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  • Forest professionals are failing to address the climate and biodiversity crises

    Herb Hammond

    Professional forester calls for an end to clearcutting in BC and a reduction of the allowable annual cut to less than half its current level.



    A clearcut in the Prince George area (Photo by Sean O’Rourke, Conservation North)


    AS A REGISTERED PROFESSIONAL FORESTER, I have received many email invitations from the Association of BC Forest Professionals (ABCFP) promoting a “Free E-course” which purportedly will explain my profession’s Code of Ethical and Professional Conduct. Ethical behaviour and professionalism are not taught. They are inherent values of honest, compassionate, and thoughtful individuals. The ABCFP would do better to address the endemic problems of forestry that are exacerbating both the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis than to give the illusion of ethical professionalism.

    The Code of Ethical & Professional Conduct states, in part under Section 2, Independence: “Registrants exhibit objectivity and are professionally independent in fact and appearance, and must: a. uphold the public interest and professional principles above the demands of employment or personal gain…”

    Nothing could be more important and essential to upholding the public interest than acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and to slow loss of biodiversity. Yet, standard industrial forestry practices of clearcuts and short-rotation tree plantations do the exact opposite.

    Industrial forestry degrades water and watersheds through the destruction of old, intact primary forests that produce the highest quality water in moderate flows, and the destruction or removal of fallen trees that store and filter water. These same old, primary forests are necessary to conserve water, particularly under the stresses of heat and moisture loss that get progressively worse with global heating. The fallen trees build future moisture- and nutrient-sufficient soils.

    Old-growth forests are critical storehouses of carbon, sequester the most carbon compared to other forest phases, produce the highest quality water, and harbour the highest levels of biological diversity, including specialist species found nowhere else. Not to mention the vital cultural importance of these forests to Indigenous people, and to a growing number of non-Indigenous people.

    Yet, driven by its commitment to a short-term, timber-extraction bias, the forestry profession consistently discounts the importance of old-growth forests for other than required timber supplies. This bias for timber extraction at the expense of all other forest values has been supported by spokespeople for the ABCFP and even by forestry academics who proclaim, in the face of scientific studies showing the opposite, that there is plenty of old-growth already protected in parks and other protected areas. These false claims expose a willful ignorance of the difference between old-growth forests that grow on deep, moist soils, compared to old-growth forests that develop in bogs, on shallow moisture-deficient soils, and at high elevations.

    The Fairy Creek rainforest is but one example of the endemic problems with professional forestry. Who are the forest professionals that designed clearcuts in old-growth forests that contain the blue-listed specklebelly lichen?  In another example, what about the ongoing decline of woodland caribou that depend upon old-growth forest habitat? This dependence of woodland caribou has been known for decades. Yet, during that time forest professionals have continued to authorize logging plans that destroy caribou habitat.

    We will never know how many threatened and endangered species have been wiped out by “professional” forestry, because no one bothered to ask if they existed before exploiting the forest for timber in the first place. If you don’t ask the question, you don’t need to worry about the answer. Does that approach uphold the public interest? Is that approach an example of ethical professionalism?

    Forestry is a significant player in the shift of British Columbia’s, and Canada’s forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources. While wildfires may make up the largest part of that shift, logging, slash burning, and the production of short-lived wood products are significant contributors to forests being the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions of any economic sector in BC. Also, important to note is that clearcuts and tree plantations are highly flammable, increase wildfire risk and cause large, intense wildfires.

    When it comes to the public interest, foresters have a professional obligation to recognize that, among “the multiple values that society has assigned to BC’s forests,” protection of a livable climate and the biodiversity that sustains all life on Earth are paramount values, without which the other values will cease to exist. As a first measure towards climate correction, the provincial government needs to stop clearcutting all forests, particularly old primary forests on Crown land and reduce the provincial allowable annual cut by more than half.

    Herb Hammond is a Registered Professional Forester and forest ecologist with over 40 years of experience in research, industry, teaching and consulting. Currently his work is carried out through Silva Ecosystem Consultants and the Silva Forest Foundation.

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