilitating adaptation to climate change, reducing wildfire and mitigating pest outbreaks, were deleted. The report completely denied—despite plentiful evidence to the contrary—that deciduous species could contribute in any way whatsoever to creating “healthy and diverse” forests.
The only time the authors begrudgingly mentioned this possibility- that deciduous species are important- was to dismiss it on the dubious basis that spraying does not, in fact, suppress the deciduous! The suggestion was that enough deciduous remained on sprayed blocks to address these risks.
To make this claim, the report had to deny that glyphosate is an incredibly powerful herbicide against deciduous plant communities, especially aspen.
While on one hand the report admits glyphosate “is very effective because it is easily translocated within the target plant, and usually kills it,” the authors were careful not to quantify the immense destructive power of this herbicide. They ignored findings that treatments can kill 92 percent of aspen within 10 years of spraying. That statistic comes from a 2000 government study they were aware of—and listed in the bibliography—but which they did not quote in the actual report.
Secondly, they assumed the deciduous species that survive the glyphosate and which are counted in the free-to-grow surveys of sprayed blocks, remain viable and competitive parts of the forest. Those surveys, completed shortly after spraying, show 15 percent of the trees in sprayed BC Interior blocks are deciduous after spraying. However, the authors completely ignored, and did not measure, the potential for contamination of the remnant deciduous with sub-lethal quantities of glyphosate that affect the physiology, survival, and resilience of deciduous plants in unknown ways.
In any case, the report’s conclusion that the small amount of surviving aspen (of unknown health) is enough to mitigate wildfire or climate change impacts, is completely unsupported by the evidence. The Fire Behaviour Prediction system clearly shows pure deciduous patches are critical to fire-resistance. Forests with even 75 percent deciduous are significantly more flammable than forests with 100 percent deciduous. So, for the report to conclude that a small percentage of surviving deciduous (likely contaminated and with low prospects of competitiveness) means the concerns of landscape adaptation to climate change and more wildfire have been met, is ridiculous and contradicted by the evidence the authors deleted and the details of the Fire Behaviour Prediction system they did not mention.
The authors also claimed that “the area comprised of deciduous–mixed stands has been increasing over time as a result of forest management activities in general.”
This was an unsourced claim, but appears to rely on the misrepresentation of one of the only studies we have on this, the 2008 Forest and Range Evaluation Program Report #14. That document does show that deciduous have increased—as they do after logging in line with natural succession—but only up until 1987. Since then, more intensive deciduous-suppression practices have actually led to an increase in monoculture conifer forests, documented in this same report. Deciduous/mixed stands are no longer "increasing." We can assume this has only grown worse in the past 14 years, but unfortunately there has been no update to this report.
Modern monoculture pine plantations in the foreground and background, while a more natural distribution of deciduous and coniferous is shown in the middle, the result of logging in 1972 and natural regeneration.
We can, however, look at what the law says. The near-extermination of deciduous is, in fact, legally required. The authors of the report do mention the obscure regulation that requires it, section 46.11 of the Forest Planning and Practices Regulations. But the extreme logic of timber supply maximization that underpins it, goes unmentioned. The end effect of 46.11(2)(b)(ii) is the requirement of 95 percent conifer domination of cutblocks under almost every major Forest Stewardship Plan in BC. There is no minimum deciduous requirement. Companies have an incentive to exceed the 95 percent threshold to ensure compliance. So 100 percent of pure deciduous patches are, in fact, regularly sprayed and brushed, to ensure 95 percent conifer domination, lest some deciduous grow back.
The report completely denies the fact that current regulations and practices are responsible for forests of less diversity than the natural regeneration of the 1970s and ’80s, a troubling trend that is maladapting our forests to climate change and making them more vulnerable to pests and fire.
Which individual was responsible for this selective parsing of logic and fact is uncertain, as evidence of who made the edits of subsequent versions of this report were withheld by government. But the Chief Forester’s Office would be responsible for ensuring the final report was indeed objective. It is apparent that this did not happen, not only with respect to the role of aspen in mitigating climate change effects and wildfire, and how current practice undermines this, but also in maintaining biodiversity.
The section on wildlife, biodiversity and glyphosate is particularly troubling. It quotes literature saying biodiversity on sprayed blocks is unaffected by glyphosate and makes the dubious claim that moose benefit from it.
A close analysis reveals that not one of these studies considers potential contamination or the long-term effects on biodiversity and moose food subsequent to crown closure. The fundamental forest-type conversion from deciduous to conifer has massive and long-lasting impacts on associated biodiversity and forest function. Deciduous forests are widely recognized to have the highest biodiversity values in the boreal forest, with the highest carrying capacity for species like moose and beaver, with exponentially more insects, birds and plant species.
Recent government moose-collar research in Central BC shows that moose select for deciduous forests in all study areas and all seasons. The claim that moose benefit from spraying ignores the big picture; the entire purpose of glyphosate spraying is to shift the long-term forest structure away from preferred deciduous forest types to less-productive conifer plantation forest types. The possibility there may be more forage opportunities that recover in years 4-11 on a sprayed block prior to crown closure, which is itself a doubtful conclusion, does not alter this fact.
A recent study based on radio-collar tracking shows moose prefer foraging in deciduous stands, contrary to the report’s claims.
Finally, the report falsified and downplayed watershed protections. Quoting 73(1) of the Integrated Pest Management Regulation the report claims that the laws “require the maintenance of pesticide-free zones around water features, dry streams, and classified wetlands.”
This is not true. Section 74 of the regulations authorizes numerous exceptions to 73(1) allowing the direct spraying of the vast majority of dry streams. So, in fact, there are no pesticide-free zones for the vast majority of dry streams.
Nor did the report mention that section 75 (5)(d) authorizes direct over-spraying of open water smaller than 25 square meters in late summer, which are typically much larger and more productive the rest of the year. They also failed to mention the pesticide-free zone is only 10 meters to any fish-bearing waterway for helicopters spraying from an elevation of several hundred feet, with drift documented as far as 800 meters away. Any objective analysis would have recognized these pesticide free zones are inadequate.
Photo of helicopter spraying
It is doubtful such misleading statements and analyses were made due to unprofessionalism and incompetence. This report was reviewed by Chief Forester Diane Nicholls, Deputy Chief Forester Shane Berg and senior ministry staff. We should hope they know how to read regulations. Assuming they do, this misinformation is a violation of the public trust.
In short, taxpayers spent close to $100,000 on a report that intentionally edited and omitted information to mislead the public on the realities of glyphosate spraying of BC forests and its consequences.
We will never know whether or not senior staff in the Chief Forester’s Office orchestrated the biased outcome of this report. But they did select an organization with industry links and funding who hired industry researchers to write the report, and we know senior staff on at least one occasion characterized the directive given to them as showing how glyphosate “supports” forestry.
We also know the Chief Forester’s Office accepted this flawed report as an acceptable use of taxpayer money. They oversaw and witnessed, and were perhaps directly responsible for, the suppression of key information that would challenge the underlying belief that glyphosate use supports “healthy and diverse” forests. They approved a report where any role deciduous could play in protecting timber supply—by reducing landscape wildfire and disease outbreaks—was either systematically suppressed or misrepresented by the false assumptions of deciduous survival.
There is little doubt that in the writing and re-writing of this report the power of a critical institution—the Chief Forester’s Office—was intentionally abused. The public interest was undermined. The report was designed to allow a key practice of modern forestry to continue: The maximization of coniferous timber supply by eliminating deciduous species. The risks that glyphosate spraying and conifer-dominated monocrop plantations pose to the future resilience of the landscape, the timber supply, and to public health and safety don’t—evidently—measure up to what’s most important to the current Chief Forester’s Office: the health of forestry company profits.
Read part 2 here.
James Steidle grew up south of Prince George in the bush and worked as a treeplanter for 3 years and in Clear Lake Sawmills for 4 years. He currently runs a woodworking company and works with aspen wherever he can. He is a founder of Stop the Spray B.C.
With the best trees gone and revenues plummeting, what’s next?
Extensive old-growth logging on Vancouver Island. (Photo: Russ Heinl)
LAST YEAR, as hundreds of protesters were arrested at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island for trying to stop logging of old-growth forests, the BC government raked in more money from companies doing such logging than at perhaps any point in history.
In total, it collected more than $1.8 billion dollars in stumpage fees—a number that would have been higher still but for the protests.
Nothing in the past 15 years comes remotely close to that revenue benchmark, a figure that underscores that it is not just the logging companies who benefit financially from logging old-growth or primary forests, but the provincial government as well.
New research by the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows, however, that the whopping stumpage revenues of last year mask trouble ahead. The high revenues were only made possible by an unprecedented run-up in lumber prices and the extraordinary value of the older trees that are the chief target of BC logging companies.
With those trees disappearing as quickly as Newfoundland’s cod once did, the provincial government belatedly announced last year that it would defer logging in a portion of remaining old-growth or primary forests for two years, pending negotiation with affected First Nations.
The fear now is that the government’s deferral announcement will be scapegoated as the cause of a coming crash in logging rates, as opposed to government forest policies that encouraged both the rapid depletion of BC’s once-bountiful old-growth forests and the production of low-value forest products that put few people to work.
“The proposed deferrals have become the bogeyman, not the industry’s over-cutting, or its exports of raw logs, or the undisclosed huge number of logs being consumed by wood pellet mills—a forest and job killer if ever there was one,” says Torrance Coste, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee.
And we all fall down
The long predicted “falldown effect” is here: logging rates are plummeting as old-growth or primary forests never before subject to industrial logging disappear.
Many rural communities—Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike—have paid the price for that. The forests nearest to them are long gone. Local mills have closed. Many more soon will. Meanwhile, the prognosis for forest ecosystems is dire, with some globally rare forest types like the interior rainforest now so depleted that they are on the verge of ecological collapse.
The companies who run the sawmills that remain know the jig is just about up. Consider BC’s biggest forest company, and one of the province’s biggest lumber producers, Canfor Corp. Where has it made new investments in recent years? Not in BC where it has sold one distressed asset after another, gut-punching communities like Mackenzie and Canal Flats in the process, but in the US states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Or, next door in Alberta. Or, overseas in Sweden.
“Canfor’s obviously seen the writing on the wall. If the worst is to be avoided, we need to scale back the number of trees logged and then do everything we can with the wood from those trees. But we see no sign that the government is serious about making that happen. Millions of trees continue to be cut down every year, only to be shipped as raw logs to China, Korea and Japan. And millions more are cut down simply to be turned into wood pellets, in one of the lowest value, poorest job-generating enterprises of any in the forest industry,” says Scott Doherty, executive assistant to the national president of Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada, and one of three unions representing forest industry workers in BC.
The monster year that was
To arrive at its numbers, the CCPA used a searchable government database to look at logging rates and stumpage revenues over the 15 years ending in 2021. The analysis shows that last year’s whopping stumpage revenues happened even as logging rates were falling. Typically, declines in logging should correlate with declines in revenue. But last year, things were flipped on their head. Why?
In a nutshell, much of it traces to COVID. As the global pandemic spread and people isolated at home, those with means plowed money into renovations or purchased new homes, which sent lumber prices soaring to record highs.
Since stumpage payments—the money companies pay to the government when they log trees on “Crown” or public lands—are pegged to markets, it was only a matter of time before the government’s stumpage account swelled to its heady height.
The more than $1.8 billion in stumpage fees collected by the province in 2021 ended up being $600 million more than the next closest year, which was 2018, the only other year in the timeframe examined by the CCPA when stumpage revenues exceeded $1 billion.
But the kicker in 2021 was that the $1.8 billion in revenue was generated on the logging of roughly 58.2 million cubic metres of trees. In 2018, by comparison, logging companies cut down 70.7 million cubic metres of trees, while paying $1.2 billion in stumpage. In other words, last year the government collected 50 per cent more in revenues than the previous highest year even though Canfor and other companies logged nearly 20 per cent fewer trees.
Something else also drove those revenues up. The government’s own data underscores that in recent years the majority of trees logged were of the highest quality—an indication that the industry, with the government’s blessing, targeted the healthiest older forests for logging, leaving behind not only fewer forests, but more impoverished forests.
And that spells trouble ahead for the industry and the province, because lumber and other wood products made from higher-quality old-growth trees command price premiums.
Those price premiums translate into higher stumpage revenues, which the government in turn channels into various programs and services including healthcare and education.
Logging rates halved in just 15 years
The monster revenues of 2021 won’t be repeated, and the government has admitted as much in its recent budget document, saying that forestry revenues will fall by nearly 40 per cent this fiscal year due to declines in “historically high” lumber prices.
But it’s what the government says next that is more crucial. While lumber prices are projected to decline, what’s really heading south is logging rates, which have already dropped off significantly from their levels of just a few years ago.
According to the provincial budget, logging rates will fall to 39 million cubic metres annually within three years. That, according to the data analyzed by the CCPA, would mean a near halving of the logging rates recorded 15 years ago.
What the budget document doesn’t do, however, is level with the public about the kind of logging that has taken place in recent years, where the biggest revenues were generated, and what that says about what remains of our forests.
A hollowed out coast and a hollowing out interior
Because of BC’s size and spectacular diversity, its forests are best divided into three broad zones —the coast, which includes everything from the coastal mountain ranges west to the ocean and all of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, and the northern and southern interior regions, which are divided by a line that bisects the province east to west roughly near the community of Quesnel.
For more than a century, the coast with its treasure chest of massive and ancient cedar, spruce, Douglas fir, hemlock and other trees was the economic driver of BC’s forest industry. But that chest has been looted. Most of what remains is either smaller old-growth trees in higher, more remote terrain or, increasingly, second-growth and third-growth trees. As a result, the coast is no longer the driver of industry profits and stumpage revenues it once was.
Forest companies say a government decision to defer logging in certain old-growth forests will cause massive job losses. Conservationists say over-cutting is to blame. (Photo: Blake Elliot/Shutterstock)
Complicating matters, the coast has large tracts of privately owned forestland. Trees logged on private lands as opposed to public lands are exempt from stumpage charges. As a result, the biggest private forestland owners like TimberWest and Island Timberlands tend to take advantage of the lower costs by loading millions of raw, unprocessed logs into the holds of ocean freighters and shipping them offshore—a practice that comes at the cost of thousands of foregone local manufacturing jobs.
The vast northern and southern interior regions are different from the coast in numerous ways. A big difference is that industrial logging in the interior regions only really gathered steam 50 years ago and everything logged since has effectively been in old-growth or “primary” forests where industrial developments had not previously occurred. Privately owned forestland in the interior is also negligible, which means far fewer log exports.
The southern interior region is also home to the globally rare inland temperate rainforest, where wet coast-like conditions make for ideal growing conditions resulting in long-lived trees of a size and quality that approaches what was once the norm on the coast.
The logging of these rarest of rare forests has accelerated dramatically in the past decade—particularly as highly inflated and unsustainable “salvage logging” in other pine beetle-ravaged areas declined because the industry had either effectively logged out such forests or the trees that remained had lost too much economic value following the beetle attack.
As economically accessible old-growth forests have been logged out of existence on the coast, more and more industry profits and government revenues have come from logging the interior’s primary forests.
Consequently, nearly twice as many trees were cut down in the interior regions last year than was the case on the coast. And the interior as a whole generated five times more in stumpage revenues than its impoverished coastal cousin.
Feasting on the best wood
The much higher revenues in the interior where some of the biggest sawmills in the world operate are almost entirely the result of the logs that go into sawmills. The best of those logs are assigned Grades 1 and 2.
Such logs generally come from older trees that are healthy and alive before they are cut down. Such trees also have typically fewer defects such as checks, cracks or knots, and have sustained minimal to no damage from tree diseases or insect attacks. These logs generate higher stumpage charges than lower quality logs.
In the last five years, the Grade 1 and Grade 2 logs coming out of the interior’s primary forests constituted 57 percent of everything logged, while generating 82 percent of all the stumpage fees paid, a clear sign of their value to the region’s big lumber producers, like Canfor, which last year posted a record $1.5 billion in net earnings.
These outcomes matter, because as anyone paying attention knows, the forests in BC’s interior regions have been hammered by intense infestations of mountain pine beetles and other insects as well as tree-destroying blights, droughts and intense wildfires, leaving behind a landbase depleted of much of its commercially attractive trees.
Yet in the face of growing scarcity, Canfor and others somehow managed to find the best possible stands of remaining trees to log. And the government helped make that happen, through an obscure subsidy program known as “crediting,” a program that its critics call a Ponzi scheme.
Now in its 17th year, the crediting scheme works like this:
Companies that deliver “lower quality” logs from forests to wood pellet mills or pulp mills can apply to the government for credits that allow them to go back into the forest and log an equivalent volume of trees again.
This is a big incentive because the companies that obtain the credits for delivering lower quality logs can then go back into the forest a second time to get even more of what they really want, which is the higher quality Grade 1 and Grade 2 logs from primary forests.
The government itself warned last year that its crediting scheme may be accelerating depletion of the province’s forests. Yet, incredibly in this digital era, the government claims that most of the credit transactions exist on paper only. Because of this, the government says it will not or cannot provide a figure on the overall number of additional trees logged under the subsidy scheme without receiving a formal Freedom of Information request—a process that often takes years to conclude.
Herb Hammond is a professional forester and longtime advocate of ecosystem and conservation-based forestry, which allows for some low-impact selective logging while leaving behind forests that continue to function much as they would had no logging taken place. Hammond says the credit scheme has propped up a house of cards and that there will be an inevitable crash, as he and others predicted decades ago.
“Government and timber companies, aided and abetted by forest professionals in their employ, have overestimated a sustainable rate of cut and focused on progressive high-grading of remaining old-growth and other primary forests. Perverse subsidies like the ‘log credit’ program only postpone the inevitable. The only winners in this Ponzi scheme are corporate timber companies, who are collecting the last of the gold from BC’s forests on their way out the door to fast-growing tree plantations elsewhere,” Hammond wrote when details of the subsidy program were revealed late last year.
The Science Alliance for Forestry Transformation, a group of top forest ecologists who joined forces in 2021 to “debunk myths” and provide information on alternative, more ecologically sound approaches to forestry in the province, recently released a video that dissects the credit program and how, in particular, it has fueled a troubling growth in the wood pellet industry, which has increased its output fourfold since the credit scheme began.
In another related video, Michelle Connolly, director of Prince George-based organization Conservation North, warned that the surge in wood pellet production in BC has had grave consequences for interior forests because, contrary to the industry’s claims that sawmill waste is used to make wood pellets, whole tracts of forest are now being directly logged to make a product that is then burned.
“The pellet industry in BC is set to expand in a big way,” Connolly warns in the video. “And the only way they can do it is if the BC government continues to allow the logging of primary forests for this purpose. And this has to stop.”
The old-growth blame game
To understand the coming crash it helps to go back to events in the interior regions in the early 2000s when an epic infestation of mountain pine beetles killed hundreds of millions of lodgepole pine trees, briefly becoming front-page news in the province.
The government encouraged the logging industry to cut down as many of the attacked trees as possible so that the companies and government alike could reap a short-lived economic windfall by “salvaging” them before they lost their value.
At its height, the inflated logging rates approved by the government allowed the companies to cut down an additional 11 million cubic metres of trees per year. The result was that as many as 63 million cubic metres of additional trees were logged, enough wood to fill a line of logging trucks lined bumper-to-bumper from Vancouver to Halifax five times over.
The consequence of the decision to turbocharge logging rates is the falldown effect.
A wall of logs await conversion to wood pellets at a mill in Houston, BC. (Photo: Stand.earth.)
Complicating matters greatly is the provincial government’s belated decision in November to defer the logging of 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old-growth and primary forests. The government said the decision could eventually lead to outright protection of those forests, but that will depend on consultation with affected First Nations.
Dave Daust, one of a number of scientists appointed to the old-growth advisory panel whose report guided the government in its deferral announcement, says that if every one of the areas proposed for deferral is eventually protected permanently—a far from certain outcome—it would result in a six percent decline in the overall land base currently considered available to log.
The deferral decision pleased no one.
The Council of Forest Industries (COFI) immediately warned of economic carnage, claiming that 18,000 jobs were at immediate risk—a claim it did not support with any backing documentation of how much logging rates would fall or where the biggest declines might be.
Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, presented a much lower but still humbling projection of 4,500 jobs lost. She, too, did not elaborate on how she arrived at her number.
On the environmental side, organizations that had long campaigned to protect remaining old-growth and primary forests pointed out that deferrals are just that. Outright protection may or may not occur down the road.
Meanwhile, many of the most at-risk older forests will continue to be logged, with the industry claiming that any limitation will have catastrophic consequences.
Consent by coercion
Placed squarely in the hotseat in all of this are the First Nations on whose traditional lands all of the logging to date has taken place—sometimes with the active involvement of First Nation members and businesses and sometimes not.
After the deferral announcement on November 2 of last year, the government gave First Nations just 30 days to respond to specific deferrals proposed on their traditional lands. When that month came to an end, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs decried the untenable position the government had placed First Nations in.
