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  • The Canadian Standards Association's use of the word "sustainable" to describe forestry operations is an abuse of the English language

    Hans Tammemagi

    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.

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