In 2003, an employee of the ministry of forests offered confidentiality agreements to TFL holders ensuring that mapping of the timber harvesting land base in those TFLs would not be released to the public. Whether or not it was the original purpose of the confidentiality agreements, they seem to have had the effect of thwarting designation of legal, spatially-designated old-growth management areas in the majority of the TFLs that were offered confidentiality.
Western Forest Products’ surveyors work in an area of old-growth forest in TFL 19 near Tahsis on Vancouver Island. TFL 19 contains zero legal old-growth management areas. Across BC, there are over 3 million hectares of land spread across 22 TFLs where logging companies have evaded establishing spatially-designated old-growth management areas. (Photo: TJ Watt)
THE FIRST PART OF AN INQUIRY conducted by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC (OIPC) recently received written submissions from the Ministry of Forests, three of the affected logging companies and the Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project. The inquiry was held to consider a simple question: Is the right of the public to access maps of the “timber harvesting land base” (THLB) on publicly owned land in tree farm licences outweighed by the private interests of logging companies currently holding those tree farm licences?
The logging companies provided written submissions strenuously objecting to release of the maps on the basis that making them public could fuel civil disobedience, cause disruption of their operations, bring financial loss, damage their “negotiating position” and unduly benefit their competitors.
A lawyer for Interfor wrote: “For example, the information could be used to create a narrative regarding timber harvesting plans and modelling based on the THLB information released, with the goal rallying a cause, fuelling civil disobedience, and creating operational disruptions.”
Teal Cedar Products stated: “Significant financial harm would result if the data were released to the [Applicant] whereby the [Applicant] uses the data in a manner that would disrupt Teal’s operations by protests, road blocks, or other social media campaigns…In this case, if the data were released, it would result in financial loss to Teal as operations could not proceed as planned due to road blockades and protests…”
Western Forest Products’ lawyers felt so strongly that release of the maps would cause harm to the company that they didn’t even want their arguments to be publicly known—so they redacted them from their submission. Only the inquiry’s adjudicator will ever know what Western claimed would happen if “the data were released”.
What is it about the mapping of the timber harvesting land base on publicly owned land in a tree farm licence (TFL) that is so hot that Western Forest Products doesn’t even want the public to know its arguments for why the mapping should be kept secret?
As a tool for igniting blockades of logging roads, using maps of the timber harvesting land base would be something like trying to start a fire with a water hose. Most British Columbians don’t even know what the “timber harvesting land base” is or the critical role it plays in determining how much logging occurs in BC. Land defenders, largely motivated to protect big, old trees, use more direct tools—like day-old satellite imagery showing where logging roads are being built—in their efforts to slow down destruction of old-growth forests.
But the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner will likely take seriously the overblown speculations of the logging companies and rule in favour of not releasing the maps of the timber harvesting land base on the basis that doing so would be harmful to the business interests of the logging companies. Our project submitted an argument based on Section 25 1(b) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, namely that it would be “clearly in the public interest” to release the maps. However, in the 30 years since this legislation was enacted, there has never been an OIPC adjudication that ordered a public body to release a record on the grounds that it would be “clearly in the public interest” to do so.
The OIPC inquiry did, however, unearth a document that sheds light on how the Ministry of Forests has managed to hide these maps from the public. The ministry submitted to the inquiry a letter that had been written in August 2003 in which an employee of the Ministry of Forests’ tenure and revenue branch asked each of the 22 TFL holders affected by the Forestry Revitalization Act (2003) for maps of its timber harvesting land base.
In exchange for these maps, the employee offered confidentiality agreements in which the ministry promised not to disclose the maps to any third party. According to the ministry’s submission to the inquiry, all of the TFL holders provided the requested maps to the ministry. Only two of the TFL holders—TimberWest and Canadian Forest Products—actually requested confidentiality agreements, but the ministry claimed at the inquiry that the letter itself was an implicit promise of confidentiality to all of the TFL holders.
The letter stated: “The information provided will be considered single purpose data and will be held in confidence.” This appears to mean that the mapping would be used for the purpose of taking back volume from the TFLs as set out under the Forestry Revitalization Act, but it couldn’t be used for any other purpose—like, for example, establishing old growth management areas. More on this later.
Those confidentiality agreements, both explicit and implied, have had the effect of keeping the mapping of the timber harvesting land base in TFLs hidden from public view for over 20 years.
Yet that mapping is information that section 9 of the Forest Act requires TFL holders to “prepare and supply”—at the TFL holders expense—and which they must provide “at the time and in the form and manner required by the chief forester”. Indeed, if it isn’t prepared and supplied when requested, the chief forester can reduce the TFL’s allowable annual cut by 25 percent until it is supplied. That’s because the mapping is essential for an allowable annual cut determination.
In its submission to the inquiry, the Ministry of Forests admitted that the “TFLs create this data as a condition of their TFL to enable the Province’s Chief Forester to determine an allowable annual cut”. But the ministry made no reference to the Forest Act’s stipulation that the TFL holder must “prepare and supply” the data to the chief forester.
Moreover, the 2003 Forestry Revitalization Act itself, the pending implementation of which precipitated the promises of confidentiality in the first place, contained a similar command to TFL holders to provide any information that was required to implement the Act’s provisions.
All of this goes to show that confidentiality agreements were not required to obtain maps of each affected TFL’s timber harvesting land base. Preparing and supplying the maps was a condition of their licences.
The Ministry of Forests’ submission to the inquiry shows that 10 years later, in 2013, the ministry repeated the whole exercise of requesting the timber harvesting land base from TFL holders and promising not to share that mapping with the public. In this case, too, the ministry ignored the provisions of the Forest Act that empower the chief forester to demand that maps of the timber harvesting land base be prepared and supplied at the TFL holder’s expense.