“The provincial government made its announcement to much fanfare on November 2nd, but a month later First Nations are still lacking supports, and threatened old-growth forests continue to be destroyed,” UBCIC president and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said before adding:
“The Horgan government is abdicating its responsibility to protect old-growth, is pressuring First Nations into making critical decisions regarding the territories and forests they have stewarded over since time immemorial and is continuing to deny the fact that they must immediately provide substantial resources to support First Nations towards this goal—this is consent by coercion.”
Predictably, the doomsday numbers advanced by COFI and the general lack of enthusiasm with which the government’s old-growth deferral decision was received were grist for the mill for media pundits following the release of the provincial budget document.
In his reporting, post-budget, Black Press’s Tom Fletcher wrote:
“Projections in Tuesday’s BC budget show a decline in provincial revenue from timber cutting, from $1.8 billion in the current year to $1.1 billion in 2024-2025. The drop is mainly as a result of province-wide deferrals of harvesting in areas identified as rare and threatened old-growth forests, Finance Minister Selina Robinson said Feb. 22.”
But a read of the budget document itself reveals that the primary reasons for the staggering revenue declines are an entirely predictable cooling off of over-heated lumber markets and a relentless decline in logging rates that “includes” projections associated with old-growth logging deferrals, which may or may not happen.
To suggest that responsibility for the downfall ahead lies solely with the government’s decision to defer logging of some old-growth forests pending negotiation with First Nations is a gross mischaracterization.
In 15 years, logging rates have fallen 25 per cent. In three more years, they will be nearly half of what they were in 2007, and only some of that coming decline will “include” the impacts associated with old-growth deferrals.
We have stripped our forests of much of their green gold. Government subsidies have encouraged that tragic outcome. And the long-predicted decline has begun.
Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and a longtime investigative writer.
If a forestry company isn’t providing mill jobs with its tree farm licences or forestry licenses to cut, fair compensation for taking back those licences should be $0.
LARGE MULTINATIONAL FORESTRY COMPANIES in BC earning billion-dollar profits have pulled a fast one on us.
They want us to think the rights to the forests are actually theirs. If we wanted our forests back for some reason—say to make them accessible to community-oriented mills, or to stop spraying glyphosate on fire-resistant deciduous and work with mixed forests not against them, or to preserve old-growth—we would need to pay a ransom collectively worth billions of dollars!
Our wild-west history is replete with stories of cattle barons, outlaw gangs and octopus-tentacled monopolies extracting wealth from the public domain. This is only the latest chapter. Yet the scale of the new thievery promises to put anything before it to shame.
A little history is required.
First of all, across much of BC we have publicly owned forests. Nobody ever bought them, and nobody ever paid the public any money to secure exclusive access to them. This is the key point.
For example, a vast tract of forest north of Prince George—now within the Mackenzie Timber Supply Area (TSA)—was divvied out to British Columbia Forest Products back in the 1960s.
BCFP never paid for the timber rights. But they did pay for construction of a pulp mill and two sawmills in the community of Mackenzie, providing numerous local jobs and community benefits in return.
From day one, the requirement to get access to public timber was to provide community benefits. “Trees for jobs” was the mantra. And it was on this basis that we provided access to timber. This was a requirement of the Forest Act at the time. The 1990 Review of Forest Tenures in British Columbia clearly states that the Forest Act granted tenures in exchange for “employment opportunities and other social benefits,” along with “managing for water, fisheries and wildlife resources.”
We were never paid cash for the tenures. We were paid in economic, social, and environmental considerations.
Canfor ended up with the tenure when they bought the Mackenzie Mill. So now that Canfor has closed its sawmill and is no longer providing local jobs in the community of Mackenzie, surely the tenure should revert to the public—the same way it was originally transferred to the private sector. For free and at no cost, and simply on the basis of what the public gets in return.
Yet the corporations are convinced the timber rights are theirs now. Personal private property that they can exploit to the maximum degree with no consideration for wildlife and fisheries. Property which they can now turn around and sell to someone else to do the same. And for which we, the public, will have to pay dearly if we ever want them back.
A recent Council of Forest Industries’ report on the $70 million sale of Canfor’s forestry licences to cut in the Mackenzie Timber Supply Area
Somewhere along the line, the exact details obscured by the passage of time but the outcome surely a result of the relentless drumbeat of corporate power chipping away at our sense of community, a metamorphosis has occurred: public forests have become property that corporations can sell.
This is a preposterous situation, duly noted by Mackenzie mayor Joan Atkinson. In 2020, after Canfor closed its Mackenzie mill, Atkinson asked why Canfor was selling (to Dunkley Lumber) rights to uncut, publicly owned timber before stumpage had even been paid. What right did Canfor have to profit when it was no longer providing jobs or community benefits? Those jobs had been shifted to Quesnel, 264 kilometres away.
I have a theory for why they are so committed to this perplexing illusion. Obviously, they have money at stake, but how did money come to be at stake?
The answer is found in the past decades when the big players swallowed up all the small independent mills. When they did so, observers at the time thought the big companies were paying too much for the mills. And they would have been, if the janky old mills were all they thought they were buying. But in the companies’ minds, they were buying not just the sawmills, but also the associated timber rights. The original mill owners, who never paid a cent for the timber rights, reaped this inflated windfall.
In short, the big companies paid dearly to establish their empires because they thought they purchased the public timber rights, an asset they imagined in itself to be in addition to, and perhaps separate from, the actual mill providing the community benefits. They created a non-existent product in their own minds, and they made this purchasing decision knowing full well the law required community benefits in return. Their goal was obviously to make this public asset theirs. But those pesky mills and the jobs they provided were in the way.
Luckily for the corporations, they got their big break in 2003 when “appurtenancy” was eliminated. Up until then, a TSA had to supply the local mill. Now logs could be shipped from anywhere within the company’s patchwork of multiple tenures and that paved the way to close the little mills and expand their big ones. We would still get “jobs for logs,” just less of them, and in less places, and this was justified on the bogus basis of rationalization and maintaining global competitiveness.
More critically, this helped create the myth that a tree farm licence (TFL) and forestry licences to cut could stand as tradable assets belonging to the licensee, now that the local mill was no longer necessary.
It didn’t happen all at once. But over the years, one by one, small mills and their communities like Upper Fraser, Clear Lake, Isle Pierre, and countless others, disappeared. And with each mill closure, blamed on external market forces, the public’s memory of the link between jobs and logs faded. The old contract was blurred and obscured by turmoil in the industry as 50,000 out of 100,000 forestry jobs disappeared into thin air.
Those mills and jobs disappeared, but rest assured the big corporations hung onto their old timber rights, even as mills in communities like Fort Nelson sat idle for years, wreaking economic ruin on the community, a blatant violation of the terms by which the tenure was originally granted.
Nobody challenged them on it.
And so now companies like Canfor are taking their next big leap of faith, hoping we are all asleep. It appears many of us are. The companies are now attempting to fully monetize these mill-less tenures as a separate asset altogether. Their original plan is at play. This is insane. This has happened with Canfor’s apportionment of the AAC in the Fort Nelson TSA, which it sold to Brian Fehr’s Peak Renewables in a deal that was finalized just last November. In reality, Peak Renewables is an affiliated company of Canfor’s. This is, potentially, what will happen to Canfor’s share of the cut in the Mackenzie TSA, too, with the proposed $70 million sale to the McLeod Lake Indian Band.
These third parties should be aware of what they are buying. Separated from community benefits, a TFL or a forestry licence to cut are ultimately fictitious products. Sure, companies can buy and sell their imagined timber rights amongst themselves, as long as there is one greater fool to buy the snake oil, as Canfor once was, or which the government may be. But ultimately, the public owns the land, owns the forest, never sold the rights to access them to begin with, and with new legislation in place, can take it back for “fair compensation,” whenever we like.
The big question going forward will be what entails “fair compensation.”
The companies and the corporate press want us to think this compensation is stratospheric in value, maybe worth billions. They say we have to respect private property rights. But how? It never was their private property. And since the corporations have mostly reneged on the terms of the original deal, have neglected to protect wildlife populations, and since the hard mill assets have been capitalized and most of those jobs have evaporated—along with the communities—the notion of “fair compensation” for an abandoned, liquidated “asset” like Canfor’s licences to cut in the Mackenzie TSA, beyond $0, is an illusion.
Here’s what should happen in that case: The Mackenzie TSA licences should revert to the Crown, the cutting rights then doled out to entities like the Macleod Lake Indian Band, or a community-based company, and the basis of the original agreement—trees for jobs—is re-affirmed. The assets and property of the shuttered Mackenzie mill are Canfor’s to sell as they see fit. That’s the extent of their “private property.”
At the end of the day, when the political leaders of British Columbia handed access to public timber to the private sector over 60 years ago, the spirit and intent was to do so with conditions of environmental responsibility, employment and community benefits. That was the political contract, and despite what you may hear, or what you don’t hear, that original contract never changed.
At no point did we ever pass a law saying or intending that we were to give timber rights away altogether with no expectation of employment, community, or environmental considerations in return. We never elected a single politician or government who said they would do this. In other words, that we would allow private companies and oligarchs to completely monetize exclusive access to a public asset and exploit it with nothing for the public in exchange, like what we are seeing today.
We should all stop pretending that we did.
James Steidle grew up south of Prince George in the bush and worked as a treeplanter for 3 years and in Clear Lake Sawmills for 4 years. He currently runs a woodworking company and works with aspen wherever he can. He is a founder of Stop the Spray B.C.
Note to the ministry of forests: Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the current sustained yield timber supply is below 50 million cubic metres per year, right?
Logging in the Prince George Timber Supply Area (Photo by Sean O’Rourke/Conservation North)
THERE WERE A NUMBER OF DRAMATIC LOGGING-RELATED EVENTS in 2021 that riveted public attention on the state of BC forests. Canada’s largest act of mass civil disobedience at Fairy Creek. Devastating forest fires and pervasive smoke in June, July and August. Flooding of communities and washouts of transportation infrastructure in November. But there was one critical, year-long event that didn’t get any attention at all, and this one event lies at the core of all the catastrophes that did capture our attention.
According to the ministry of forests’ harvest record for 2021, logging companies hauled 50.2 million cubic metres of logs out of publicly-owned forests. Given the record high prices for logs and lumber in 2021, we can reasonably infer that number—50.2 million cubic metres—now approximates the upper limit of annual timber supply in BC. If so, that’s a much lower level of supply than indicated by any previous projection by the ministry of forests. For example, it is 38 percent below the ministry’s prediction of timber supply for 2021 that was made in 2004. That’s an astonishing decline in expectation.
The difference between the ministry’s 2004 prediction of timber supply and 2021’s actual supply was equivalent to approximately 20,000 direct jobs—or 40,000 “direct, indirect and induced jobs” as the industry might put it.
We can expect that over the next few years a raging debate will develop over why this decline has occurred. At the moment, the ministry appears unwilling to publicly acknowledge how far timber supply has fallen; mainstream media seem stuck in the past and misreport the actual case; and industry-friendly reporters seem intent on blaming conservationists for the decline, whatever it is.
We will come back to these barriers to public understanding later in the story, but first let’s consider some basic facts about timber supply and how, in practice, it differs from what the ministry of forests refers to as “AAC,” or allowable annual cut.
Although the ministry of forests establishes a provincial AAC each year (see graph below), over the last 20 years that level has almost always been well above the actual cut each year. That’s because the official AAC doesn’t reflect just the physical limits of sustained yield. The Forest Act requires that AAC for publicly owned forest be based on sustained yield—the physical limitations to forest growth—but it allows the AAC to be fudged upward for “the economic and social objectives of the government.” That should be read as “for political reasons.”
By fudging the official AAC well above the actual cut, the ministry has been able to claim that the actual cut is lower than the allowable annual cut, creating the appearance that the ministry is carefully stewarding BC’s forests.
Doesn’t that graph reassure you that the ministry of forests has a conservative approach to managing publicly owned forests? Every year, the industry cuts less than it could.
Sadly, that is not the case. The official AAC bears little resemblance to what the ministry has determined could be cut on a sustained yield basis. That disconnect becomes evident when we consider the ministry’s record of timber supply forecasts since 1994, and compare those with its record of allowable annual cuts and its record of actual cuts.
The ministry defines “timber supply” as: “The amount of timber that is forecast to be available for harvesting over a specified time period, under a particular management regime.” That definition covers a lot of possible ground, but the Forest Act does stipulate that “sustained yield” needs to be the basis for a determination of timber supply. The ministry defines “sustained yield” as: “A policy, method, or plan of forest management that aims to achieve an approximate balance between net growth and amount harvested.”
In other words, a determination of the timber supply available from those BC forests that can be logged involves a determination of the area available for logging and analysis of the factors affecting the growth of trees in that area.
From time to time, usually about every 10 years, the ministry publishes a new province-wide forecast of timber supply that generally looks forward at least 50 years. The last published forecast was in 2010.
Over the past 35 years, four major factors affecting future timber supply have been acknowledged by the ministry of forests. They are the falldown effect, conservation for non-timber values, the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic and increased plantation growth above what had been predicted. The first three factors lowered ministry projections of future timber supply. The last factor increased it. The ministry has not yet attributed any substantial influence on timber supply to either forest fires or climate change.
To understand why timber supply has fallen as far as it has in the last 35 years, we need to examine each of the four factors that the ministry has said have changed it.
In 1994, the ministry’s decadal Forest, Range and Recreation Resource Analysis recorded that “the current harvest level” was 71.6 million cubic metres per year “but would then decline gradually over the next 50 years” to 50-60 million cubic metres. The ministry credited the expected decline to “shifting from old-growth forests to second-growth forests precipitating a falldown to long-term sustainable harvest levels.”
“Falldown,” as you may recall, refers to the inevitable decrease in timber supply that would occur as a result of converting BC’s older, higher-volume primary forests to younger, lower-volume plantations through logging. In its current (2021) promotional material, the BC Truck Loggers Association notes that “typical old growth” contains 1500-1800 cubic metres per hectare, while “typical second growth” contains 400-600 cubic metres per hectare.
The ministry’s 1994 report also noted that “interest in non-timber resources and values has increased and managing for those values is now emphasized.” In 1994, the expected decline in timber supply out to 2044 as a result of those factors is shown in the graph below:
The most conservative estimate of timber supply, from the ministry of forests’ 1994 projection.
Note that the most conservative 1994 projection of timber supply estimated there would be 60 million cubic metres available for cutting in 2021. Yet only 50.2 million cubic metres were cut that year, and that followed cuts of 49.6 and 47.9 million cubic metres in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Ten years after that 1994 report, in 2004, with a very different government now steering the ministry of forests, ideas about future timber supply also changed. In The State of British Columbia’s Forests 2004, a report signed by then-Chief Forester Jim Snetsinger, the ministry’s new view of timber supply was made clear: “Recent research shows that many second-growth forests grow faster than previously estimated.”
The newly discovered higher growth rate of plantations was so phenomenal, the report implied, that, in effect, it cancelled out the falldown effect. The ministry’s new forecast showed timber supply, then at 76 million cubic metres per year, would fall to 70 million cubic metres over the following 60 years. The graph below appeared in the ministry of forests’ 2004 report, which was approved by Snetsinger.
BC Ministry of Forests’ 2004 prediction of future timber supply. The “• Actual cut in 2021” has been added.
There are three pertinent observations to make about the claims in that 2004 report.
First, the ministry never published any physical research showing that growth in plantations was higher than expected.
Second, the “research” was subsequently questioned by professional foresters Anthony Britneff and Martin Watts. (See their 2018 study, attached at the end of this story.)
Britneff, a 40-year veteran of the BC Forest Service, says: “The report referred to ‘research’ but I suspect it was actually referring to unvalidated assumptions about the growth of managed stands and meaningless statistical analysis of monitoring data.”
The third reason to doubt the 2004 forecast is that it didn’t include the impact of the Mountain Pine Beetle. At the time, the province was in the sixth year of the epidemic, only a year from its peak in 2005. The ministry of forests was well aware of the impact that disaster would have on future timber supply, but it was trying to encourage investment in the industry. Not including the beetle’s impact suggests the ministry was given instructions to maximize timber supply—at least on paper—rather than accurately reflect all the influences that were, in reality, pushing it downward.
Thus the ministry, then operating under the influence of Premier Gordon Campbell, predicted that timber supply in 2044 could be as much as 42 percent higher than the Forest Service had expected in 1994.
This sudden and fantastical increase occurred at precisely the same political moment that, at the behest of the logging industry, Campbell was gutting the Forest Service and allowing the logging industry to draft new legislation that would effectively privatize BC’s public forests.
In our tally of the factors actually affecting future timber supply, “second-growth forests grow faster than previously estimated” jumps out at us like a flashing yellow light.
This was confirmed, indirectly, in the 2010 report The State of British Columbia’s Forests, Third Edition. That document included this forecast: “Recent analysis projects a decrease in timber supply to 50–60 million cubic metres per year by 2025, due to mortality caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.”
In other words, the ministry was now predicting timber supply to decline from 76 million cubic metres to 50-60 million cubic metres. That’s a loss of as much as 26 million cubic metres. But that’s a far greater loss than could be accounted for by the Mountain Pine Beetle.
Of the total volume of merchantable timber in BC in 2010, 12 percent was lodgepole pine. Less than 60 percent of that would eventually be lost to the beetle. So the beetle caused the loss of about 7 percent of BC’s merchantable volume. That would have impacted about 7 percent of timber supply, or 5.3 million cubic metres.
What accounted for the other 20 million cubic metres the ministry was now forecasting would be lost? Certainly not the higher-than-expected growth in plantations.
That 2010 forecast was illustrated by the graph below, from the report.
If we take the ministry’s last public estimate of provincial timber supply at face value, it would now be somewhere in the “50-60 million cubic metres” range.
Taking a conservative view of timber supply—and why wouldn’t government take a conservative view, given the profound physical, economic and social impacts caused by an unsustainable rate of logging—we might estimate the current timber supply to be at the low end of that range, or 50 million cubic metres.
The graph below shows where a conservative consideration of the impacts listed above would put timber supply for the years 2000 through to 2021 (orange line). Note how the actual cut—the light grey line—was considerably higher than the conservative projection of timber supply, for most of that time. The area above the orange line and below the grey line gives a measure of the extent to which BC forests may have been overcut since 2004. Only the world financial crisis in 2008-09 provided a respite.
As mentioned above, the ministry has not yet provided an assessment of how timber supply will be affected in the mid-term by either forest fires or climate change. The numerous large forest fires in each of 2017, 2018 and 2021 impacted a far larger area of BC than any other year in the province’s recorded fire history and the upward trend is clear. The increase in fire hazard created by logging, coupled with the hotter, drier, windier and more lightning-prone weather expected with climate change, will certainly impact timber supply. A 2020 Forest Practices Board investigation into the health of plantations in the southern Interior called on the ministry to start including the “likely consequences of climate change” in its assessments of growth in those plantations. The investigation found that 64 percent of the plantations it examined were in poor or marginal condition. When the impact of fires and climate change are included, how much lower will timber supply fall?
The rate of cut since 2004, then, was based on a belief that timber supply was much higher than it actually was, and that belief has resulted in a significant overcut above the sustained yield level.
All of 2021’s other major forest-related events in BC—the civil strife at Fairy Creek, the large forest fires in the Interior, the flooding and washouts last November—have been made worse by the over-exploitation that flowed from the Campbell’s government’s decision back in 2004 to ignore the falldown effect and accept unproven computer modelling of growth and yield to determine how much could be cut.
Unfortunately, part of the reason such an unsustainable rate of logging has occurred in BC since 2004 has been the absence of accurate, in-depth coverage of the logging industry and its impacts by an informed mainstream media. At least part of the blame for that lies with the ministry of forests.
Mainstream media are being misled by ministry officials
This epic failure in resource management is hard to sweep under the rug, but the current ministry of forests is trying to do just that. Its reluctance to address questions directed to it at a press briefing last June made that clear.
The briefing was held just before the Horgan government released its forest policy intentions paper, intentions that have since led to the recent adoption of Bill 23.
In the time allotted for questions at the briefing, Globe and Mail reporter Justine Hunter asked this question: “In terms of the annual allowable cut [sic]—initially there was a 70 million cubic metres estimate, I think that’s down now—where do you get to in the year 2025? How big is the annual allowable cut[sic]?”
Notably, none of the ministry officials attending the briefing, which included BC’s Chief Forester Diane Nicholls, answered Hunter’s question. Nicholls hummed and hawed and said how difficult it was to make such a prediction. There was, in fact, an estimate for the AAC for the year 2026 in the intentions paper that was released half an hour later, but either Nicholls wasn’t aware of that number or she didn’t want to use it in front of reporters.
