Widely circulated new map depicting BC's disappearing primary forests raises thorny questions about the state of BC's forests. The creators clarify what it shows.
February 16, 2021
Part of the Seeing Red Map showing remaining primary forest (in green) and the part of BC that has been industrially logged (red). Click on the map to enlarge, or see a live scalar version which allows you to examine specific areas of the province in finer detail.
AT CONSERVATION NORTH, we are pleased with the widespread viewing of our primary forests map called “Seeing Red” and with so many favourable comments.
“Seeing Red” is the first freely-available map of its kind. Its veracity is only as good and complete as the publicly available provincial government information underlying it.
The matter of definition of “primary forest,” which the map depicts in the colour green, is tricky and, in response to some comments from the public, needs further clarification.
“Primary forest” is a commonly used and scientifically accepted term for forests having composition and structure that largely reflect natural processes. Primary forests have never been industrially logged.
Sometimes primary forests are referred to as “original,” or “natural,” or “intact” forests. Primary forests are important because they are the best habitat for wildlife, support the largest stores of forest carbon, and contain the last old-growth forests.
If readers were to view some selected red areas of the map on Google Earth, they may appear green and forested. It is important to understand that Google Earth imagery is blended and often years behind reality. Also, on this imagery one cannot distinguish between primary forest and replanted cutblocks—they both look green.
The scientific community disagrees with claims that “greenness” as inferred from Google Earth is a credible indicator of ecological integrity. Even-aged monoculture plantations in cutblocks do, in fact, contain chlorophyll and are indeed green, but they are simplified, fragmented, degraded, and ecologically impoverished.
Some areas of the “Seeing Red” map are light grey. Light grey is clearly defined in the map legend as places where there is no forest or for which no forest information exists (See the map legend).
These areas with “no data” simply represent gaps in the government’s forest inventory available to the public or urban areas where the government does not conduct a forest inventory (e.g., the UVic campus).
One reason that gaps exist over some areas the reader may know to be forested is that some industry holders of tree farm licences either refuse to share their forest inventory with the government, or will not allow the government to share their forest inventory information on Crown land with the public.
The forests ministry would be doing a badly needed public service if it were to make all forest information on Crown lands freely available to the public so that we may make an even better map.
Michelle Connolly MSc is a director of Conservation North.
For more information about the Seeing Red Map, read Sarah Cox’s report at the narwhal.ca