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  • The cost of clearcutting ecosystems

    Robert Hart

    An open Letter to Premier David Eby


    December 7, 2022

    Rt. Hon. David Eby, Premier premier@gov.bc.ca

    Dear Premier Eby,

    Re: the cost of clearcutting ecosystems

    I am writing to you to request a clear statement on what your Ministries are prepared to do to prevent the extirpation of Caribou in southern and central BC. The South Purcell herd is gone. The Central Selkirks herd is down to 28 individuals and while the Columbia North herd has enough numbers to rebuild, 622 ha of their critical habitat have approved plans for clearcutting. These cutblocks overlap deferral areas that were announced over a year ago when your government promised a paradigm shift in policy. If BC Timber Sales and the Ministry of Forests are allowed to continue to approve cutblocks in required habitats and construct logging roads into them, we will also lose the Columbia North herd within the next couple of decades.

    Caribou, though iconic, are only the tip of the iceberg. The health and basic functionality of the environment, and we along with it, is imperilled by this approach to resource extraction. We once had 1.3 million hectares of rich Inland Temperate Forest and we are now down to less than 5 percent of that. Our present approach to timber harvesting involves removing a working ecology and replacing it with a second growth plantation. That in itself creates immense damage but having no plans to ever rebuild towards intact forests is essentially a plan to continually degrade the landscape over time.

    Ecosystems are designed through time to be viable, resilient, stable and abundant. Biodiversity is both a product and a key driver to that evolutionary process. The wholesale removal of an ecosystem that has evolved through millions of years is called ecocide and I cannot think of a greater offence. It is appalling to contemplate because it is catastrophic in consequence. Those words are not too strong. We do not have any science that says we can reproduce ecosystems once we remove them.

    We do have science that says we are losing our building blocks. The Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club BC have just released Species at Risk Recovery in BC that starts out by noting that we have 1900 species at risk in British Columbia. On this issue alone we should be immediately halting the clear cutting of the intact forests we have left and especially the richest, most biologically diverse ones like our rare Inland Temperate Rainforests.

    Science is also telling us that while our forests used to be a massive carbon sink, they are now a carbon emitter on a scale equal to fossil fuel emissions. As you know, that warming is driving increased insect outbreaks, increased numbers and severities of forest fires and breakdowns in the forest’s ability to manage water, in addition to driving the biggest loss in biodiversity humankind has ever witnessed. So the need for the promised paradigm shift in forestry towards ecosystem health appears greater every year. Your Ministries delays for over two years in addressing this ballooning emergency is both puzzling and urgently concerning. Of the 14 recommendation from the Merkel/Gorley report, your government has actively responded to only one, logging deferrals in critical habitat, and that poorly. Your Technical Advisory Panel identified 4 million critical hectares and you have deferred only 2.6.

    Conserving all of the little remaining of our old growth forests is critical to our success in protecting as much of our biodiversity as we can and building back toward true sustainability as quickly as we can. The current management approach of clearcutting intact forests for timber harvest has brought us to this point. To attempt to change while allowing clearcuts simply exacerbates a long-standing and growing problem. We need to come out of the deferral period with a new harvest approach that, through relying on highly selective cutting, leaves the forests intact and the integrity of their ecosystems functioning and vital.

    We have a choice. We can continue to clearcut until all our old growth forests are gone, (except for memorial parks to house the species that have survived). We can accept species loss, accelerating climate change, forest fires, the breakdown of water regimes and least-value forestry with fewer mills, less manufacturing, fewer jobs and a steadily degrading landscape. Or we can use what we have left to begin the centuries-long job of building back intact forests that store carbon better, are more resilient to forest fires, manage water better, preserve the greatest biodiversity possible and support a truly sustainable, community-based forestry. “It becomes even more important to maximize the number of jobs and the economic benefits from every cubic metre of wood harvested,” Taylor Bachrach, MP for Skeena-Bulkley, said in parliament on November 28. Clearcutting our forests will not do that.

    You have the resources to shift the paradigm toward forest and community resilience. Forestry was once our iconic industry and you continue to subsidize it to the tune of over a million dollars a day, this to large international forestry players who increasingly invest more of their BC generated profits out of the country. Despite that support, forestry has fallen to a few percent of our GDP. The old model has failed both environmentally and economically. If you diverted even half of that support to working with community forests and Indigenous-based forestry, you would get a better return for our money. Communities need help to repair their ecologies and develop appropriately scaled harvesting, manufacturing and marketing models that work for them but do not erode the environmental capital that surrounds them. They need new policy that supports the development of social infrastructure, everything from models of community financing to doing the research necessary to inform the move back to forest and community health.

    Your government has shown strong social leadership in beginning to move BC laws and policies to align with the principles of the UNDRIP and reconciliation with Indigenous people. Your government announced a watershed security fund two years ago. On October 6 the First Nations Leadership Council called for a Watershed Security Fund by 2023. The federal government has offered an initial $50 million towards saving old growth and is trying to protect 30 percent of our land base by 2030, (rather than the present 14 percent). The 15th global Convention on Biological Diversity is meeting in Montreal to try to save as much as we can. Surely our stars have aligned. The time has come. We are ready to proceed.

    We, especially those of us who live in forest communities, need this shift to include a new partnership with all local governments. Work with us and we will move to a higher standard of forest practice, one that is focussed on assessing what the land surrounding us needs to continue to support the life around us and our livelihood here. In a good ways. We don’t want to only find caribou on the back of a quarter. Thank you for your attention to this and for your work for us.

    Robert Hart, Terrace

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