Following Hunter’s unanswered question, the Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer took a crack at the same issue: “Correct me on the numbers if I’m wrong,” Palmer requested. “You’re talking about going from 10 percent of the AAC, which is in the ballpark of 70 million cubic metres per year. You’re talking about going from 10 percent of that to 20 percent. So, in all, you would be transferring 7 million cubic metres to First Nations—that’s the target. Have you a ballpark estimate of what it will cost in terms of compensation to take that much tenure away from tenure holders and give it to First Nations?”
Palmer had asked the assembled experts to correct him if he was wrong on the numbers, but they didn’t. Presumably, he left the press briefing thinking exactly what he thought before the briefing, which was that the provincial AAC was “in the ballpark of 70 million cubic metres per year.” And since his question was related to the issue of how much compensation would be given to companies from which “tenure” was going to be taken, he didn’t have the most basic information required to report the issue accurately to his readers. The ministry officials present did nothing to relieve Palmer of his misunderstanding about the AAC, or what level of compensation was in play.
By not understanding how far the available supply of logs has fallen—and why—Palmer is unintentionally misinforming the public. Remarkably, the forests ministry appears to be okay with reporters not having a clear idea of what’s going on with timber supply.
Notably, Palmer and Hunter have never reported on the concerns expressed by Watts and Britneff.
We begin to see why, then, the ministry has—officially—kept the AAC much higher than what could actually be cut and, when given the opportunity to clarify this in public, doesn’t bother to correct reporters when they incorrectly refer to the AAC as being “in the ball park of 70 million cubic metres.” The official AAC has become meaningless, and the timber supply reviews conducted by various chief foresters now appear to be besides the point. The ministry has become a facilitator of logging, not a regulator of the industry.
To publicly acknowledge how far timber supply has fallen would bring into question how much of the damage done by fires and floods has stemmed from the vast overcut that has occurred since 2004. That overcut has created a far greater area of clearcuts and plantations, both of which create conditions that increase the risk of floods and forest fires. For ministry officials to admit that the ministry badly over-estimated timber supply—and thus amplified the risk of fires and flooding—would leave the officials who made this blunder liable for responsibility for damage caused by both.
So—of course—a request to “correct me if I’m wrong” would be ignored by the officials who are currently responsible for over-estimating timber supply.
Meanwhile, other media are actively providing disinformation about timber supply
The over-estimation of timber supply by a forests ministry acting in lock-step with the short-term interests of the logging industry is not how the industry would like the public to understand the decline that has occurred in BC’s forests and forestry-dependent communities. The industry would rather have the reduced timber supply be blamed on some other group, like conservationists.
That framing of the issue by BC media outlets who partner in the forest-industrial complex was evident in 2019 as the uplift in available timber supply—made possible by beetle salvage logging—ran out.
In “Why the province’s working forests aren’t working,” a story written by Nelson Bennett for Business in Vancouver in December 2019, an explanation for the numerous mill closures in 2019 focussed mainly on the impact of conservation.
Bennett wrote, “One of the biggest problems has become a lack of economically harvestable timber. In a province with 55 million hectares of forest—an area roughly three times the size of the UK—how is that possible? The most visible answer is the toll taken by the mountain pine beetle, and by forest fires. But it’s not just pests and natural disasters that have eaten up BC’s timber supply. Pressure to preserve forests for conservation or yield them to recreation and increased urbanization have resulted in a significant shrinkage of the working-forest land base.”
That has been the basic message of industry operatives for many, many years. Note that there is no mention by Bennett that logging itself has been the biggest cause of disappearing timber supply in BC. Over the 20 years between 2000 and 2019, inclusive, logging caused 59 percent of the loss of merchantable volume. The pine beetle accounted for 32 percent and forest fires 9 percent. That inescapable fact can be seen in the graph below of ministry of forests’ data on the relative extent to which the beetle, forest fires and logging have gone through BC’s merchantable timber supply since 2000.
To elaborate on the impact of conservation on BC’s timber supply, Bennett reached out to an industry forester. He wrote: “Jim Girvan, an independent forestry consultant, points to the Prince George timber supply area (TSA) as an example. At eight million hectares, it is the single largest TSA in BC. But once all the exclusions for recreation, wildlife habitat conservation, old-growth preservation and other measures are accounted for, it leaves just three million hectares that can be logged, Girvan said.”
If I am reading that correctly (please correct me if I’m wrong), of 8 million hectares, there are only 3 million that can be logged and the rest has been set aside for recreation, wildlife habitat conservation, old-growth preservation and other measures. That sounds a lot like 5 million hectares of conservation measures, doesn’t it? Wow, 5/8ths of the area has been conserved? That’s 62 percent!
However, if one were to actually read the ministry’s account of how it determines the area of land that’s used to establish the level of timber supply from the Prince George TSA, one would find that the total area of all land that has some conservation-related objective is 1.8 million hectares, or 22.8 percent of the gross area of the Prince George Timber Supply Area—not the 5 million hectares that Girvan and Bennett seem to claim.
Moreover, of that 1.8 million hectares, only a part of that is forested land, and only a fraction of that forested land is feasible and economical to log. Once those considerations are applied (the ministry calls this “netting down”), we find that only 860,000 hectares of forest have been set aside for parks, ecological reserves, protected areas, conservancies, ungulate winter range, recreation, old growth management areas, wildlife tree patches, and riparian retention areas. That amounts to 10.8 percent of the gross area of the Prince George Timber Supply Area, not the 62 percent implied by Bennett and Girvan.
Even that number, though, overstates the impact these “conservation” areas have on timber supply since nearly all of these conservation areas in the Prince George TSA had a significant portion of the forested area within them logged before the conservation objectives were established.
All of the information needed to determine that no more than 10.8 percent of the total area of the TSA has been set aside for conservation or recreation purposes is publicly available.
Bennett and Girvan then went on to elaborate on how the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement has deeply impacted timber supply.
Bennett wrote, apparently using information supplied by Girvan: “The coastal cut has shrunk by 8.5 million cubic metres since the 1990s. That is enough to supply 10 coastal sawmills, Girvan said. The Great Bear Rainforest alone took 6.4 million hectares. Only 295,000 hectares were preserved for logging.”
Bennett then quoted Girvan: “In that 295,000 hectares, now you’re very restricted on what you can log.”
According to the ministry of forests, however, the “295,000 hectares” is actually the new area (made up of 8 separate smaller areas) that “will be off-limits to logging,” not the area “preserved for logging.” Girvan and Bennett got this particular fact inverted.
They could have determined the expected impact of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement on the provincial AAC by comparing the AAC for the area before the agreement (2,543,018 cubic metres per year) and after (1,633,000 cubic metres). They didn’t, but the ministry’s figures indicate the agreement was expected to create a drop in timber supply of about 900,000 cubic metres per year, or roughly 1.4 percent of the provincial AAC. All of those numbers, of course, are subject to the warnings outlined above.
In the end, Bennett’s and Girvan’s analysis didn’t provide any insight into why timber supply is so much lower than was predicted in 2004, but provided cover for the most serious cause of the decline. How is that going to help forest-dependent communities understand what they are facing?
The good news
The best evidence suggests that even 2021’s cut is well above the new, lower level of sustained yield. Unless the public comes into possession of that evidence more broadly through mainstream media, public opinion will continue to think of logging as “sustainable” and overcutting will continue. With continued over-exploitation will come even more serious negative consequences: bigger, more destructive forest fires, larger, more catastrophic floods, worse degradation of ecosystems and increased civil strife.
There is an odd twist to this story, which some may see as “good news.” Because of 2021’s extremely high log and lumber prices, the ministry of forests collected a much higher average rate of stumpage than ever before. For the first time in many, many years, the $1.8 billion collected in stumpage will likely cover more than the cost to the public of managing BC’s forests so the industry can cut ‘em down.
However, the higher stumpage will definitely not cover the physical damage done by 2021’s forest fires and flooding, or the economic disruption that accompanied that. Nor can it heal the civil strife that is erupting in BC over the over-exploitation of our forests and the consequential degradation of our life support systems.
David Broadland writes about forest-related issues.
To respond to the climate crisis, BC needs better monitoring of biodiversity—including in protected areas. It also needs to rethink previous assumptions about the static nature of protected area boundaries, including the impacts of nearby forestry. Consider, for example, Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island.
Photos by David Broadland
Bedwell Lake with Big Interior Mountain in background, Strathcona Park
THE UNPRECEDENTED HEAT DOME of June 2021 and atmospheric rivers of November 2021 herald big changes ahead for British Columbia’s ecosystems. This is not a one-off. It is an accelerating trend. It will return and be as normal as a West Coast winter rain by 2030. It is generally agreed that these extreme events inaugurate a new era of climate extremes that has been expected for some time. This raises two questions. What does this mean for the BC Parks system? And, why should we care about biodiversity? Let’s consider that first.
Biodiversity is important because it controls processes that regulate climate change. That was the central concern of the joint report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Platform on Climate Change) and the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) released in June 2021, titled Biodiversity and Climate Change. The IPCC and IPBES concluded with a joint statement that it is impossible to solve the climate change emergency without solving the biodiversity crisis. Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably inter-related. It is not enough just to eliminate fossil fuels.
Woodland Pinedrops, Strathcona Park
The events we now witness tell us what 1.1 degrees Celsius warming means. Somewhere between six to eleven years from now (2021) we can expect to cross the critical 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, which most scientists understand should be avoided at all costs. However, it is clear from the latest IPCC report that “in the near term (2021-2040), 1.5 degrees Celsius is very likely to be exceeded.” A majority of the scientists who wrote the last report do not expect that nations will meet 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius targets. What we see unfolding now will have enormous consequences for the distribution of most species both terrestrial and aquatic, especially for the future survival of species-at-risk in BC in the coming decades.
Species distributions are synonymous with habitat distributions. There are no species without habitats. If habitats collapse or shift, so must species. To survive, species must have corridors and alternatives to find new habitats. The thresholds they will have to cross in the coming years have serious implications for the very survival of Strathcona Provincial Park as a whole as we know it today. This concern applies to all BC Parks across the province. The degree to which they will be affected by climate change will depend on three factors: the stability of their regional biomes, their size and the degree to which they are biologically isolated. The smaller a park is the more vulnerable it is, and the more difficult it will be for its resident species to find nearby alternative habitat.
Lake Beautiful, Strathcona Park
The park is not just a series of geological formations on which life is just an ornament. Its very rocks are embedded with life forms such as lichens that give them their colours and hues. They photosynthesize, hold water and drive chemical cycles essential to life, and geological processes. As John Muir noted: “everything is hitched to everything else.” The park is therefore not just a generalized landscape for our recreation. It is a living biome shaped by its waters and snows that support specialized vegetation which in turn releases the aerosols that give us “mountain highs” and create its winds and rains and microclimates. What happens when these essential elements reach their tolerance limits and disappear?
Green False Hellebore, Strathcona Park
It might be easy to disregard these considerations if their reality and importance were not confirmed by recent research by Dobrowski et al. The title almost says it all: “Protected-area targets could be undermined by climate change-driven shifts in ecoregions and biomes.” This research shows that climate change turns many of the assumptions that have guided conservation and park planning throughout the twentieth century on their head. We assumed that the world changed slowly. It no longer does. We also assumed that we could save and preserve static areas of land that would not change for generations to come. The basic problem is delineated as follows:“The impermanence of species assemblages, communities, and ecosystems pose a challenge to conservation frameworks that rely on protected areas with static boundaries. Conservation plans based on current geographic patterns of biodiversity may be insufficient to support future biota and natural processes and may fail to afford species access to suitable climates as the Earth warms. These challenges raise questions about the efficacy of the existing protected area network and how to expand its coverage under a warming climate.”
Croteau Lake, with Mount Albert Edward in background, Strathcona Park
Sitka Valerean, Strathcona Park
As observed by Dobrowski et al, all official planning, including the much-touted Key Biodiversity Areas ( KBAs) programme, which is central to Canada’s biodiversity conservation plan, Pathway to Canada Target 1, essentially remain products of a static boundary approach.
The political interest in KBAs, and in Pathway to Canada, lies not in conservation per se, but in conservation that still prioritizes and preserves the economic interests of industry. In the KBAs own phrasing, data and boundaries “can help guide conservation investments and inform where development can occur.” KBAs are based on the twin assumptions that governments can continue to promote business as usual, while climate change is stabilized at 1.5 degrees Celsius. For reasons outlined above, we will pass 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030 and if we continue business-as-usual, in the most optimistic scenario we will exceed 2.4 degrees Celsius. Neither of these assumptions is commensurate with the reality we face. While KBAs are an improvement, they do not represent the kind of dynamic approach needed to preserve biodiversity in the face of climate change.
Bedwell Lake, with Mount Tom Taylor in background, Strathcona Park
Current park planning is now as obsolescent as BC’s road and drainage infrastructure planning. Just as the atmospheric rivers tested British Columbia’s engineering standards, and will call for an increase in standards as well as re-assessments of the limits of those standards and a revision of the viability of projects, they also threaten the future of Strathcona Provincial Park and other protected areas. Until now climate change has been treated as a remote afterthought in the idyllic mountains of Vancouver Island. This can no longer be the case. Climate change is not an abstract concept. It threatens all conservation areas in ways for which traditional conservation and park planning are possibly even more woefully unprepared than were BC’s Emergency Services and Ministry of Transportation for recent events that were long forecast.
To understand what the heat dome and the atmospheric rivers mean for Strathcona Park and other protected areas, it may be instructive to learn from what is already unfolding in the iconic Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Ever since the establishment of Yosemite, first as a “protected area” in 1864 and then as a national park in 1890, parks were set aside as representative conservation areas of regional ecosystems. The assumption was that the environment and ecosystems in which they were set would remain relatively unchanged for centuries. Changes we witness today give the lie to that assumption.
Bride’s Bonnet, Strathcona Park
John Muir and countless mountaineers have noted that, against the grandeur and awe of mountains, human beings seem dwarfed by the sheer scale and power of nature. With climate change, all that has changed. As one observer—who worked as an intern at Yosemite in 1992, and returned with her son this year—recently noted in an essay aptly titled “What I saw at Yosemite was devastating”: “Now, almost 30 years later, in what might be the most profound shift of all, the power dynamic between humans and Yosemite has changed. To see nature so vulnerable not only feels depressing, but wrong, disorienting and scary.” In what should be familiar for admirers of Strathcona Provincial Park, the shrinking and potential disappearance of glaciers leading to the disappearance of streams and reduction of mighty rivers to mere trickles has reduced ecosystems at Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks to mere shadows of what they were only a few years ago. With temperatures in the High Sierra valleys reaching 40 degrees Celsius, not only is hiking becoming hazardous to human health, it is endangering the survival of both plants and wildlife.
Baby Bedwell Lake and Mount Tom Taylor, Strathcona Park
Everywhere on this planet the optimal temperature for photosynthesis is 21 degrees Celsius. Plants regulate their environment by orienting and releasing aerosols to maintain photosynthesis. Below that temperature plants can slow down and close down to retain hydric cell environments and maintain life, until conditions to re-start return. Above that plants are stressed to retain the necessary hydric conditions for photosynthesis and cellular integrity. All around the world trees and forest ecosystems are showing signs of heat stress, which is interpreted as part of a global forest dieback.
On the West Coast, an annual succession of floods, drought, heatwaves and wildfires are becoming as common and as expected as sunrise and sunset. They take their toll on trees which are the backbone of our forests. In California, redwoods and giant sequoias, which were once reputed to be adapted ecologically to and dependent on periodic wildfires, are now overwhelmed by the new extreme wildfires such as we have seen in the last decade on the West Coast. In the last two years alone Sequoia National Park has lost 20 percent of its iconic giant sequoias, and the trend is likely to continue. That is climate change at 1.1 degrees Celsius. As climate change progresses to 1.5 degrees Celsius and beyond, similar conditions are likely to be visited upon British Columbia with increasing mortalities of Nootka and red cedars and Douglas fir, which like the atmospheric rivers of November 2021, have long been predicted. There is now an urgency to incorporate this rapidly changing reality in park planning.
Bedwell Lake and Big Interior Mountain, Strathcona Park
Park planning must shift from static paradigms, such as the KBA, to dynamic planning. Dynamic planning means connecting the landscape so that species are provided with the opportunity to move to analog habitats. To survive, species must be provided with corridors to move as climate changes and threats increase, to habitats that are analogous to the ones they inhabit today. Parks in BC are physically isolated units because clearcutting has all too frequently been carried out right to their borders. Biologically, these areas are regionally disconnected by surrounding clearcut operations which have destroyed even the soil fungal networks which would normally provide nutrient avenues for species shifts.
If we are serious about addressing the dangers that climate change poses, we need to restore soil carbon networks and the biodiversity networks that depend on them. In a climate emergency, conservation priorities must guide economic planning, not vice-versa. As Glasgow COP26 showed, climate change is unlikely to be addressed at COP conferences that focus on maintaining the economy and protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industries. It can, however, be addressed at home if we prioritize conservation values in planning, support inventory work and carry out planning dynamically across the landscape, not in isolation.
Deer Cabbage, Strathcona Park
Saving Strathcona Provincial Park at a time of climate change will require that we move beyond the current thinking. As Dobrowski et al observe, to address climate change we need to connect existing protected areas and provide corridors for species movement. Much of the potential resilience of Strathcona Provincial Park lies in its size and central position on Vancouver Island. Within the landscape of Vancouver Island it constitutes a vital biodiversity node. However, important parts of it, such as Forbidden Plateau, form narrow vulnerable projections in a landscape of clearcuts. Those areas of the park need to be expanded to recover the biological buffers that lost ecosystems surrounding the park formerly represented. In the case of Forbidden Plateau that would involve an incorporation of the watersheds associated with Comox Lake, and the extensive restoration of these areas from forestry damage.
Given that a large part of the problem posed by the need to develop dynamic boundaries lies in the impact of forestry operations on the resilience of the park’s ecosystems to climate change, there is an urgent necessity to change policies that guide forestry. Within the paradigm of static boundaries, forestry has been given a free hand in the destruction of areas outside the preserved areas. The park was planned in isolation from forestry, and forestry was planned in isolation from the park. Their interconnections and interdependencies were rarely, if ever, considered. In dynamic planning, we have to recognize the impact of forestry and its importance for the park’s role in maintaining biodiversity. Therefore, in dynamic planning, forestry plans must incorporate and protect conservation area values. In other words, the park community, and parks staff must first understand the dynamic relationship and only then be involved in forestry planning. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and BC Parks must work with forestry and provide plans to protect long-term conservation values across the whole landscape. The overriding concern with climate change alters the social, political and economic priorities. The lead in planning with “Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations” can no longer be forestry and the timber industry, but the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. It requires that forestry and forestry owners and licensees work in concert with BC Parks in prioritizing climate change and biodiversity, and not the “timber supply,” as the Forest and Ranges Practices Act suggests.
Western Bunchberry, Strathcona Park
To address the climate emergency, BC Parks needs to move beyond recreation, important as that is. As per Dobrowski et al, the climate emergency makes the role of conservation and biodiversity in BC Parks increasingly important for the survival of this province’s key biodiversity nodes such as Strathcona Provincial Park. To be serious about assuming that role, BC Parks needs to be able to map species biodiversity in the parks and ecological reserves.
To a large extent that is the underfunded work that the Strathcona Wilderness Institute (SWI) has been doing for the last 3 years. SWI has been compiling and mapping species distribution lists, and promoting public education through workshops and webinars, in spite of COVID. To date, eight people—on foot—have reliably mapped at least 1682 species, which include many species references new to the park and even to Vancouver Island. (The current list on the SWI Data page on iNaturalist is incomplete.) That is the backbone of the information that BC Parks has appropriated on its iNaturalist page. SWI’s work makes Strathcona Provincial Park the best biologically-documented park in the BC Park system.
Cabbage Lichen, Strathcona Park
In 1989 Strathcona Park was saved by the public from government mismanagement. Once again the public needs to weigh in to demand that the Ministry of Environment and BC Parks develop modern park plans based on dynamic boundaries, not static boundaries. That is essential if we are to meet the challenges of climate emergency for the benefit of future generations. This will require a large and long public engagement in the park planning process. It is beyond the boundaries of conventional institutional thinking and capabilities that are beholden to government and industry. We need to think differently about geographical boundaries as well as institutional boundaries. The latter requires rethinking the abusive world of institutional privilege.
The public has now gathered enough information necessary to better manage the park’s biodiversity, for the public benefit. It has done so by providing essential biological data needed to develop modern dynamic landscape planning it has the right to expect. This is essential information needed to meet the challenge of the day: the climate and biodiversity emergencies. The information is limited but enough to plan for the restoration of soil fungal and biodiversity networks essential for enhanced carbon capture and the creation of analogue habitats. The tools and the knowledge are readily available to address climate change. Is there the will?
Therefore the question that needs to guide forestry and BC Parks is: do we take climate change seriously?
Loys Maingon (MA, PhD, MSc, RPBio) is research director of the Strathcona Wilderness Institute and BC Director of the Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists.
Most of the magnificent trees in Cathedral Grove would not meet the strict criteria for being protected under BC’s regulations.
By Johanna Paradis and Lannie Keller
THE BC GOVERNMENT’S RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT of deferrals on 2.6 million hectares of forest reminds us of other commitments to protect some of the remaining big trees in the province. On the surface, the new plans sound encouraging but as with other protection proposals, the devil will be in the details.
On our home islands at the top of the Strait of Georgia, the landscape is in various stages of clearcutting and recovery. In the newer cuts, the alder and salmonberry grow up and thin, revealing enormous stumps that are the dwindling evidence of what-once-was. Two hundred years ago, the Discovery Islands’ forests were very different: magnificent cathedrals of green, light and shadow, columned with massive giants of fir, cedar and hemlock.
These islands have some of BC’s best growing conditions for coastal Douglas-fir. We stand in awe of our largest veterans—for example, the cedar that takes all of our elementary school students to link hands around, and the Douglas-fir mother-tree that presides over salmon-bearing waters.
School children from Surge Narrows visit the White Rock Cedar on Read Island (photo by Lannie Keller)
When we were looking into protection for these last big old trees in the Discovery Islands, we learned about some programs recently touted by the BC government.
In January 2018, BC Timber Sales (BCTS) announced a “Coastal Legacy Tree Program” for its management areas, about 20 percent of BC’s Timber Supply Area. This voluntary option for protection was available for trees exceeding specified diameters, and offered a 56-metre buffer (about 1 hectare) surrounding the tree. At the time, the BC government (Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development) promised additional regulation through the Forest & Range Practices Act (FRPA). They stated that, “The [BCTS] policy will be reviewed to make it stronger.”
However, in September 2020, when the BC government presented its “Special Tree Protection Regulation,” they weakened the possibility of protection by increasing tree size requirements. Previously identified Coastal Legacy Trees which fell short of the new requirements lost their protection. As well, logging companies could file for a permit to cut an identified Special Tree and/or its supporting trees.
It is not clear why government increased the required diameters, or who influenced those changes. We do know that the Coastal Legacy Tree minimum diameters were arbitrarily determined by dividing in half the diameters of the largest known specimens in the province, and these size requirements were upped by the forests ministry. It is noteworthy that tree diameter, as the defining criterion, entirely disregards tree age, height, growing conditions, and other characteristics.
So, with BC’s new Special Tree Regulation in hand, we headed out to measure our islands’ first growth. To our dismay, we soon realized that none of the few remaining giants, nor any of the first growth stumps were big enough to qualify for provincial protection.
Johanna Paradis recording trees in the Discovery Islands (photo by Lannie Keller)
David Broadland measures a large Douglas fir on Quadra Island. With a diameter of 257 centimetres, it’s too small to be on a tree registry. (Photo by Leslie Campbell)
The Discovery Islands are blessed with mild climate, rich soils and abundant precipitation, some of BC’s best growing conditions for coastal Douglas-fir. If Special Trees don’t grow here, where could we find them? And how many trees in BC actually qualify to be Special Trees?
That led us to visit Cathedral Grove.
VANCOUVER ISLAND’S BEST KNOWN and most-visited big trees are at Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park on Highway 4 en route to Port Alberni. Surely those trees would meet BC’s Special Tree criteria? On a rainy day in early October, a few of us from the Discovery Islands met at the Grove to measure its very biggest trees. Of 14 Douglas-fir trees, only 3 were big enough to qualify for protection, 2 of them just-barely. Of the biggest cedar trees, none were big enough to win BC Special Tree Protection status. If Cathedral Grove wasn’t a park, only 3 trees and an adjacent 3 hectares of land would be protected.
The largest Douglas fir in Cathedral Grove qualifies for Special Tree status (photo by Lannie Keller)
This Douglas fir in Cathedral Grove, with a diameter of 266 centimetres (short of the required 270), does not qualify (photo by Lannie Keller)
This Cathedral Grove red cedar doesn’t qualify—it’s diameter is 290 centimetres and the requirement is for 385 centimetres (photo by Lannie Keller)
The BC government estimated its Special Tree Protection Regulation would identify about 1500 trees, resulting in a total protected area of 15 square kilometres [0.0016%] of the provincial land base. But in fact, far less will gain protection because many of the legacy trees are already safe in parks and ecological reserves. The Big Tree Registry (begun in 1986, now managed by UBC) includes all of BC’s identified large trees to date. It lists 457 trees, but 253 are in already-protected areas, and not all of the remaining 204 actually meet the Province’s new requirements. We wonder, if it took 35 years to find and list 457 trees, how long will it take to achieve the new provincial objective of 1500—and who will do it?
BC’s Special Tree Protection Regulation describes an intention to protect big trees, but no plan for implementation. Logging companies are bound by law to record Special Trees, but that industry’s self-regulation and professional reliance have a woeful track record. Log scalers (who evaluate harvest volume) could check for infractions; however, their latest manual makes no reference to the Special Tree Protection Regulation. Will it again be concerned citizens who are tasked to find, measure, verify, and register the additional 1296 trees that are supposedly somewhere in BC’s clearcut landscape?
Clearly, BC’s big tree protection strategy is not a forest protection strategy, or an old growth protection strategy. Its 56-metre buffer amounts to a handful of “supporting” trees protected around a Legacy Tree. The result is lonely old trees isolated in a clearcut—nothing like the interdependent forest ecosystem that was before. Trees need to be part of a forest of sufficient size in order to be resilient to catastrophic events like wind storms, fire, drought, disease and insect invasions. As we are witnessing, these events are becoming more frequent and more intense. Single tree protection is hopelessly inadequate, and the lonely legacy trees are a depressing reminder that we are losing the expansive forests which made BC famous.
Big Lonely Doug near Eden Grove in the Fairy Creek area is aptly named (photo by David Broadland)
The Special Tree Protection Regulation is a token gesture by a business-as-usual government that is attempting to placate the public into thinking it is addressing the issue of disappearing old growth. In actual fact, more than 97 percent of BC’s rich lower elevation forests have been logged. Less than 3 percent of the habitats required for growing legacy trees remain intact
If BC’s government was genuinely concerned about protecting big trees, they would have listened to experts and citizen concerns, and at the very least they would have reduced the size requirements. Government did the opposite, with a public relations stunt that serves the logging industry, and diverts public attention away from the real issues of deforestation, habitat destruction, and loss of old growth and biodiversity. The real and urgent need is to protect BC’s remaining old forests, and to create an effective plan for ensuring the recruitment of younger forests as future old growth.
The Big Tree Protection program demonstrates yet again how BC’s government disregards forests and democracy. The overwhelming majority of British Columbians want to protect all remaining old growth. We desperately want to believe that government is doing the right thing, following through on promises, waking up to the urgent needs of today, and heeding science. But, the NDP’s newest deferrals are vague and untested. This time, let’s keep the pressure on government to be honest and responsible to the land and its people.
Lannie Keller is grateful for the beauty of living in a forest by the sea. She and her family run a kayaking company from their homestead in the outer Discovery Islands. Johanna Paradis has a technician background in Fish & Wildlife work. She has spent the last 13 years homesteading and raising wild kids on a remote coastal island. Lannie and Johanna, along with a score of others, work together on local forestry issues.
News of old-growth deferrals has set the press on fire with fears of catastrophic job losses.
The sawmill at Clear Lake south of Prince George, closed in 2011, once supported about 200 workers
BESIDES THE FACT we will suffer catastrophic job losses one way or the other, when the rapidly dwindling accessible old-growth is extirpated, missing from this discussion is the fact many communities have already suffered tremendously. But the perpetrator wasn’t conservation. It was “progress,” or in other words, unrestrained capitalism.
Between 1997 and 2017 we lost around 50,000 forestry jobs, almost half the entire forestry work force in this province. Whole communities were scattered to the wind overnight. Conservation had nothing to do with these job losses. Consolidation of mills, automation, and “investment” did.
Take Clear Lake, for example, a small mill south of Prince George where I worked as a teenager that produced 120,000 board feet a shift with around 200 workers. That’s around 10 logging truck loads a shift to employ 200 people. It was the most inefficient mill in BC, with green chains, human lumber graders, and community spirit. It never lost money. It was shut down in 2010 and production shifted to Canfor’s super mill at Bear Lake, a place that produces 10 times the lumber (1.2 million board feet a shift) with probably half the workforce.
In other words, we lost a mill that provided 20 times more jobs per unit of public timber cut compared to the heavily capitalized, heavily automated mills that remained open. This story has been replicated across the province. Combined with bigger equipment, trucks with eight and even nine axles compared to the old five axle trucks, the huge processors, the feller bunchers, industry has shed thousands of good paying, satisfying bush jobs due to “investment.”
We hear a lot about how important “investment” is in the forest industry. We hear about companies like Canfor taking their “investment” to other jurisdictions as if this is a mortal threat to our forests and our forest workers. The reality is, “investment” has been the primary cause of job losses. Sawmilling is fundamentally primitive. The more technology invested, the fewer workers there are. None of this is necessary.
The value is in the public timber.
You can make money hauling logs out of the bush with a four-wheeler, a $400 chainsaw, and cutting it on a $30,000 woodmizer and planing it on a $20,000 four-sided logosol planer. We have invested our way out of a sustainable industry that once provided enormous public and social benefits and instead chews through our forests at an unbelievable pace with a fraction of the previous work-force to maximize profits for global shareholders while leaving communities decimated in their wake.
Smaller mills cutting only what BC needs for its own use could employ more people than the super mills built for the export market
As a society we need to ask ourselves why putting 50,000 people out of work to maximize corporate profits was apparently acceptable, while saving the last of our old growth for far fewer job losses is not. Furthermore, we don’t even need to lose jobs. We need to go back to small mills and more diverse ownership, break up the monopsonies and monopolies that we no doubt suffer under, and reclaim some of those 50,000 jobs that were lost so the big companies could earn record profits.
The fact we cared nothing for those 50,000 lost jobs, and are red-faced in anger at the fact the head offices can’t decimate the last of our productive old growth, speaks to a fundamental intellectual and moral impoverishment amongst us. We ought to be red-faced in shame for not making a bigger stink about the gutting of our communities and the ripping off of public resources by out-of-control capitalism over the past 20 years, on the mistaken premise that that’s just “progress.” I suggest we take a good hard look at where progress has gotten us: denuded landscapes, red-listed species, shut down mills, ghost towns, and ever more unequal wealth distribution.
A high level ministry of forests official implied that logging will be allowed in recently announced old-growth deferral areas.
JUST BEFORE FORESTS MINISTER KATRINE CONROY announced 2-year deferrals on logging of old growth in 2.6 million hectares of BC forest, a virtual “technical” press briefing was held. The presenters were high-level officials of the ministry of forests. The ministry didn’t want reporters to actually report on what was said at that event, and the regular contingent of pundits and reporters who attended appear to have obediently complied with the “not for attribution” proviso. With respect, I decline to be obedient—or fooled again.
One of the questions asked by a reporter—and the response from Assistant Deputy Minister David Muter—was so informative that I feel compelled to report what I heard (and recorded). Below is the reporter’s question followed by Muter’s response.
Reporter: “In the past, old-growth deferral areas still allowed for logging of second growth, cutting new forestry roads, that type of thing. People saw some major activity in and around some major trees. Is that still allowed here? Is it still allowed to have activity in deferral areas, logging in and around the rare and ancient trees?”
Assistant Deputy Minister David Muter: “I think you are asking about the deferral areas done in September 2020, and those deferral orders prevented the harvest of old growth within the identified areas. That was just under approximately 200,000 hectares of old growth identified and the order prevented the harvest of old growth in those stands. There were some specific exemptions in the minister’s order for cultural harvest to support Indigenous nations and I think there was some specific aspects that allowed the removal of hazardous trees. But these orders prevented the harvest of old growth within identified areas.”
Muter then paused, long enough for the facilitator to think he had finished. Perhaps realizing that he hadn’t actually answered the reporter’s question, Muter went on: “The recommendations from the panel are to prevent the harvest of old growth in these identified areas of 2.6 million hectares and that’s going to be the focus of our discussions with Indigenous nations based on that recommendation.”
In the end, Muter didn’t answer the reporter’s question directly, which was: Is logging of “second growth” trees and development of logging roads in the deferral areas going to be allowed? Muter’s response was that “harvest” of old-growth in those areas would be deferred.
I emailed Muter asking that he clarify whether logging would be allowed in the deferral areas. He didn’t respond by my deadline. Instead, a public affairs officer sent a 136-word email that avoided addressing the question.
My read of Muter’s response to the reporter’s very specific question is that logging will be allowed in these deferral areas. Within a deferral area, unless a tree is “old growth,” it would appear it can be logged. Muter made it clear that this is the case for the “200,000 hectares” where logging of old growth was deferred last year.
Following Conroy’s public announcement about the deferral areas, I contacted forest scientist Rachel Holt, who was one of five people on the old-growth review panel that had recommended the 2-year logging deferrals on 2.6 million hectares. Holt had not been in attendance at the press briefing.
I read her the reporter’s question and Muter’s response. Did the issue of whether logging would be allowed in the deferral areas even come up in the months-long discussion with the ministry? It had not, she said, but she didn’t believe that it was the intention of the ministry to allow logging of younger trees around the old-growth trees. Yet that had clearly been the intention of the ministry in its 2020 deferral areas, and it didn’t make that clear at the time, either.
Holt, along with forest scientist Karen Price and forester Dave Dauss, authored the seminal BC’s Old Growth Forests: A Last Stand for Biodiversity. That report, published in mid-2020, warned of the high risk of biodiversity loss BC faces as a result of over exploitation of old-growth forests. I asked Holt if leaving old trees standing but logging everything between them would provide protection for biodiversity. “No,” she said.
To give you a picture of what loggable deferrals might look like on the ground, consider the image below. I photographed this group of 250- to 400-year-old Douglas firs in TFL 47 on Quadra Island. The largest tree in this small grove measured 22.5 feet in circumference at breast height. Every single small tree between them, save one, had been removed.
This is how old growth forest is managed for biodiversity on Quadra Island, which is a Special Management Zone under the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (Photo by David Broadland)
Old-growth forests are almost always a mix of different tree species of different ages. The younger trees are not plantation regrowth, or “second growth.” They are an essential component of an old-growth forest, which is a dynamic process that can go on for thousands of years. On Quadra Island, like elsewhere, the plants and animals that live in these forests are not found in plantations created by humans following clearcutting: The Northern Goshawk, the Marbelled Murrelet, the Northern Red-legged Frog, the Northern Pygmy Owl, the Wandering Salamander, and so on. They all need a complete old-growth forest to survive, not just the big, old trees.
In the—let’s call it the old-growth deferral area—on Quadra Island, the ground was littered with logging slash and several unburned piles remained. The land between the trees had been heavily disturbed and machinery had been driven through a small creek; the creek passed through a culvert under a branch of the main road. The road was heavily ballasted with rock which had been obtained by blasting bedrock in the deferral area. Roads like this are unlikely to ever support trees, let alone biodiversity.
I photographed this area on June 22, just as the “heat dome” was building over the Pacific Northwest. The temperature in the deferral area was almost unbearable, yet intact forest nearby remained cool.
Managing for old-forest retention and biodiversity in a Special Management Zone means clearcutting around old trees and leaving slash piles, permanent roads and damaged hydrological function (Photo by David Broadland)
Why were these old trees left by the logging company, TimberWest? This area of Quadra Island was given rare “Special Management Zone” status under the 2004 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. The main objective of SMZ 19 was to “sustain forest ecosystem structure and forest attributes associated with mature and old forests.” Driving that was recognition of the need to preserve “structural forest attributes and elements with important biodiversity functions.” The trees were left to protect against loss of biodiversity, in particular the species listed above.
Most of the requirements established for SMZ 19 have been ignored by the company and ministry, and the community has lost track of what was supposed to happen.
Given Muter’s response to the reporter’s question, this appears to be what the ministry of forests has in mind for the 2.6 million hectares of forest that has been mapped as “deferral areas.”
I asked forester Herb Hammond what effect logging between old trees would have on those forests. Hammond is a well-known advocate for creating a new, ecologically-based relationship between humans and forests.
Hammond replied, “Logging in old-growth forests destroys old-growth attributes, like multi-layered canopies, irregular canopy gaps, lichen populations throughout the canopy and on the ground, decayed fallen trees. All of these components of an old-growth forest play vital roles, from interception, storage, and filtration of water to provision of unique habitats for specialized species that only live in old-growth forests, like carnivorous beetles necessary to keep herbivorous beetles in check in the surrounding landscape. Simply put, logging in an old-growth deferral area eliminates old-growth protection in that area and just moves us closer to the travesty of losing the benefits of old-growth forests that are vital to maintaining forest integrity, both in the old forests and in the young forests beyond. Logging and old-growth forests is an oxymoron and the height of human-centred thinking.”
Rachel Holt says: “I feel really positive with where we’re at.” But she also says, “the proof is in the pudding.”
It is going to take a large, dedicated community of forest watchers to monitor the making of the pudding. The ministry itself is under immense pressure from the logging industry to permit removal of as much of the remaining old-growth forests in the timber harvesting land base as is physically possible. It’s up to the rest of us to guard the larger public interest—protection of our life support systems.
David Broadland and others are working on a tool that will soon allow the community of vigilant mindustry watchers to up their game and monitor the making of the pudding more closely.
The old-growth logging blockades in TFL 46 have impacted Teal Cedar’s logging far more than anyone apparently wants to admit.
Ordinary British Columbians march across the wide exclusion zone set up by the RCMP at Fairy Creek Rainforest (Photo by Alex Harris)
A FEW WEEKS AGO, just before BC Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson denied an extension of an injunction against old-growth forest defenders on southern Vancouver Island, climate activist Greta Thunberg spoke at a Youth4Climate event in Milan. Yes, there is a connection.
Thunberg’s much-quoted speech went like this: “There is no Planet B. Blah, blah, blah. Build Back Better. Blah, blah, blah. A green economy. Blah, blah, blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah. Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises. Of course we need constructive dialogue. But they’ve now had 30 years of blah, blah, blah. Where has that led us? Over 50 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions have occurred since 1990, and one-third since 2005. If this is what they consider to be climate action, then we don’t want it. They invite—cherry pick—young people to meetings like this to pretend that they are listening to us. But they are not. They are clearly not listening to us, and they never have. Just look at the numbers. Emissions are still rising. The science doesn’t lie.”
Even as Thunberg heaped scorn on governments around the world for their inaction, forest activists in BC were successfully cutting the immense carbon emissions caused by a single logging company, Teal Cedar Ltd. How do we know this?
Buried in a BC government database is an interesting record that should give the Fairy Creek forest defenders and climate activists a moment of pride and hope. The numbers show the defenders have gone far beyond institutional blah, blah, blah and are now deep into the realm of effective action to reduce emissions. In fact, they may be pioneering the kind of action that is apparently going to be needed—given institutional failure to act—to actually reduce carbon emissions.
Like all other companies logging publicly owned forest on Crown land in BC, Teal Cedar’s cut is tracked by the ministry of forests’ Harvest Billing System. The volumes it records are made public. The ministry’s records show that in the first 8 months of 2021, overall logging by all companies on the BC coast was up by 40 percent over the same period in 2020. That’s because there were extraordinarily high prices for lumber at the time. But Teal’s own volumes were down 40 percent over the same period in 2020. Effectively, Teal’s logging volume was down 80 percent from what we would have expected.
This decline in Teal’s operations occurred both on its Tree Farm Licence 46 on Vancouver Island and in Timber Supply Area 30 in the Chilliwack Natural Resource District. Teal’s decline on the mainland, where there were no blockades, was smaller than the decline on Vancouver Island where the blockades have occurred, but it was still substantial. Yet in its application to the BC Supreme Court for an extension of the injunction against the blockades, Teal didn’t mention this huge decline in its logging. Instead, in making a case that the blockades were harming the company economically, it focussed on the much smaller decline in its operation that resulted from not being able to access trees behind blockades.
We can speculate on why Teal experienced such a dramatic decline in its logging operations, but we don’t know for sure. Teal and the lawyer handling its injunction extension application did not respond to repeated requests for information. One possibility is that Teal was unable to assure its logging contractors, both on Vancouver Island and the mainland, that their operations wouldn’t be subject to blockades. With plenty of other logging occurring in a red-hot lumber market, those companies may have opted for less controversial settings in which to work. Another possibility is that the negative publicity Teal’s old-growth logging has received internationally has affected its ability to sell products that use old-growth forests, like cedar shakes and shingles.
The decline in Teal’s logging is unexpectedly good news for those British Columbians concerned about the province’s outsized contributions to the climate crisis and the collapse in biodiversity. Clearcut logging significantly exacerbates both those growing threats to civilizational stability. Consider the impact on emissions from the reduction in Teal’s logging.
If Teal had performed as well in the first 8 months of 2021 as did other coastal logging companies, the carbon emissions associated with its logging would have been approximately 692,000 tonnes higher than they were. (See the methodology we used for this calculation.) That’s roughly equivalent to 70 percent of the emissions attributable to annual cement production in BC, and it’s equivalent to taking 150,000 typical passenger vehicles off the road for a year in BC. That’s real action.
The blockades, it turns out, are the opposite of “blah, blah, blah.”
Although it’s not clear why the blockades had such a dramatic effect on Teal’s logging, it’s apparent that this is a far more effective way to reduce carbon emissions than any of the blah-blah-blah schemes dreamed up so far by the provincial government. The most recent data shows provincial emissions rose from 66 megatonnes in 2017 to 68.5 megatonnes in 2018. Those numbers, though, don’t include emissions resulting from forest removal or the impact on atmospheric carbon from the loss of carbon sequestration capacity caused by logging. Nor does it include the emissions from forest fires that have been made worse by the growing area of clearcuts and highly flammable plantations that now dominate the southern half of BC.
While our political institutions are failing to reduce emissions, the blockades are succeeding.
The public, it would seem, has found an effective way to counter the damage being done to an important public interest—climate stability—by a private company whose damaging activity is sanctioned by the BC government.
This has created an interesting tension between the judicial system and the political system. Instead of resolving the old-growth logging issue in a substantive fashion like Premier Horgan said he would during last year’s election campaign, the premier and his cabinet decided to kick the issue into the judicial system and let the RCMP knock some sense into the old-growth defenders. But the depth of commitment of the Fairy Creek forest defenders to the larger public interest involved—protecting the planet’s life support system—guaranteed Horgan’s maneuver wouldn’t work. So when Teal sought to extend the injunction, the court tried to kick the issue back where it belongs.
In his written decision, Justice Thompson wrote, “While a powerful case might be made for the protection of what remains of British Columbia’s old growth temperate rainforests, and this issue is of considerable public interest and importance, the evidence marshalled to support this argument cannot be considered. With due respect for the forceful submissions I received to the contrary, I conclude that to take account of this type of public interest would amount to contempt of constitutional constraints on judicial powers.”
Instead of the public interests that motivated the forest defenders to set up the blockades, Justice Thompson focussed on what he called “legally relevant public interests.” For Justice Thompson this boiled down to the controversial behaviour of some members of the RCMP enforcing the injunction and, arising from that behaviour, “the public interest in protecting the Court from the risk of further depreciation of its reputation.”
Thompson declined to extend the injunction based on his concern for the court’s reputation. That would have created more pressure on Horgan to take more substantive action to resolve the conflict. Ironically, the court’s reputation was further depreciated by the subsequent stay on Thompson’s decision granted by Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein.
This is a remarkable frustration of the public interest: On the one hand we have the actions of a small but courageous group of BC citizens that have caused the emissions associated with a logging company’s operations to decline by over 690,000 tonnes. On the other hand, we have the court making a decision based on its concern about its public image being damaged by the RCMP, followed by a quick, image-damaging reversal of that decision.
Which of these two actions—the blockaders reducing carbon emissions or the justice system tripping over itself—is most likely to produce a result that’s truly in the public interest?
Before you answer that question, take a moment to consider how far off course BC has drifted from doing anything about reducing its carbon emissions, which are threatening the planet’s life support system.
According to the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, humanity can only emit an additional 460 billion tonnes of carbon and still have a 50 percent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. How much of that 460 billion tonnes can be emitted in British Columbia? Although per capita emissions in BC are, historically, amongst the worst in the world, let’s just assume that of the remaining carbon budget, we have the same right, per capita, as any other people to emit more carbon. If you do the arithmetic, BC’s remaining carbon budget would be about 299 megatonnes. That would have to last us until we reached the magical state of net-zero emissions, supposedly in 2050. So that 299 megatonnes needs to last another 29 years. Will we be able to keep within our budget? Definitely not.
BC emitted 68.5 megatonnes in 2018 from just the sources for which we are currently counting emissions. This does not include, however, emissions caused by logging roughly 250,000 hectares of forests each year. For 2018 the Province put “forest management” emissions at 237 megatonnes. In 2018, then, BC went through its entire 29-year carbon budget. And it’s very likely going to get worse if we stick with our current destructive use of forests. By the way, 80 percent of that destruction occurs so BC can export forest products to support economic growth in China, Japan and the USA. The USA and China are the planet’s worst emitters. Japan is fifth on that list.
Justice Thompson couldn’t cut through the blah, blah, blah of provincial inaction. He was limited to worrying about the court’s reputation being besmirched by the brutality committed by the RCMP in its BC-government-sanctioned action to crush the people’s rebellion against climate change and biodiversity loss.
These circumstances don’t exactly instil one with confidence that the institutions that are supposed to guard the public interest have a clear idea of what needs to be protected first and foremost. If our life support systems are dead, the court’s reputation won’t matter. What’s desperately needed are more actions like those taken by the forest defenders at Fairy Creek. Anything else is just going to be more blah, blah, blah.
David Broadland is grateful for the selfless efforts of all the people who have visited the blockades and participated in defending the old-growth forests at Fairy Creek and the Argonaut Valley this year.
The provincial government, by ignoring science, has fostered social unrest.
By Loys Maingon and John Neilson
GOVERNMENTS THAT IGNORE SCIENCE imperil the public interest, as we have seen nationally with COVID. BC Supreme Court Justice Thompson found that for the past six months, RCMP activities at Fairy Creek, supported by BC’s government, defied the public interest. Where was science at Fairy Creek, and, as it fostered social unrest, did BC’s government listen to science?
The stand-off in the rapidly-disappearing old-growth forests of southern British Columbia has resulted in over twelve months of public protest, five months of unwarranted RCMP violence, the arrest of over 1100 citizens, as well as the destruction of populations of endangered species. Yet the BC government has shown no leadership in resolving the crisis. We argue that the BC government showed utter disregard for the role of science, and in doing so, it ignored the crucial socially-unifying role of science that could have resolved contentious issues.
Science is our collective common ground. You cannot argue against the facts. Science is neither a government plot nor an individually-held set of beliefs. Science is an objective set of established facts in which diverse communities can find common ground. It is a good government’s obligation to find common ground for all citizens. As noted recently by John Kerry: “Science delivers the clarity of knowledge.”
Justice Douglas Thompson’s ruling has ended an injunction that brought the law, and science, into disrepute. The abhorrent spectacle of public unrest and police violence that British Columbians have witnessed over the past year at Fairy Creek as well as the associated taxpayers’ costs of an extended police presence, were totally avoidable, had the government of BC respected its own forestry and environmental guidelines, and collected minimal scientific information before authorizing logging operations.
In May of this year Dr. Royann Petrell documented the presence of a hitherto undocumented population of an at-risk species, Western Screech owl (Megascops kennicottii) in the Caycuse to Port Renfrew region. That new knowledge alone should have triggered a pause and review of logging plans. As scientists, it signalled to us the need to review all available information on other species at risk that could be affected.
A Western Screech owl. This blue-listed species was found nesting in the vicinity of Teal Cedar logging operations. (Photo by Dominic Sherony via Wikipedia)
A search for information about species-at-risk in the Fairy Creek area revealed that no biological survey had actually been carried out prior to the issuance of logging permits. There was no knowledge of what species might be extirpated or destroyed by clearcutting. The government, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) and the industry were proceeding without any “clarity of knowledge.” Regrettably, that seems to be routine practice. In BC, logging proceeds without clear knowledge of its impacts on biodiversity, as determined in the recent BC Forest Practices Board’s Nahmint decision.
We formed a group of professional scientists and naturalists to carry out a rapid, systematic survey of the Fairy Creek watershed in mid-May. As we were denied access by the RCMP we informed the minister of FLNRO of our concerns and sought ministerial permits to obtain objective information. A dismissive response was only had after an Ombudsman complaint. Nevertheless, access was facilitated by Chiefs Bill Jones and Victor Peter, and we were able to carry out two short surveys. The results can be found on the INaturalist website “Fairy Creek Research” where we document the presence of 325 species.
In spite of limited access, we readily identified 16 previously undocumented listed species-at-risk, ranging from Little Brown Bats ( Myotis lucifugus) to the rare blue-listed oldgrowth specklebelly lichen ( Pseudocyphellaria rainierensis ). This is a species of lichens for which BC has committed to the federal government “to secure long-term protection for the known populations and habitats.…” A young artist/naturalist, Tasha Lavdovsky, found this unique population in June on both living trees and trees felled by Teal Cedar in contravention of FLNRO guidelines for this vulnerable species. We informed Teal Cedar, FLNRO staff and the minister via the BC Forest Practices Board. Teal Cedar responded, acknowledging its receipt of the “important information,” but no plan was offered by either Teal or the provincial government on how they intended to protect the rare species. Incredibly, Teal Cedar has now resumed its logging operations in the immediate vicinity of the rare lichens, and reports from the field indicate that more host trees have been destroyed.
Natasha Lavdovsky looking at oldgrowth specklebelly growing side by side with Lobaria linita (the greener lichen), on a tree marked with falling boundary tape, indicating the edge of a future clearcut beside a creek/riparian reserve (photo by Natasha Lavdovsky)
It is doubtful that many British Columbians would approve of the needless destruction of endangered species. Yet, it happens all the time and is facilitated by a government that has failed to meet its 2017 promise that it would enact species-at-risk legislation. This same government also campaigned in 2020 on the promise that it would implement every recommendation of the Merkel/Gorley report on old growth, A New Future for Old Forests, submitted in April 2020. Since early August 2021, the cabinet has been in possession of the report of the “Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel.” Yet this government continues to display a collective amnesia concerning its past public promises to improve its forestry practices and commitments to protect biodiversity.
By its own inactions, BC’s government has denied itself and all British Columbians the benefits of clarity of knowledge. A government that proceeds without clarity of knowledge can only lay the foundation for social chaos and conflict. This summer’s events at Fairy Creek are a confirmation of that. The end of the injunction provides an important opportunity for all parties to work together to reach mutually-agreeable conclusions. We call on this government to act on science to find common ground for all British Columbians.
Loys Maingon (MA, PhD, MSc, RPBio) is research director of the Strathcona Wilderness Institute and BC Director of the Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists.
John Neilson (BSc., MNRM, PhD) is the past co-chair (2016-2019) for Marine Fishes, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and past scientist emeritus (2013-2016) with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Two years ago John Horgan commissioned an updated report on the status and management of old growth forests in BC. Now he’s cherry-picking it to his own advantage.
WHEN PREMIER JOHN HORGAN CALLED called a snap election last fall, he found himself promising, if re-elected, to implement all 14 recommendations of A New Future for Old Growth, a recently released report by an independent review panel consisting of expert foresters Garry Merkel and Al Gorley.
For Horgan, it was a case of promise now, to get the Green Party off his operating ticket, and worry about the logistics later, once his desired majority had been achieved. The tactic worked, at least in the short run.
Horgan himself had commissioned the report in 2019, tasking the panelists to “engage British Columbians and collect their views on the importance and future of old growth in the province.” The response from all over was clear, the government declared on its website: “It is time for change.”
To those wanting the ancient and increasingly rare temperate rainforests permanently preserved and protected, the report flickered hope and perhaps—finally—some meaningful action. The authors reminded the government that this wasn’t the first report on old growth management. An Old Growth Strategy for British Columbia had been released in 1992 but many of its recommendations had either been only partially fulfilled or become political flotsam along the way.
Had that report been fully embraced, Merkel and Gorley wrote, we would now likely not be facing “high risk to loss of biodiversity in many ecosystems, risk to potential economic benefits due to uncertainty and conflict, [and] widespread lack of confidence in the system of managing forests.”
This time around, they advised, all 14 of the report’s recommendations must be implemented as a whole within three years’ time.
Essentially, the authors warned the government not to pick a recommendation or two to chew on in isolation—a widely tried and tested political tactic for stalling while appearing to be busy as gangbusters.
The authors would have known what they were up against. Garry Merkel, himself a member of the Tahltan Nation, told the media in late 2020 that in BC, “we’re [still] managing ecosystems—that are in some cases thousands of years old—on a four-year political cycle.”
The decline in old-growth forests in Fairy Creek area: “non-renewable in any reasonable timeframe” (drone photo by Alex Harris)
Throughout their report, the authors emphasized the alarming rate of decline in old-growth forests as well as their intrinsic value and irreplaceability. On page 14: “Old forests, especially those with very large trees…anchor ecosystems that are critical to the well-being of many species of plants and animals, including people, now and in the future. The conditions that exist in many of these forests and ecosystems are also simply non-renewable in any reasonable timeframe.”
On page 27 they identified 13 of the “many values of forests with old and ancient trees” including unique, essential and undiscovered biodiversity, resistance to fire, and intrinsic value for human well-being and perpetual tourism.
For years the Province and closely-aligned industry (too close, as David Broadland has shown in Focus) have narrowly defined old growth as trees that, in the Interior, are more than 140 years old, and on the coast more than 250 years old. But that’s been an inadequate and industry-serving definition, the authors explain. Every inaccessible (and therefore never logged) forest in the province will contain trees of all ages, from the saplings to the ancients, so under that definition, these can all be called old-growth forests.
This classification helps to inflate old-growth inventory and mislead the public. When you can dump all of the province’s stunted, out-of-reach forests in with the salient and accessible rainforest giants without specifying the difference, it’s easy to fool the public into thinking we’re so flush with forests like Cathedral Grove that unfettered logging of coastal old growth is not an issue.
But the authors are tolerating none of that, and in the report, they carefully and systematically show how little of the unprotected intact, coastal old growth is left.
“We often hear that, ‘oh, we have nothing to worry about because we have 50 percent of our old-growth left,’” Merkel told the media in an interview last January. “And I think some of the people who are saying that actually believe it because they don’t understand the science. Very few people understand the science. And so, then it just becomes a big numbers game. But almost all of that 50 percent [of alleged old growth] right now is at the tops of mountains and has tiny little trees.”
What’s especially troubling—and classic stonewalling—is that Horgan tacitly continues to let these distorted perceptions float around in the ether, despite hard evidence to the contrary in his own commissioned report.
Misleading the general public is disgraceful enough, but allowing the false narrative of a plumped-up inventory to percolate through the industry and among its employees for the purpose of riling them up against folks who would rather see the forests preserved, is deliberately pushing the dirty work down the line.
All the way down to the impasse, where the logger waving a “Forestry Feeds My Family” placard stands glaring at an activist gripping a “Worth More Standing” banner.
Where unarmed Indigenous youth on their territory are roughed-up and, in at least one case, injured by swearing, enraged loggers “just trying to do an honest day’s work,” as the cliché goes.
Where blinkered law enforcement follows orders that reek and will inevitably result in serious harm at some point.
Where a logger’s wife, incensed by the blockaders keeping her man off the job, shouts into a television camera to, “bring in the forces, bring in the military, clear their asses out…,” her pointing finger stabbing the air in every direction. She then asks darkly, “How far can you push a family man?”
There’s scant room for exploring real solutions when you’re working with blatantly inaccurate information.
EQUALLY GUILEFUL is how the government has chosen to interpret the report’s 14 recommendations, which the authors grouped under four headings. The first five on the list are under the heading:“On conditions required for change.” The first of these—Number One on the list—is to “Engage the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations to review this report and any subsequent policy or strategy development and implementation.”
A chart in Gorley and Merkel’s report summarized these recommendations:
Page16 of A New Future for Old Growth
While Indigenous involvement is certainly a top priority, the authors make it clear it’s not intended to stall everything else on the list until fulfilled. Considering the centuries of chronic colonial wrongs, and all the bungling ways in which successive governments have dealt with that, Horgan and his cohorts would be stuck on this one well beyond the three-year timeframe. Nearly a year has already passed if you’re counting from the election date, nearly a year and a half if you’re counting from the report’s release date. All this to say that the other 13 recommendations would almost certainly be left unfulfilled.
Nonetheless, Premier Horgan and Katrine Conroy, minister of forests and so much more, are sticking to their message that this is the most important item on the list—it’s the first!—and they seem happy to hang their hat there for the long haul. Whenever they appear in front of a mic, it’s always the same stalling talk that comes out—about the need to first consult with First Nations, about respect (which they have yet to translate into anything economically meaningful), and about all the work to be done, getting the work done, and doing the work.
It’s a good place to be stuck if you don’t want to tackle anything else in the report. No critic would be so politically gauche as to challenge this effort, especially now, with the discovery of all those graves.
It’s a very good place to be stuck if you want to keep your eyes averted from the two urgent recommendations singled out For Immediate Response: Numbers Six and Seven state in full: “ Until a new strategy is implemented, defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.  Bring management of old forests into compliance with existing provincial targets and guidelines for maintaining biological diversity.”
To legitimize #1 as the top priority and deflect anticipated outrage—especially since old-growth management is the heart of the report, and stopping the saws is an escalating public demand—the ministry tweaked the panel’s chart so as to be better aligned with it. The revised chart on the forests ministry website appears below. (Keep in mind that the election promise was to accept the recommendations, not modify them to better fit the government agenda.)
The new heading—Prioritizing the Panel’s Recommendations—is the first sign that things have been rearranged. The banner is gone, and the Conditions Required for Change have been individually redistributed under the other three headings that have also been altered. Where did the first Condition land? Exactly where the government wanted it—still Number One on the list of 14 but now also leading the list of Immediate Measures (formerly For Immediate Response). Now it unabashedly presents as the government’s top priority.
The government’s re-do of the A New Future for Old Growth report recommendations
As for Number 6, the immediate deferral of logging “in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss,” Horgan and Conroy made a few failed and farcical attempts to lock in the perception that old growth was now adequately protected. Last fall they announced protection for nine supposedly old-growth areas, and this spring they deferred logging for 2 years on 2000 hectares in Fairy Creek. Under closer scrutiny, both of these announcements swiftly shrank to almost nothing (see here and here).
If the Ministry was really serious about partnering with First Nations on the management of old growth, you’d think it would actually listen to First Nations. To people like Grand Chief Stewart Philip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, who, in a recent Stand.earth video, had blunt advice for Horgan: “If you’re committed to working with Indigenous peoples, stop the logging of old growth immediately.”
You’d think the ministry would stop talking at Indigenous people, given how they’ve so publicly embraced Recommendation #1. But no. A new Forestry Intentions Paper—another paper!—drew reproach just days ago from the Tŝilhqot’in, Lake Babine and Carrier Sekani First Nations, who in a joint letter panned the government for developing yet another forest policy paper without Indigenous participation. “This is not a roadmap for a more just and robust future together,” wrote Chief Murphy Abraham of the Lake Babine Nation, “but rather a ringing endorsement of the status quo that ensures continuing conflict and uncertainty in our forests.”
You’d think the government would also note that 85 percent of British Columbians now support an immediate end to old-growth logging. That support will only increase, thanks to the government-orchestrated fiasco at Fairy Creek, where blockaders tenaciously defending humanity’s right to preserve a healthy and diverse environment have experienced needless hardship and suffering at the hands of the RCMP, especially in the last few weeks. They’ve been unfairly portrayed, vilified and shrugged off by the various Goliaths in this saga, and from the media they’ve received a wall of indifference. Regardless of how this eventually unfolds, the RCMP is set to fall even further from grace, and the NDP brand will be the biggest casualty of all.
Video clip of RCMP assaulting Fairy Creek forest defenders with pepper spray
AFTER 71 PAGES OF MAKING A BALANCED CASE for preserving the old forests, the authors concluded their report this way: “Our ever-expanding understanding of forest behaviour and management, as well as the effects of climate change, have made it clear that we can no longer continue to harvest timber and manage forests using the approaches we have in the past while also conserving the forest values we cherish. We therefore have to be honest with ourselves and collectively and transparently make the difficult choices necessary to ensure future generations of British Columbians can enjoy and benefit from our magnificent forests, as we have done.”
The government remains unmoved.
Or maybe not. In June, after an onslaught of criticism, Minister Conroy selected yet another panel of experts, this time a five-person “Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel” to help further identify the most at-risk old growth forests. The panelists are a stellar group and include the indefatigable Garry Merkel. Maybe it’s a sign more deferrals are coming. Maybe it’s another round on the carousel to nowhere. Maybe it’ll be another report to tweak when nobody’s looking.
In the meantime, the talking continues over the whine of the saws. For now, the government still believes it can have it all while leaving the rest of us in the sawdust.
Trudy is feeling the mental strain of climate change, environmental degradation and irretrievable biodiversity loss, and finds it distressing to know there are people who still believe the government will fix everything. She’s thankful for the garden, nature and the people in her life who help her keep it all together. She may yet become a raging granny.
The RCMP’s continued flouting of the BC Supreme Court ruling on exclusion zones corrodes faith in the justice system.
ON A LOGGING ROAD NEAR ADA-ITSX/FAIRY CREEK watershed, an RCMP police sergeant and a forest defender are holding hands, with tears in their eyes, having a deep conversation about civil liberties, and the price of democracy.
They each share the most intimate moment about their family histories.
Mist is a middle aged woman who feels that ruthless deforestation has turned her province into a tinderbox. She feels responsible, as an older person, to “do something.”
“The Sergeant” is an RCMP officer, whose job is to enforce a BC Supreme Court injunction against citizens interfering with active logging in TFL-46. The Sergeant wants to know why Mist is so determined to cross the police line and get arrested.
She replies, “My Jewish ancestry contains generations of survivors, who fought hard and took tremendous risks. If they didn’t have a tradition as justice fighters, I wouldn’t be here.”
Mist, on far left, with Lady Chainsaw, and members of the RCMP (RFS photo)
The Sergeant softens. “I came to Canada from a war-torn country, where members of my family were raped and murdered. All the ‘protest’ we were allowed was to go and light candles outside the door of the church.”
Mist and the Sergeant share a long, quiet moment together. Mist says: “I’m sorry, I’m deeply sorry—but how did that work out for you, just lighting candles? If I were to go Downtown and light a candle, and wait for the wheels of justice to turn, all of the ancient forests would be liquidated.”
“Understood,” says the Sergeant.
“How can I stand by and watch the insanity of clearcutting ancient old-growth forests in the midst of a climate emergency and biodiversity collapse? In Canada, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. How can I not try to use them?”
“Officer, the RCMP are complicit in the liquidation of the very last old growth watershed. Look me in the eye and tell me whether you don’t think protecting the last 3 percent is reasonable?”
“Yes, saving the last 3 percent is reasonable, but you’ve made your point. Why can’t you just protest outside the exclusion zone?”
Exclusion zone? Mist and the Sergeant are miles away from active logging, at an RCMP roadblock. The RCMP have been using an arbitrary series of “exclusion zone” checkpoints as a nuisance tactic to stop media, lawyers and citizens from witnessing the arrests of tree sitters and other blockaders.
The tactic has been incredibly successful, as it forces blockaders to hike many kilometres in to even approach active logging. Without the public there to support them or witness police action, camp after camp gets isolated and rolled up by the RCMP tactical squad, and hectare after hectare of old growth falls to the saws.
Normally, exclusion zones are a police privilege used to keep the public safe at disasters, and allow officers a safe place to operate. A reasonable exclusion zone in TFL-46 would be 10 metres back from Justice Verhoeven’s “50 metres from active logging”—not 10 kilometres.
For Mist, the whole legal process lost all credibility when the RCMP started using the zones to circumvent enforcing the injunction as laid out by Justice Verhoeven, which specifically stated that citizens have “rights of public access, and the right to participate in lawful protest”.
“Why don’t you make the whole Province an exclusion zone, except a one-foot square in my kitchen, for me to stand in with a cardboard placard?”
The Sergeant looks down. He knows the zones are unreasonable, but his boss will fire him if he doesn’t follow the instructions.
She takes a step forward, and takes his left hand in her right, and holds it for five minutes. The two of them stand there in silence, trying to find a dignified way forward.
Mist says, “I want you to know I am so so sorry about what happened to your family, and if I had been there, I would have stood in front of them to protect them.”
The Sergeant’s voice cracks, and he glances up and says: “Thank you.”
Their eyes hold each other. For a moment, it all seems to hang in the balance. He takes a stick, and draws a line in the dusty road. “Please, this is your last chance, will you go back, just behind this line. Please.”
Mist puts her arms out and says “Cuff me.” A moment later, she is locked in a paddy wagon for crossing an imaginary line. On what charge is she arrested? None. She will not be charged.
The defenders call this practice “catch and release.” The lawyers call it “unlawful arrest.” The RCMP know full well that a charge of breaking the injunction 10 kilometres from active logging will not hold up in court.
It might even get them held in contempt of court, but we will never find out, because catch and release also robs citizens of their legal right to appear before Justice Verhoeven, and tell him how the RCMP are making a mockery of his injunction.
Indigenous protesters face down RCMP on logging road near Fairy Creek.
Canada needs a feedback loop, so judges can keep an eye on how their court orders are being enforced, but we don’t have a process for that. Instead, we have 500 forest defenders spending long, hot days in paddy wagons, talking about how they feel about all this.
Forest defenders feel that the laws of our country are being twisted and abused, not even for any public good, but so corporations can make obscene profits. They feel that the RCMP are acting like vigilantes. The consensus of the entire old-growth protection movement, is that “TFL-46 has become a police state.”
Are we trying to save the last old growth, or democracy?
WHILE MIST AND THE FOREST DEFENDERS continue to light their candles, the wheels of justice turn, ever so slowly. 150 arrests later, on July 20th, BC Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson rules that “The RCMP’s geographically extensive exclusion zones and checkpoints are not justified.”
He clarifies that the RCMP may only arrest and remove people who actually violate the injunction by approaching within 50 metres of active logging, and states that “important civil liberties were being compromised by the RCMP’s enforcement actions.”
But the trees keep falling, and the paddy wagons keep filling.
Between Mist’s arrest, and Judge Thompson’s statement, an area twice the size of Nanaimo is clearcut, and millions of tonnes of carbon are pumped into the atmosphere, that the forests of BC would have captured, had they been left standing.
Lytton sets the record for Canada’s hottest temperature, and burns to the ground. Seventy percent of the oysters off the Sunshine Coast cook in their shells. During the worst fire season in history, the forest defenders ask for a logging “cease fire,” and are refused.
Premier Horgan continues to hide behind a wall of silence. Greta Thunberg urges him to pass the recommendations of his own old-growth panel. No reply. BC’s world-renowned forest ecologist Dr Suzanne Simard offers to show him how to protect old growth and create jobs. No reply.
The exclusion zones are still being used, and the trees continue to fall.
AUGUST 9th ROLLS AROUND—the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. It’s also the one-year anniversary of the blockade, and forest defenders flock to Victoria to hear Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones, Dr Suzanne Simard and many others speak. After a year of living in tents, the defenders want to connect with the 85 percent of British Columbians who agree with them. A hot bath would be nice too, maybe an ice cream, and a day off!
The rally/celebration at the Legislature on August 9, 2021 (photo by Leslie Campbell)
The RCMP use the opportunity of the small camp presence to drop SWAT teams at three camps, to destroy people’s property, and arrest citizens for, well, who knows? Perhaps camping without a permit?
The officers read out Justice Verhoeven’s injunction as justification for their actions, although the BC Supreme Court has twice told them that what they are doing is unlawful.
A forest defender is shoved into the bushes, and then kicked to the ground. A witness asks, “Did you assess him for injury?” The RCMP reply, “He is a grown man, he just fell down.” The protester has a broken ankle. A volunteer medic gives him crutches and escorts him to safety.
Heli Camp after RCMP destroyed it Monday. RCMP raided HQ, River and Heli Camps simultaneously, using ATVs to drive up to Heli Camp. Three ATVs are seen parked at the right in the photo. RCMP destroyed the camp, including the kitchen structure, tents, etc. (photo courtesy of Rainforest Flying Squad)
The RCMP are targeting First Nations youth, as they always do, and many officers are wearing the “Thin Blue Line” insignia which the RCMP banned in 2020. Indigenous leader Rainbow Eyes, one of the 90 arrested on August 9th, says: “The Thin Blue Line badges they wear on their uniforms are a symbol of hate and the oppression of my people. I have zero percent trust in the RCMP in terms of my safety and the safety of my Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
Rainbow Eyes just before her first arrest in May 2021 (photo by Dawna Mueller)
She notes, “We are a nonviolent movement here to save ancient forests. Why are we subjected to RCMP who wear banned symbols of racism? Do they think they are above the laws they are employed to enforce?”
The RCMP are breaking into parked cars, and stealing cell phones and laptops. They use a bulldozer to take down the camp kitchen, and chainsaws to cut down trees with tree-sits in them. None of these activities were authorized by Justice Verhoeven.
And where are the media?
Due to the surprise nature of the 8 am raid on August 9th—and the illegal use of an exclusion zone—there are no media present.
Defenders in Victoria shorten the celebration and flood back to the forest, hiking around the illegal exclusion zones, to pick the wreckage of their vandalized tents out of the bush and start the cleanup.
If the RCMP won’t follow the explicit instructions of two BC Supreme Court judges, what are we to do? Our “first past the post” political system has failed us, and now, the only resort we have left, our justice system, has failed us too.
Ben Barclay has been defending forests by practicing ecoforestry for 40 years.
The Horgan government’s failure to protect at-risk old-growth forests is forcing BC citizens to take real action themselves.
The Old Growth Revylution blockade was recently visited by an RCMP officer (Photo by Sadie Parr)
THE MOVEMENT TO STOP THE DESTRUCTION of BC’s old-growth forests by blockading logging roads—as practiced by Vancouver Island’s Rainforest Flying Squad—is spreading. A group of Revelstoke-area citizens, calling themselves Old Growth Revylution, has established a blockade on a logging road beside Bigmouth Creek north of Revelstoke. The group is blocking access to a newly constructed logging road leading to three planned cutblocks in the pristine Argonaut Valley. The cutblocks would be logged under a licence granted by BC Timber Sales (BCTS), a division of the ministry of forests.
Not only is the spread of the movement a vote of no confidence in Premier John Horgan’s vague promises of future 2-year logging deferrals on old forest, the engagement with a BCTS-led logging operation opens a new and interesting front in the citizen-led battle against old-growth forest destruction. I will come back to this development later.
A view of logging of old-growth forest in Bigmouth Valley. The Revylution wants to protect Argonaut Valley ecosystems from this destruction. (Photo by Sadie Parr)
Several ENGOs, including Wildsight, Echo Conservation, the Wilderness Committee and Valhalla Wilderness Society, have been campaigning to protect the pristine Argonaut Valley. The valley is in the Inland Temperate Rainforest, a globally-unique ecosystem under heavy pressure by the logging industry. Most of the valley has been mapped under Canada’s Species At Risk Act as critical habitat for Mountain Caribou, one of BC’s most endangered species. Last December, the BC ministry of forests initially responded to these concerns with a statement noting “the ministry suspended planned harvesting operations in the Argonaut drainage to allow for further assessments around how harvesting activities might impact caribou in this area. This assessment is ongoing and no further timber harvest activities will occur in the area while the assessment is underway.”
BCTS then withdrew 11 of 14 cutblocks planned for the valley. But the most current BCTS mapping shows it is now planning five cutblocks in the valley, three of which are scheduled to be auctioned as a single sale between October 1 and December 31 of this year. BCTS estimates about 26,000 cubic metres of merchantable logs would be removed from those three blocks.
BCTS had a road built into the valley in 2020, and more recent roadbuilding prompted formation of the Old Growth Revylution. The Revylution blockaders want the entire Argonaut Valley protected. Virginia Thompson, a member of Revylution, told FOCUS, “The blockade is also in support of the Fairy Creek action and for the implementation of the recommendations of the Old Growth Review Panel. That includes the panel’s recommendation to immediately defer all at-risk old-growth ecosystems while the recommendations for a paradigm shift in forestry can be implemented to save what little of old-growth ecosystems are left in BC. This does not mean the bogus deferrals which were made in September of 2020. It means real, meaningful deferrals. Otherwise the old growth will be gone by the time government finishes talking about it.”
Old-growth cedar removed to build a logging road in the area (Photo by Eddie Petryshen)
The blockade will also affect access to another block of old-growth forest just outside the valley that has already been sold by BCTS to Revelstoke’s Downie Timber. Wildsight’s Eddie Petryshen told FOCUS that the Downie block “is imminently threatened by logging.” In an email, Petryshen wrote, “This block, in my opinion, actually contains some of the highest value old growth of the remaining blocks as it’s valley bottom and contains very large cedars.” Revylution’s Thompson said the forest defenders had been in contact with a representative of Downie regarding the block.
The Revylution has strong support of area First Nations, including the Okanagan, Splatsin (Secwepemcúl̓ecw) and Sinixt. Thompson told FOCUS that a ceremony held on July 11 at the blockade included representatives of each of these First Nations.
In a press release issued before the ceremony, Splatsin Chief Wayne Christian noted: “We will be conducting a ceremony to protect the old-growth forest, but also to protect the public who have decided to block access to critical old-growth habitat for our relatives the Caribou.”
At the ceremony, Christian called for members of his nation to come to the blockade.
The Splatsin, Okanagan and Ktunaxa Nation all have forestry consultation and revenue sharing agreements with the ministry of forests. It is unknown which nation, or nations, the BC government is consulting regarding the Argonaut Valley.
A view of the upper Argonaut Valley (Photo by Eddie Petryshen)
This all creates an interesting situation for the ministry of forests. If the Revylution blockaders are as determined as the Fairy Creek blockaders, they will likely be able to block access to the Argonaut Valley. Facing that likelihood, what logging company would want the uncertainty, bad publicity and loss of reputation that would accompany a bid to cut the pristine valley’s forests? This is quite unlike the situation at Fairy Creek and the Caycuse Valley on southern Vancouver Island, where Teal Cedar Ltd, dependent on cutting old-growth forest to feed its Surrey mills, can’t easily walk away from its own TFL.
If the Revylution blockade is successful at deterring a bid on the Argonaut Valley blocks, that strategy could be copied across BC wherever BCTS is planning to cut old-growth forest. BCTS sells the right to cut Crown-owned forest through competitive auction. It must publicize the blocks it plans to auction well before the auction date. It’s now possible for old-growth forest defenders to identify old forests at risk of being logged by BCTS, and then develop a plan to discourage bids on those blocks before they are sold. The ministry faces a new and serious challenge to its industry-friendly taxpayer-funded mismanagement of BC’s forests.
To complicate matters, on July 13 a forest fire broke out high above Bigmouth Creek, about three kilometres upstream from the mouth of Argonaut Creek. It’s going to be a long, hot, ground-breaking summer.
In his own response to the climate and biodiversity crises, David Broadland has narrowed his research and writing to the critically-endangered forests of BC.
Why does the CSA lend its stamp of approval to operations that depend on the liquidation of old-growth forest? Once those forests are gone, they will be gone for good. By definition, that form of forestry can't be sustained.
IN ITS RUSH TO PLEASE THE FORESTRY INDUSTRY, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) is mimicking Newspeak in Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In British Columbia, forestry firms logging old-growth forests are being certified as practicing “sustainable forest management” to CSA standard Z809-16. Just like in the novel, CSA’s use of the word “sustainable,” bears no resemblance to reality.
Blessed with vast forestlands, forestry was one of the largest industries in the province. But since about 1990 the situation has turned bleak and in response to declining profits and market share, BC forestry companies have cut large, old trees, claiming they must do so to remain financially viable. At the same time, they receive CSA certification. After all, being endorsed as sustainable can only help sales.
The CSA clearly believes that eradicating old-growth trees is perfectly acceptable, with a spokesperson saying, “Over time coastal companies will transition into all second-growth logging, but it will take 15-20 years.”
I could stop right here. The CSA has turned the meaning of sustainable upside-down, and admits it. Companies certified as being sustainable are felling old-growth trees that range from 300 to 1,000 years in age, destroying these old matriarchs permanently. They are not maintaining the old-forest ecosystem, instead they are destroying it. This is the opposite of sustainable. Even a child can see the king has no clothes.
Much of the blame for this pathetic situation lies with the provincial government, for most forests are on public land. The CSA also carries huge blame. On its web site, the CSA SFM Group brags that companies certified as sustainable to CSA Z809-16 gives the assurance of Canada's highest standard. It makes about the same sense as Newspeak in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
BC’s public feels strongly that the remaining iconic ancient trees should be preserved. In the Clayoquot demonstrations of 1993, the culmination of the first War in the Woods, 856 people were arrested, the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Many protests have been held since then and continue today with demonstrators blocking road construction near Fairy Creek on southwestern Vancouver Island to prevent old-growth logging.
Preserving old forests played a big role in the last BC election campaign, where the winning NDP committed to implementing all recommendations made by an independent review panel, including immediately deferring logging in old forests “where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk ….” But so far they have not done so.
Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew, is one of the most beautiful places in western Canada with enormous cedars and Douglas firs towering overhead. You can feel a primal force, a sense of the trees’ vast knowledge, accumulated during lifetimes spanning scores of human generations. Trees like these are national treasures.
But they are being razed, legally and without a second thought, by the Teal Jones Group, a company certified as conducting sustainable forestry. Fortunately, the Grove was saved, but only because the Ancient Forest Alliance and the local community protested vigorously. Why are protest movements needed to save what should be protected by the government? And if forestry companies operated in a caring, ethical manner, would they not leave monumental trees like Avatar Grove standing?
Logging of old-growth forests on southern Vancouver Island near Fairy Creek Rainforest (Photo by Alex Harris)
On southern Vancouver Island, the Pacific Marine Circle Route is touted as a tourism route. However, the 40-kilometre stretch from Lake Cowichan to Port Renfrew passes through an enormous tree farm where the landscape looks like a World War I no-man’s-land with scarred clear-cuts, seas of stumps, quarries, and piles of waste wood created by highly mechanized industrial methods. The clearcuts are gargantuan in size and even steep hillsides are razed. These clearcuts destroy wildlife habitat, harming living organisms, baring the soil for erosion, raising forest fire hazard and making a once-magnificent region ugly and unusable for tourism and recreation.
Yes, the clearcuts are replanted, but it takes many years for the areas to recover, and when they do, the resulting tree farms are inferior to the old-growth forests they replaced. As palm plantations in Indonesia have shown, monocultures have less biodiversity and are more susceptible to diseases, invasive species and other damage. In BC, the replanted trees are allowed to grow, then are clearcut again after 45 to 80 years. These repeated cycles bring wild swings in the forest habitat, and certainly do not mean maintaining forests at a constant level. And the massive old trees are gone forever. This is not sustainability.
Chris Harvey, a spokesperson for the Teal Jones Group, which is certified under CSA Z809-16, claimed her company does it to survive economically. “Old growth is an absolutely essential part for us to harvest. We can’t be economically viable if we log 100 percent second growth.” Harvey is a member of the technical committee overseeing CSA Z809-16—raising more questions about the objectivity of the Canadian Standards Association around sustainability.
Permanently destroying ancient trees cannot be certified as sustainable. It’s time for the CSA to speak proper English … and for a ban on old-growth logging.
Hans Tammemagi is an award-winning journalist and photographer living on Pender Island.
Premier Horgan thinks deferring logging on 200 hectares of old-growth forest is a "monumental step." Maybe there's less of it than has been claimed?
June 9, 2021
BC Premier John Horgan at a press conference announcing he was all for saving old-growth forests
AFTER ANNOUNCING 2-year logging deferrals for the Fairy Creek watershed and the central Walbran Valley, BC Premier John Horgan said: “These are monumental steps. I know it appears, at the moment, to be just another announcement by another premier...”
He was right. It does appear to be just another announcement by another premier, a hyperbolic one at that. Monumental? Definitely not.
Horgan announced 2-year logging deferrals on “2000 hectares” of old forest. It would have been monumental if, first, he had announced the permanent protection of 2000 hectares of actual old forest and then, second, had said something to this effect: “This is just the first, irrevocable step, one that can’t be backed away from in two years or ten, in our steadfast commitment to save the rest of BC’s now rare, biologically productive old forest, of which as little at 400,000 hectares remain in all of BC—can you believe we let that get so low? What an ecological catastrophe! Who were the nit wits-that engineered this fiasco!”
That would have been monumental. Such a statement would have shown that Horgan wasn’t just playing kick-the-can-down-the-road. Instead, he kicked two cans down the road.
First, the premier re-announced a 2-year deferral in the central Walbran that most of us already knew had been deferred in September 2020, and wasn’t in any danger of being logged. According to the Order In Council that established the deferral, it was to cover 1,489 hectares. Today the ministry recognized that it contains 1150 hectares of old forest.
Second, Horgan deferred logging for 2 years in the “small area” that Teal Cedar Ltd has been claiming for months was all that the company could cut in Fairy Creek Valley because “most of the watershed is protected forest reserve or unstable terrain, and not available for harvesting.”
After Horgan’s announcement, mapping released by the ministry of forests showed the area at Fairy Creek that’s been deferred for 2 years. Based on that mapping, we estimate there are about 100 hectares of the valley in the deferral area that weren’t already “protected forest reserve or unstable terrain,” as Teal Cedar Products Ltd has described it.
Putting what Teal has said together with what Horgan announced today and the ministry has mapped, we find the surprising result that 100 + 1150 = 2000.
If you’re thinking, “Wait, that doesn’t add up,” you’re correct. What that arithmetic shows is the sleight of hand used today by industry, the ministry and the premier. Last week, according to them, Fairy Creek Valley was almost all “protected forest reserve or unstable terrain.” This week, in a monumental step, the premier turned all that “protected forest reserve or unstable terrain” into a 2-year logging deferral.
The Rainforest Flying Squad had originally been trying to save about 2100 hectares of contiguous rainforest, including the entire Fairy Creek Valley and areas of intact forest outside it. But their movement to save the last of the old-growth forest on southern Vancouver Island is apparently gaining more and more public support as their forest defences are assaulted by a militarized unit of the RCMP. What will they do now?
Following Horgan’s announcement, the Flying Squad’s Saul Arbess made a gracious acknowledgment of Horgan’s monumental step: “It’s a good deferral, however it falls short of the deferrals required to pause logging in all of the critically endangered areas currently being defended, for generations to come.”
Why would Arbess think 100 hectares is a “good deferral”?
This is an important point. Arbess knows that the part of Fairy Creek Valley that Teal and the ministry have claimed are “protected forest reserve” are actually only “protected” until Teal and the ministry decide to move the “protection” to some other part of TFL 46. This happens all the time, all over BC, to Old Growth Management Areas, Wildlife Habitat Areas and other forms of transitory “protection” that have been created by the ministry of forests to create the appearance of protection—until such time as a company wants to log that “protected” area.
If there was a monumental step taken today, it was that the ethical corruption that grips the ministry of forests and the forest industry was made plain, for everybody to see. To do this and then call it an “honouring” of a First Nations’ request is disturbing.
When he isn’t out walking through forests, David Broadland is writing about the problems they face.
Just before Teal Cedar Products filed an application for an injunction against old-growth forest defenders, BC's NDP government signed an agreement with Pacheedaht First Nation that bought the Nation's agreement that it would support Teal's old-growth logging and that it would suppress dissent within the Pacheedaht on the issue.
June 5, 2021
PREMIER JOHN HORGAN recently claimed he couldn’t resolve the tense and expensive standoff on Pacheedaht traditional territories between old-growth forest defenders and the RCMP. Why? Horgan told reporters, “The critical recommendation that’s in play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders. 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.”
Actually, Horgan’s government had already signed an agreement (download at end of story) with the Pacheedaht in late February in which the economically impoverished First Nation agreed to accept a small annual payment “to accommodate any potential adverse impacts on the Pacheedaht First Nation’s Aboriginal Interests resulting from Operational Plans or Administrative and/or Operational Decisions.” In other words, logging.
How small? The Pacheedaht accepted the equivalent of glass beads: $242,388 for the first year of the agreement, with no clear indication of what, if any, subsequent payments would be over the agreement’s 3-year term.
What did the Pacheedaht have to do for that princely sum? For one thing, the band had to continue “consultation” with the Province, and to help the Pacheedaht do that the Province will provide an additional $35,000 per year to build the “capacity” within the community for consultation.
Perhaps more significantly, the agreement requires the Pacheedaht to provide “assistance.” Such assistance would take two forms.
First, the band agreed “it will not support or participate in any acts that frustrate, delay, stop or otherwise physically impede or interfere with provincially authorized forest activities.”
Secondly, it agreed it “will promptly and fully cooperate with and provide its support to British Columbia in seeking to resolve any action that might be taken by a member of First Nation that is inconsistent with this Agreement.”
The first part of the “assistance” portion of the agreement was aimed squarely at the defence of old-growth forest in TFL 46. The second was intended to stifle any expression of support for that defence from within the Pacheedaht, such as that given by Elder Bill Jones, Victor Peter, Katie George-Jim and Patrick Victor-Jones, all of whom have publicly supported the old-growth defenders.
Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones speaking out at the Caycuse blockade (Photo by Michael Lo)
The agreement was signed on February 21, just before Teal Cedar Products Ltd filed an application for injunctive relief with the BC Supreme Court on March 4. On April 1, that application was granted by Justice Frits E. Verhoeven. Enforcement of the injunction has led to over 170 people being arrested during weeks of standoffs between police and old-forest defenders. The cost of that enforcement is unknown but likely in the millions.
Horgan has claimed that “consultations” with the Pacheedaht are ongoing and so ending the confrontation by removing Teal’s controversial permit to log in the Fairy Creek watershed would amount to a “return to colonialism.”
Let’s compare dollars with glass beads.
Over the past three years, according to the ministry of forests, Teal Cedar has removed 976,000 cubic metres of logs from TFL 46, which is mainly on unceded Pacheedaht territories. At an average value of $135 per cubic metre over those years, the logs Teal removed, before they were turned into lumber and other products at Teals’ Surrey mills, had a market value of about $132 million.
That’s over a three-year period. What will the Pacheedaht—the legal owners of the land from which those forests were removed—get for three years of being quiet?
The Pacheedaht will receive $277,388 in 2021 and $35,000 each year in 2022 and 2023 as long as they keep “consulting.” There’s nothing in the agreement that says they will get any more than a total of $347,388.
Compare that with the estimated $132 million worth of logs Teal will tow away to feed its mills in Surrey. The Pacheedat will get the equivalent of three-tenths of one-percent of the “fibre” value of the forest Teal removes from their property. Anyone who has visited the Pacheedaht reserve will understand why they had to sign this agreement.
Here’s the definition of colonialism: “The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.”
Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, in a widely-circulated opinion piece, wrote: “The agreement with Pacheedaht was signed in February 2021. So instead of negotiating an agreement that provides economic alternatives to logging, provides real choice to the nation, and enables the conservation of the endangered old growth in Pacheedaht traditional territory, the Provincial government negotiated an agreement that almost assured that those ancient trees would be cut. This situation illustrates how deeply disingenuous the government has been as the tension in our forests continues to grow. Rather than offer conservation solutions, the BC NDP are effectively using BC Liberal policy to put Indigenous Nations in the centre of conflicts and use the language of reconciliation to cover for their inaction. Clearly, colonialism is alive and well in Premier Horgan’s government.”
David Broadland is grateful to the Pacheedaht for allowing public access to the extraordinary forests, beaches and trails on their unceded territories.
BC agreement with Pacheedaht signed february 17 2021.pdf
BC Premier John Horgan reveals a new strategy to avoid meaningful change while accusing old-growth forest defenders of seeking a “return to colonialism”
GARRY MERKEL AND AL GORLEY, after calling for a “paradigm shift” in how old forest is valued in BC, probably had no idea that John Horgan would move so fast. But the premier has spoken and with the stroke of a press conference BC has moved from the era of Talk and Log into the new paradigm of Talk with First Nations and Log.
Here’s the situation Horgan faces: There’s growing public support for blockades of old-growth logging at Fairy Creek Rainforest in Horgan’s own riding. These actions involve hundreds of people—and it’s an All Ages event—committing acts of civil disobedience and risking arrest by a militarized police unit which has put restrictions on press access to the conflict zone and has denied the public the right to be on publicly-owned land. It’s happening daily and is unlikely to stop until the police start shooting people.
In the face of all that, what does the premier chose to do? He releases a series of forestry-related “policy intentions.” None of these addressed the old-growth issue beyond vague language about possible future short-term logging deferrals. All of Horgan’s intentions seemed to depend on interminable private talks with First Nations.
What was the premier thinking? In response to a question from a reporter, Horgan said, “The critical recommendation that’s in play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders. 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.”
Horgan seemed to be saying that solving the crisis in public trust around this issue would be like murdering 215 First Nations kids, again.
The premier’s convoluted rhetoric speaks for itself. The question that needs considering is this: Is Horgan using the paucity of First Nations’ treaty agreements to protect the forest industry from real change? He’s claiming that the government can’t make decisions about a new direction for forestry in BC unless those decisions include consultation with First Nations. Is this actually the case? Or have Horgan and his cronies in the forest industry just figured out a new, post-colonial version of talk and log?
We might judge the answer to that on the basis of his government’s record of signing treaties with First Nations. In nearly 5 years in office, approaching year 30 of a process that began in the early ’90s, Horgan has signed exactly zero treaties, a record that’s far worse than former premier Christie Clark’s.
With no actual record of successfully negotiating with First Nations for what really matters to them, Horgan appears to be using the injustice done to those communities to hide behind in order to avoid making hard decisions on new directions. Directions that he doesn’t yet know how to sell to his party’s labour base, new directions that reflect the need—in light of the climate and biodiversity crises and falling forest employment—to reframe our entire relationship with forests. The irony here is that this deeper, necessary reframing meshes with First Nations’ traditional wisdom and practices regarding the use of forests. Turning them into feller-buncher operators doesn’t.
The BC treaty process, dragged out by endless consultations by an army of highly paid BC government lawyers, has bankrupted First Nations and left them desperate to recover financially. Those debts, and the damage they inflicted on First Nations communities for nearly three decades, are now being used by Horgan to keep firm the forest industry’s death grip on BC’s old-growth forests, just as those debts have been used in other resource disputes.
That’s the real “return to colonialism” that’s taking place.
Jens Wieting, Sierra Club BC senior forest and climate campaigner, called today’s announcement an “Orwellian nightmare.” He added, “The old-growth crisis calls for immediate short-term funding for First Nations and forestry workers seeking an alternative to logging the last old-growth. Defending business as usual will only exacerbate conflicts like the one happening over Fairy Creek and undermine options for communities seeking an alternative to destructive resource extraction.”
Horgan’s performance truly was an Orwellian moment.
David Broadland is going to write about forests and politics until First Nations title and rights are reflected in just treaties for all BC First Nations, and trees are valued for what they provide just by standing in a forest.
As arrests at Fairy Creek Rainforest begin, arm yourself with some truth about what's actually happening. The injunction was obtained by inaccurate, self-serving descriptions of the impact of the blockades by the company.
April 6, 2021
IF THERE’S ONE SITUATION in which you would expect a company’s accountant to be accurate about the numbers, it would be in a sworn affidavit in which the company is seeking a high-profile injunction from the BC Supreme Court. Right?
Not these days.
Teal Cedar Products Ltd filed such an application in mid-February, asking for injunctive relief, enforceable by the RCMP, in response to ongoing blockades of some of its logging operations in TFL 46 on southern Vancouver Island. On April 1, Justice Fritz E Verhoeven ruled in favour of Teal’s application. Verhoeven accepted information in affidavits provided by Teal CFO Gerrie Kotze concerning the impact of the blockades on Teal. Some of the information was grossly inaccurate, and Verhoeven based his decision on that information.
I wrote recently about the fact that Teal’s cut in TFL 46 rose dramatically above the previous two years’ logging in spite of the blockades. In 2018, when there were no blockades in place, Teal took 255,975 cubic metres of timber out of TFL 46. In 2019, again with no blockades in sight, the company removed 282,096 cubic metres. In 2020, the year in which the blockade started (in August), Teal trucked 437,982 cubic metres of logs out of the TFL. That’s an increase of 71 percent over 2018 and 55 percent over 2019.
Teal Cedar Products Ltd is clearcutting old-growth forests, like this former forest in the Caycuse River Valley (Photo by TJ Watt)
Yet Teal stated in its application that the company had suffered “irreparable harm” as a result of the blockades, and Verhoeven agreed. A finding of irreparable harm was a legally necessary condition for allowing Teal’s application for injunctive relief and civil damages.
Not only did Teal apparently misstate the impact that the blockades had on its operations, but other details, including information in affidavits provided by Kotze, appear to seriously underestimate the value of the logs the company removed from TFL 46 and the value of the products manufactured from those logs. Verhoeven accepted this information, analysed it in his judgment and concluded that Teal had suffered irreparable harm.
I find the details of this case particularly compelling because they demonstrate how, in the face of industrial destruction of Earth’s life support systems, institutions that are needed to support the public interest—like government and the courts—are failing the public. The evidence of this is deep in the details of this case. C’mon in.
In a section of Teal’s injunction application covering “Impact of the Blockades,” the document stated: “Teal Cedar estimates that the value of the products manufactured from timber sourced from TFL 46 to be about $19.4 million, which is an incremental value-added over the value of the logs of approximately $9 million.” This statement cites “Kotze Affidavit #1” as the source of that information. Again, Kotze is Teal’s chief financial officer, and his numbers are not credible.
The market value of the 437,982 cubic metres of raw logs removed from TFL 46 in 2020 was close to $60 million, based on the volume and the ministry of forests’ average log price that year. According to the ministry of forests’ Harvest Billing System, Teal paid $10,580,295.06 in stumpage to the Province for those logs, the most stumpage it has ever paid for its logging in TFL 46.
The value of the wood products manufactured from the logs Teal removed from TFL 46 in 2020 was likely around $220 million, not $19.4 million. (FOCUS estimated this number by using information provided in Western Forest Products’ 2020 financial statement, and the volume Western Forest Products harvested from its coastal operations, as determined by the ministry of forests’ Harvest Billing System. Western Forest Products has TFLs on Vancouver Island, one of which is beside Teal’s TFL 46.)
It’s evident that Teal grossly underestimated the value of the wood that it had removed in 2020. Yet that inaccurate information was then used by Justice Verhoeven to determine whether to grant Teal an injunction. Did Teal intentionally construct numbers that would lead Verhoeven to find in its favour?
In the “Irreparable Harm” section of Verhoeven’s decision, the judge stated, “Teal employs approximately 450 people within its processing and manufacturing facilities. If Teal is unable to log within the area of TFL 46, it will not have an adequate timber supply for its mills. It may be forced to shut down its mills, resulting in layoffs of employees, and Teal’s inability to supply its customers. Teal estimates that the end product value of the products that it will produce from the timber sourced from TFL 46 is approximately $20 million. Teal stands to lose market share, and to suffer damage to its reputation as a reliable supplier of its products.”
Two points stand out:
First, Verhoeven’s speculation about Teal being “unable to log within the area of TFL 46,” suggests he had little understanding of the situation on the ground. According to the ministry of forests, there is plenty of second growth the company could have logged. It isn’t being defended by blockades. I will come back to this point later.
Second, Verhoeven took the information Kotze supplied, added $600,000 for unknown reasons—rounding?—and used this updated total of “approximately $20 million” to find that Teal had suffered “irreparable harm.” As mentioned above, irreparable harm was a necessary condition for Verhoeven to award injunctive relief.
Our estimate of $220 million for the value of products manufactured from logs removed from TFL 46 was only part of Teal’s revenue in 2020. In its application for an injunction, the company stated, “Teal Cedar relies on its own timber licences to supply approximately 50 percent of its fibre needs for the three mills, mostly from TFL46.”
If TFL 46 supplied most of that 50 percent, then Teal’s total sales for all the volume it processed in 2020 would be roughly twice the $220 million we estimated for TFL 46, or $440 million.
In its injunction application, Teal especially highlighted a decline in production of its Tonewood Division, which supplies old-growth Red Cedar to guitar manufacturers. For that division, Teal claimed a loss of $250,000. Based on our estimate of total sales of over $400 million in 2020, the Tonewood decline would represent a loss in sales of just five-tenths of one percent. To put that decline in perspective, Verhoeven’s careless rounding error in restating the “value of the products” produced by Teal amounted to $600,000.
Teal didn’t provide any additional numbers that would have summarized how the value of its products—like lumber—declined, because they didn’t. They went up over sales in 2019. Way up.
Keep in mind that the blockades are aimed only at Teal’s logging of old-growth forest. The company has plenty of second-growth forest available for logging in TFL 46. Verhoeven did not seem to understand this when he speculated that Teal would be “unable to log within the area of TFL 46.” The most recent (2011) review of the TFL by the ministry of forests set the allowable annual cut (AAC) for the TFL at 403,000 cubic metres, well under what the company took out in 2020. The 2011 review assumed that “at least 180,000 cubic metres per year” would come from second-growth stands. Over the past 11 years, Teal’s cut has averaged 392,172 cubic metres per year and the stumpage assessed by the ministry of forests has averaged $8.20 per cubic metre. Teal has been cutting close to the AAC and, until recently, paying very low stumpage rates. In 2011, it paid just 56¢ per cubic metre for 401,567 cubic metres of wood.
Summary of Teal Cedar’s cut in TFL 46, 2010 to 2020. The average stumpage paid over those 11 years was $8.20 per cubic metre. Source: Ministry of forests Harvest Billing System
Neither Teal’s application for an injunction nor Verhoeven’s judgment granting the injunction even mention the words “second growth.” Yet that is where Teal was expected, by the terms of its 2011 TFL review, to get nearly half its wood for its mills. The next review, which is past due, will need to increase the proportion of second growth in its cut because TFL 46 now has about 2.5 million cubic metres less old-growth forest than it had in 2011. This is a fact, and the blockades are a public response to this fact. Loss of old-growth forest and the impact that has on risk of biodiversity loss and loss of forest carbon are critical public interest issues that neither the justice system nor the provincial government seem to know how to address. These two institutions, apparently, are only able to assess the monetary value of old-growth forests for companies like Teal. As Teal’s easy manipulations of the numbers show, the court isn’t very good at doing even that.
Teal is privately-owned, but Business in Vancouver provides information about the company on its website. According to that publication, Teal is the sixth largest forestry company in BC and employed 1000 people in BC in 2020, the same as in 2019. It also has a mill in Washington. Business in Vancouver estimates Teal had 1350 employees “worldwide” in 2019 and 1485 in 2020.
Business in Vancouver’s information about Teal for 2012-2013 shows that back then the company had about 970 BC employees and estimated revenues of $200 million.
FOCUS asked Teal and the lawyer who prepared its injunction application why the application had grossly underestimated the value of wood products manufactured and the volume of logs Teal removed from TFL 46 in 2020. We received no response. (If Teal responds after initial publication of this story, FOCUS will provide its response.)
A private company might feel compelled to publicly underestimate revenue if it had inaccurately reported that revenue to Revenue Canada. In Teal’s case, however, when CFO Kotze testified to the court that the value of wood products sourced from TFL 46 was “$19.4 million,” it could be that Teal was simply trying to make it more likely that it would be awarded an injunction. The company’s injunction application stated: “Teal Cedar estimates the value of the timber rendered inaccessible by the Blockades to be approximately $10 million.” Verhoeven, taking Teal’s various numbers at face value, would have to conclude that the blockades had made $10 million worth of timber inaccessible. Then he would have compared that with the “$9 million” which Teal said it had been able to remove to make products valued at “$19.4 million.” In other words, Teal told Verhoeven that more than half of its timber had been made inaccessible by the blockades. And Verhoeven’s judgment, repeated over and over again by various media, would have the effect of spreading Teal’s misinformation as though it were the truth.
Teal’s 2020 bumper harvest ought to be considered in context. In September 2019, Tom Fletcher and Lauren Collins reported for Black Press that 500 employees of Teal-Jones Group had lost their jobs after earlier layoffs in May of that year. At the time, Kotze told the reporters, “Current high stumpage rates remain high relative to lumber prices, and harvesting costs have been adversely impacted by new regulations to bring out more residual waste fibre…These negative factors have made it impossible for the company to continue its forest licences economically.” The reporters also quoted a long-time Teal employee, Bill Fulk, about the future: “There’s going to be ghost towns because it’s hard to find an employee to come [into] the wood industry because people are seeing that it’s going down and down and down,” said Fulk, adding that it’s becoming very difficult to find employees ‘that trust that the wood industry will continue on.’”
Somehow, though, in spite of the existential challenges faced by the company—at least as described by the company, Justice Verhoeven and Black Press—2020 saw Teal’s third largest harvest in the last ten years. As a consequence, money rained down on the company as the blockaders took up position to defend what little remains of coastal old-growth forest.
David Broadland hopes that as arrests of Fairy Creek Rainforest blockaders mount, the public will look beyond the inaccurate, self-serving, self-descriptions of the forest industry and its institutional allies and look for the truth.
This story has been edited: The original version incorrectly stated Teal’s average yearly cut over the last eleven years. The average is 392,172 cubic metres, not 431,389 as originally stated.
Teal Cedar Products Ltd application for injunction: 2021-02-18 Notice of Application.pdf
Justice Verhoeven’s judgment
The BC Supreme Court Justice who decided that irreparable harm was done to a private forestry company by citizens blocking logging roads didn't know that the company's harvest had actually increased.
April 2, 2021
BC SUPREME COURT JUSTICE Frits E Verhoeven delivered reasons on April 1 for allowing an injunction against BC citizens blocking a forestry company from logging old-growth near Port Renfrew. Comparing the information Verhoeven used to make his decision with BC government information about the extent to which the logging company has been affected by the blockade, it’s difficult to understand why Verhoeven granted the injunction.
The citizens have been blockading access to three potential logging sites just north of Port Renfrew. The first blockade stopped construction of a logging road into nearly pristine Fairy Creek Valley. That blockade was set up in mid-August, 2020. When Fairy Creek Valley was ignored by the NDP government in its faux old-growth logging deferrals announced a month after the blockade was set up, other blockades were established to impede logging of old-growth forests nearby.
Fairy Creek Valley near the area that Teal Cedar wants to log (Photo by TJ Watt)
Teal Cedar Products Ltd applied for an injunction against the blockades on February 18, 2021. A hearing was held by Justice Verhoeven on February 25, which was then postponed until March 25. Verhoeven provided reasons for allowing the injunction on April Fool’s Day.
Teal Cedar Products is the tenure holder of TFL 46, which the ministry of forests notes has 45,533 hectares of commercially operable forest land that Teal can log. The approved cutblocks in Fairy Creek Valley that citizens are impeding access to totals 20 hectares. That represents such a small fraction of the land Teal has access to, it’s hard to express: it’s just four-one-hundredths of one percent of the area Teal can clearcut. None of this was mentioned in Verhoeven’s judgment.
In his judgment, Verhoeven noted that for injunctive relief to be granted, Teal needed to show three things: First, that there was a serious question to be tried; second, that Teal would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction; and third, that “the balance of convenience favours granting the relief.” By “balance of convenience” Verhoeven meant that the harm done to Teal if the injunction was not granted needed to be weighed against the harm that would be done to the citizens manning the blockade if the injunction was granted.
On the first requirement, Verhoeven noted that the citizens themselves conceded there was a serious issue to be tried.
On the issue of “irreparable harm,” Verhoeven concluded: “There is also no doubt that Teal will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted.”
But the truth is, there’s plenty of doubt.
Let me start with what actually happened to Teal’s logging operations in TFL 46 in the year the blockade began, just over halfway through the year. Verhoeven could easily have been provided with this information if he had requested it from Teal. Harvest volumes obtained from a publicly accessible database, maintained by the BC ministry of forests, show that in 2018, when there were no blockades in place, Teal took 255,975 cubic metres of timber out of TFL 46. In 2019, again with no blockades in sight, they removed 282,096 cubic metres.
In 2020, the year in which the blockade started (in August), Teal trucked 437,982 cubic metres of logs out of the TFL. That’s an increase of 55 percent over 2019 and 71 percent over 2018.
If Verhoeven had asked for this information, he would have been hard-pressed to show that the blockades had done Teal irreparable harm. In fact, Teal did much better—monetarily—than it had in the previous two years.
Verhoeven, however, accepted information from Teal and, based on that, concluded that the blockades would do Teal irreparable harm. Verhoeven’s judgment repeats what Teal told them: “Teal employs approximately 450 people within its processing and manufacturing facilities. If Teal is unable to log within the area of TFL 46, it will not have an adequate timber supply for its mills. It may be forced to shut down its mills, resulting in layoffs of employees, and Teal’s inability to supply its customers. Teal estimates that the end product value of the products that it will produce from the timber sourced from TFL 46 is approximately $20 million. Teal stands to lose market share, and to suffer damage to its reputation as a reliable supplier of its products.”
But as the Province’s information shows, none of that happened.
Verhoeven went on to describe the irreparable harm done to one of Teal’s contractors, road builders Stone Pacific: “The losses extend to Teal’s contractors and their employees. Stone Pacific lost $3,500 per day for each day its operations were prevented, and its employees lost wages of $350 to $400 each for every day of work lost.”
The Province doesn’t make public such details as whether Teal’s road-building contractor actually lost any days of work, but judging by Teal’s much greater output in 2020, someone was building the necessary roads.
On the basis of irreparable harm, Verhoeven seems to have seriously erred in assuming that what the company’s lawyers said in court didn’t need to be examined more closely.
The third bar that Teal needed to meet for an injunction to be granted was the “Balance of Convenience” bar. Verhoeven described that this way: “Finally, an assessment must be made as to the balance of convenience, which typically starts with consideration of which of the parties would suffer greater harm from the granting or refusal of the remedy, pending a decision on the merits. Many other factors may come into play, depending on the circumstances. In Charter cases, the public interest must be considered within the question of the balance of convenience.”
Verhoeven then recounted a short list of what various witnesses had told the court; these amounted to a repetition of the warnings already made by thousands of forest and climate scientists around the world about the impact forest destruction is having on the both the biodiversity and the climate crises.
But a careful reading of his written judgment shows that Verhoeven never actually weighs the harms to Teal against the harms the defendants are trying to avoid by impeding Teal’s logging operations. Rather than making a serious effort to understand those harms, Verhoeven seemed to throw his hands into the air in exasperation and declared: “The problem is, all of the concerns raised by the respondents are for the government to address, and not this Court. Forestry decisions are highly policy driven and require the government to coordinate, balance, and reconcile often competing values and interests.”
Note that in trying to work through the “Balance of Convenience” consideration, Verhoeven was willing to declare that it was up to the BC government to work out an appropriate response to the concerns of the citizen blockaders. Yet, in examining the question of whether Teal had suffered irreparable harm as a consequence of the blockades, he accepted Teal’s claims without referring to government records about the small area of what the citizens wanted protected, or the increased volume that Teal had harvested during the blockades.
Moreover, the government, as many of us already know, only pretends to “coordinate, balance, and reconcile competing values and interests.” In the real world, the forest industry long ago captured the only public agency that could regulate forestry—the ministry of forests—and together the two have become the “mindustry.”
Had Verhoeven actually completed his “Balance of Convenience” assessment, he might have properly weighed what Teal had lost—nothing—against what the public is losing every year that the reign of the mindustry continues.
Old-growth forest in the Klanawa Valley, northwest of Port Renfrew; this is what the blockades are trying to keep out of Fairy Creek Valley (Photo by TJ Watt)
If he had done what justice required him to do, Verhoeven would have summed up all the public subsidies received by forestry companies in BC: the forest management subsidy, which is the million-dollar-a-day cost to the public of running the ministry of forests after accounting for all the modest revenue it receives from companies like Teal. It would have included the more-than-one-million-dollar-a-day subsidy that mills like Teal’s receive through low electricity rates and the more-than-one-million-dollar-a-day subsidy that pulp mills receive through the lower rate they pay for water compared with the rate that municipal authorities pay for water (without pulp mills, Teal’s own mills would soon be buried in sawdust). And it would have included the multi-billion-dollar-a-year subsidy that forest companies are granted by the BC government, which ignores the carbon released by the industry’s destruction of BC forests. If that carbon was priced at the current level of BC’s Carbon Tax, this subsidy alone would overwhelm the entire $3 billion contribution to the provincial GDP credited to the forest industry.
Those are some of the monetary public interests that Verhoeven failed to consider in his incomplete “balance of convenience” assessment. The blockaders are, I know, partly motivated by this monetary insult to the public interest. This is where irreparable damage is being done.
In the end, after failing to adequately examine either the issue of irreparable harm or the issue of the balance of convenience, Verhoeven simply relied on “the law” that people can’t block roads if it affects other people who have a right to use those roads. So the question of whether Teal should have received injunctive relief seems to have been settled unjustly. The blockaders are now mobilizing support. The public would do well to try to understand that the power of BC’s justice system has been used improperly to support a private company’s interests over the public interest.
David Broadland has spent the last year amassing information about the mindustry. He’s discovered that the future of BC’s forests is not in good hands.
Justice Verhoeven’s judgment: https://www.bccourts.ca/jdb-txt/sc/21/06/2021BCSC0605.htm
BC's ministry of forests is actively creating an alternative reality about the impact its policies and actions have on the climate and biodiversity crises.
October 6, 2020
IN RESPONSE TO THE CLIMATE AND BIODIVERSITY CRISES, BC’s ministry of forests has fallen into a pattern of denialism. We all know what climate denial is: refusing to accept scientifically verifiable evidence. Denialism goes beyond denial. Denialism is the purposeful construction of an alternative version of reality. The ministry of forests, in cooperation with other members of the forest-industrial complex, is creating an alternative reality about the role forest loss plays in these two crises, and an alternative reality about how they should respond. Why? Likely because acknowledging the evidence about how industrial forestry contributes to both crises—and the ministry’s lack of an effective response—would result in the loss of social licence to continue doing what they are doing. That would mean reducing the size of the industry and a subsequent loss of revenue that keeps both the ministry and the industry operating. For them, it’s a matter of their own survival.
Let me offer a few examples of this pattern of denialism, large and small:
First. BC taxpayers have subsidized the largely unregulated forest industry to the tune of $1 million a day for the past ten years. Yet the ministry has purposefully hidden this subsidy by never making public a balance sheet that shows its revenues and expenses.
Second. After years of pressure to conserve the remaining 415,000 hectares of productive old-growth forests to protect biodiversity, the ministry announced in September short-term logging deferrals on 352,739 hectares. When examined closely, though, the deferrals only delayed logging on about 32,500 hectares of productive old growth. The ministry knew it was including mostly ice, rock and low productivity old growth and second growth in its deferrals.
Third. For employment statistics about the forest industry, ministry reports defer to an out-of-date 2016 Council of Forest Industries analysis instead of statistics derived from income tax returns that have been adjusted for the most recent mill closures and curtailments. In effect, the ministry has credited the industry with jobs that don’t exist.
Fourth. Chief Forester Diane Nicholls’ advisory “Leadership Council” is composed entirely of forest industry insiders.
Fifth. The forests ministry has made no public assessment of the impact of forest management on climate change or biodiversity loss, or how these are playing out in each of its management units, or how it intends to address these issues in a way that would make a substantial difference. The provincial GHG inventory for 2018 shows that forest management contributed 237 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions (emissions from all other sources in BC were 68 megatonnes). BC has 1807 species of plants and animals at risk of extinction.
The ministry’s responses to both the climate and biodiversity crises have been shaped by the primary need of an economically marginal industry: to cut down publicly-owned forest at a rate as high as the market can bear, at the lowest cost. That includes using mechanized clearcut logging throughout the province, almost exclusively, and exporting raw logs. Any evidence that’s presented that the ministry’s policies and practices are making the climate and biodiversity crises worse is met with stony silence, straight-up denial, or fictions about the rosy-green future of mass timber construction and bioenergy.
Below, I explore in detail a single streak of this pattern of denialism.
In a recent story, “Forestry isn’t sustainable, folks,” I noted that between 2010 and 2019, the forest industry has been logging BC’s publicly owned forests at an unsustainable rate. The ministry of forests’ own timber supply reviews for 28 Interior timber supply areas determined that the sustainable cut level is about 12 million cubic metres per year lower than the current allowable annual cut (AAC). I acknowledged that one of the main factors in this imbalance was the loss of stands of Lodgepole Pine to the Mountain Pine Beetle.
The story included the concerns of foresters Anthony Britneff and Martin Watts, who have provided detailed analyses which argue that the determinations of allowable annual cut and mid-term cut by BC’s chief forester are deeply flawed and skewed towards overestimating the future availability of wood from forests.
One critical response to this story stood out. Atmo Prasad, who identified himself in a comment on this website as the “former manager for the analysis section of the Forest Analysis & Inventory Branch of the Ministry of Forests,” dismissed the highly detailed concerns of Britneff and Watts. He provided no argument or evidence to support his position. He simply asserted, “I am confident that the AAC set for each is sustainable.”
In response to my observation of the substantial difference between the current aggregate AAC for timber supply areas and the aggregate of their mid-term cut levels—which Prasad appears to be in part responsible for estimating—he said, “The higher short-term harvest level found in most Interior TSAs is usually composed of wood killed by the mountain pine beetle or by the recent fires. The timber supply in these TSAs is expected to decline to the sustainable level after the salvage of dead timber is over. Construing the current AAC which includes dead wood as unsustainable is just pain [sic] wrong.”
I have fact-checked Prasad’s contention that the “higher short-term harvest level” in Interior TSAs is “usually” the result of salvage of beetle- or fire-killed wood. Let me give you one example where, on the surface, what Prasad claims is correct. Then I’ll show you four examples where Prasad’s claim is disproven by the ministry of forests’ own data. I will provide some real-life consequences of timber supply analysts overestimating how much logging can occur. These examples also illustrate the pattern of denialism that appears to be the ministry of forests’ default operational setting.
Focus used the ministry of forests’ Harvest Billing System to determine the total cut over a 10-year period in 12 of the Interior’s 28 timber supply areas. Using that publicly accessible system, we also determined how much dead lodgepole pine was salvaged and how much live lodgepole pine was removed in “sanitation” logging. What’s sanitation logging? It’s a euphemism for a program to preemptively log healthy lodgepole pine that could be attacked by the Mountain Pine Beetle. The data we downloaded also included fire-killed lodgepole pine. The data allowed us to determine the total volume logged over 10 years, and it provides a good estimate of how much of that was beetle- or fire-killed, and how much was sanitation logging.
Let’s start with the example that supports Prasad’s take on what happened. The diagram below summarizes the case for the Prince George TSA. It covers 10 years of harvesting between 2010 and 2019 inclusive.
What does the data for Prince George demonstrate? It shows that the volume of live trees logged (indicated by light orange above) was less than Prasad’s office estimated could be cut. This undercut amounted to 8.4 million cubic metres over the 10 years between 2010 and 2019, inclusive. The evidence supports Prasad’s contention.
Keep in mind, however, the concerns Britneff and Watts have expressed about the mid-term cut level, the volume of logs that can be extracted from the forest on a sustained basis. They have noted that the models used by Prasad’s office to predict future growth and yield in BC forests provide inaccurate, overly-optimistic and unreliable estimates. Moreover, the models do not account for climate change. Britneff told Focus, “scientists within the forests ministry have reported and published that our Interior managed forests will most likely experience increased tree mortality, reduced growth and reduced utilization as a result of an increase in forest health issues due to climate change.”
So while it can be shown, on paper, that in certain timber supply areas the rate of cut of live, healthy trees over the past ten years has not been above the theoretical rate of mid-term sustainability, there’s good reason to doubt the validity of that theoretical level.
The reader may also want to keep in mind that when we use the term “sustainable cut,” we are not talking about ecological sustainability. We are using the only metric considered by the ministry of forests—volume of logs cut per year—to determine whether logging can theoretically continue at a certain rate into the future.
Let’s move south to the Kamloops TSA. The diagram below summarizes 10 years of harvesting there.
In this TSA, Prasad’s assertion is challenged. When the salvage and sanitation logging are removed from the ledger, the ministry’s records show logging exceeded the theoretical mid-term sustainable cut level by 3.4 million cubic metres. That overcut resulted in about 9800 hectares of publicly-owned land being clearcut beyond what BC timber analysts believe to be sustainable.
Immediately to the east of the Kamloops TSA is the Okanagan TSA. The diagram below summarizes 10 years of harvesting.
The Okanagan TSA’s record swerves even further away from Prasad’s account, and the volume of the overcut is 5.4 million cubic metres. That’s roughly equivalent to cutting 15,500 hectares beyond what BC timber supply analysts have assessed is theoretically sustainable. Our analysis showed that salvaging of beetle- and fire-killed lodgepole pine, along with pre-emptive logging of live lodgepole pine, amounted to 6 percent of the total cut. The volume of live, healthy lodgepole pine that was pre-emptively logged so that it couldn’t be killed by beetles was twice the volume of beetle-killed lodgepole pine.
South of the Kamloops and Okanagan TSAs are the Merritt and Lillooet TSAs, the data for which we grouped together in the diagram below. Again, this summarizes 10 years of harvesting.
In the Lillooet and Merritt timber supply areas, Prasad’s assertion again fails. The combined cut of live trees in those two TSAs—and this excludes sanitation logging of live lodgepole pine—reached 150 percent of the mid-term sustainable cut level, resulting in over 20,000 hectares of additional clearcuts beyond what BC’s timber supply analysts deemed was sustainable.
The excessive, unsustainable logging that took place in the Kamloops, Okanagan, Merritt and Lillooet timber supply areas has consequences. If a specific logging practice is problematic, the more logging that employs that practice, the greater the problem that’s created. And in mid-September the Forest Practices Board released a special investigation report about one of those specific problems: reforestation. The investigation focussed on plantations in the Kamloops, Okanagan, Merritt and Lillooet TSAs, as well as the Cariboo-Chilcotin Natural Resource District.
The report was politely—but firmly—damning. The board’s investigation into the health of plantation regrowth on cutblocks in the Interior Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone found that “ percent of the cutblocks examined were in poor and marginal condition and licensees may not be creating/regenerating resilient stands, which may have negative implications for future timber and non-timber values.”
That finding supports a concern expressed by Britneff and Watts, that computer-model-based predictions of future growth and yield don’t necessarily reflect what’s actually happening on the ground. Yes, clearcuts are being replanted, but they are then failing to grow at the rate used by BC’s timber supply analysts in their determinations of how much cut is—theoretically—sustainable.
Amongst other findings, the investigation found “an over-reliance on clearcutting” in the Interior Douglas-fir zone, and noted that clearcutting “is not appropriate for dry-belt-fir stands, as young trees do not regenerate well without the shade and shelter of overstory trees.”
The Forest Practices Board also recommended to the ministry that it “re-assess the long-term reforestation objectives for the dry IDF [zone], and update them based on the likely consequences of climate change.” As noted in my earlier story, Britneff and Watts, in their detailed critiques of the timber supply review and allowable annual cut determination processes, have observed that BC’s current Chief Forester Diane Nicholls has rejected including the likely consequences of climate change as part of her determinations.
Nicholls wrote, in a 2019 timber supply review for the Lakes TSA, “the potential rate and specific characteristics of climate change in different parts of the province are uncertain. This uncertainty means that it is not possible to confidently predict the specific, quantitative impacts on timber supply.”
That position, Watts and Britneff say, throws more doubt on the validity of the timber supply analysts’ estimates of future growth and yield. Now the Forest Practices Board has echoed their doubts.
Nicholls’ statement is another way of saying, “Since I don’t know exactly what the impacts of climate change will be on how trees grow in all of BC, I can’t make any changes to our practices anywhere.” If the chief forester was intent on responding to the challenges that climate change poses for forests, as is needed, she would never have made such a statement. She has constructed an alternative reality in which “uncertainty” is used as an excuse for not acting. But the uncertainty of the situation requires the exercise of the precautionary principle: Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
Cast your gaze now on a constellation of seven timber supply areas in the southeast corner of the province, known to the ministry of forests as the Kootenay-Boundary Natural Resource District. The graph below summarizes 10 years of harvesting there.
Note the small fraction (0.9 million cubic metres) of logging attributable to Mountain Pine Beetle salvage logging, beetle sanitation logging and fire-killed lodgepole pine salvage. Similar to the case in the Okanagan TSA, the volume of live, healthy lodgepole pine that was logged so that beetles couldn’t kill it is greater than the volume of beetle- and fire-killed pine. In this region, though, the difference is more extreme. Five times as much live, healthy lodgepole pine was pre-emptively logged as there was salvage logging of dead lodgepole pine.
The 6.0-million-cubic-metre overcut required clearcutting of over 17,000 hectares of forest. One of the possible consequences of that overcut is highlighted in a class-action legal suit against the BC government and several forest industry corporations filed in mid-July 2020 by residents of Grand Forks.
In May 2018, Grand Forks experienced devastating flooding of the Granby and Kettle Rivers. About 3000 homes and businesses had to be evacuated and over 400 homes and dozens of businesses were flooded.
In their statement of claim, the plaintiffs allege that the flooding resulted from excessive runoff caused by logging in the Kettle River watershed, which includes the Granby River. The headwaters of the West Kettle River and the Kettle River are in the Okanagan TSA, mentioned above, where the rate of logging also exceeds the sustainable mid-term rate of cut. The West Kettle, Kettle and Granby flow south through the Boundary TSA.
Logging in the upper Kettle River Valley. The Kettle river can be seen on the left side of the image, the Granby to the right of centre. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
The Granby River runs across the the bottom of the aerial photograph above. Note the extensive logging above the river. The Granby flows into the Kettle River at Grand Forks. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
Specifically, the suit states that the Forest Analyses and Inventory Branch of the ministry of forests overestimated by 20 percent the timber volume in forest stands in the watershed, and this led to an allowable annual cut that was 20 percent too high to be sustainable. The plaintiffs allege that, “This has led to increasing the frequency, duration and magnitude of peak flows. Without sufficient timber regrowth and watershed recovery the result is increased surface runoff, increased sediment transport, increased water quantity and stream channel discharge associated with flooding that caused the major flooding events in the Kettle and Granby river systems resulting in the damages to the Plaintiffs’ and Class Members’ property.”
Focus examined the ministry of forests’ record of harvesting over the last 11 years in Boundary TSA. That record (see below) does show a quick increase in the rate of harvesting in the 10 years leading to the flooding in 2018 (this graph does not include logging in that part of the Okanagan TSA within the Kettle River watershed).
The suit doesn’t allege that the ministry of forests failed to consider the likely consequences of climate change, but it could have. Scientists have been reporting for years that a warming planet means rainstorms will drop more water in a given period of time. A search through the Boundary Timber Supply Area’s 2011 timber supply review couldn’t find a single reference that would suggest the hydrological function of forests—including their ability to keep the forest floor from becoming saturated and their ability to slow down the melting of snow—was given any consideration in determining what level of cut was “sustainable.” (Read a comprehensive account of the Grand Forks civil suit by Ben Parfitt here.)
The only certain way to reduce the forest industry’s alarming impact on the climate and biodiversity crises is to significantly lower the rate at which the industry is razing publicly owned forests. Yet the working relationship between the ministry of forests and the forest industry is based on maintaining the highest rate of cut, even if that cut exceeds what the ministry has determined can be sustained over time. Unless that is replaced with a relationship in which a robust response to the climate and biodiversity crises is the primary objective, the established pattern of denialism in the ministry will continue, ensuring that both crises will worsen.
David Broadland started writing about forests, the logging industry and the ministry of forests in 1989.
Forest Practices Board Investigation Report: Reforestation in Interior Douglas Fir Subzone FPB September 17 2020.pdf
Statement of Claim of Grand Forks residents class action lawsuit: Grand Forks civil action.pdf