The Ministry of Forests provided no explanation at the inquiry for why it had ignored the provisions of the Forest Act and the Forestry Revitalization Act when it came to obtaining information from TFL holders. But two motivations for the ministry’s chosen course of action to keep these maps out of the public’s hands are apparent.
First, from what I have seen of mapping of the timber harvesting land base, it is very crude and that crudeness would introduce significant uncertainty into the main product that is derived from mapping the timber harvesting land base: allowable annual cut determinations. By hiding this problem behind confidentiality agreements, the ministry has kept that uncertainty out of public sight.
Secondly, by hiding this critically important mapping behind serial confidentiality agreements, the ministry was pursuing a strategy it had quietly developed in 2003: To undertake measures that would minimize the actual impact on timber supply from highly-publicized conservation initiatives such as the establishment of legal old-growth management areas. The ministry wanted to look good without actually being good.
Below, I’ll examine in detail some of the real-world impacts of the crude mapping and the ministry’s desire to look good to the public.
A crudely mapped timber harvesting land base would likely lead to over-cutting
Let’s consider, first, the impact of a crudely mapped timber harvesting land base and why the ministry would want to hide that behind confidentiality agreements.
As I mentioned above, even those British Columbians who are concerned about what’s happening to their forests likely don’t have a clear idea of what the “timber harvesting land base” is and why its areal extent is so critical to the rate at which BC’s forests are being logged. The term is defined by the ministry as “Crown forest land within the timber supply area where timber harvesting is considered both acceptable and economically feasible, given objectives for all relevant forest values, existing timber quality, market values, and applicable technology.”
Why is the timber harvesting land base critically important? There is a direct connection between the timber harvesting land base and the allowable annual cut. The allowable annual cut of a TFL is determined, in effect, by multiplying the areal extent of the timber harvesting land base by the average rate of annual forest growth on that area. That areal extent can only be ascertained from an accurate map of the timber harvesting land base. An accurate map would show areas that are too steep or unstable to log or build roads, areas of unproductive or non-commercial forest, areas of rock, swamps, creeks, lakes, roads, and so on.
From the mapping that has been released to us so far (some TFL holders voluntarily released their maps in response to the inquiry), it’s clear that in many TFLs the “timber harvesting land base” hasn’t even been differentiated from the legal boundaries of a TFL. As a result, many timber supply analyses are based on numbers that have no direct connection to forest conditions on the ground. They are merely informed guesses, and these guesses, therefore, introduce significant uncertainty into allowable annual cut determinations. Why would the ministry want to keep that off the public’s radar?
The image of the logging industry that government and industry have created over the years—both in BC and internationally—has been one of a “sustainable” industry, one which is highly regulated, with those regulations based on peerless science. Neither government or industry want the public to know that they collectively don’t have a good idea of the exact condition of BC’s forests on the ground. Their grand project of liquidating most natural forests in BC and replacing them with managed plantations is rife with uncertainty, including the whereabouts of commercially available forests.
When that uncertainty is compounded by other uncertainties associated with timber supply reviews—like the uncertainty inherent in the tree growth and stand yield computer models being used by the ministry to predict future timber supply, as well as uncertainty about the impacts of climate change and cumulative effects—the potential for the ministry to have overestimated timber supply becomes clear. (On top of all that uncertainty, the allowable annual cut is often fiddled upward by the chief forester to meet the political expectations of the forests minister of the day.)
If the timber harvesting land base has been overestimated, then the allowable annual cut will be too high. Indeed, comparison of the timber supply that was predicted 20 years ago with what appears to be available today suggests a dramatic decline in supply. The graph below is taken from the 2004 State of British Columbia’s Forests report—authored by the Ministry of Forests and signed by the chief forester of the day. We have added what the actual harvest has been for the period 2019-2023 (see the plunging black line). The years 2021-2022 included record high lumber prices, yet BC’s timber supply could not rise to the occasion. This is what we would expect to see if the allowable annual cut had been set too high because the areal extent of the timber harvesting land base had been overestimated, and/or the ministry’s growth and yield modelling was flawed and/or it hadn’t accounted for cumulative effects or climate change.
Similarly, satellite imagery of BC shows widely devastated forests, providing dramatic evidence of over-cutting:
The Ministry of Forests—through its proxies in academia and industry—now blames the sad state of BC’s forests on the mountain pine beetle and fires, but its past estimates of timber supply have always, supposedly, included those impacts.
This is, I believe, one of the motivations for the ministry to continue hiding mapping of the timber harvesting land base behind confidentiality agreements and BC’s failed information law. The ministry is fearful that if the public could actually see the mapping of the timber harvesting land base in TFLs, the public would be appalled at the dismal quality of information that the Ministry of Forests has been using over the last 20 years to determine the allowable annual cut for TFLs (and, for that matter, for timber supply areas).
The Ministry of Forests has, over the years, made hundreds of claims about the size of the timber harvesting land base—in timber supply analyses for both TFLs and timber supply areas—without ever having to support those claims by providing the corresponding mapping to the public.
Let’s turn now to the ministry’s second motivation back in 2003, which was to take steps that would minimize the impact of conservation initiatives on timber supply, such as legal old-growth management areas. By making the maps of the timber harvesting land base in TFLs unavailable for any other purpose than to implement the Forestry Revitalization Act, the ministry appears to have thwarted establishment of legal old growth management areas in many TFLs.
How to look good while ensuring nobody actually knows you’re not doing good
I have reported previously about a memo written in 2003 by a member of the Ministry of Forests’ “Forest and Range Evaluation Program” that shows the ministry had—out of the public’s view—established a strategy “to ensure that conservation of non-timber values is undertaken in balance with economic benefits associated with values.” That “balance” might sound good, but in practice this meant “conservation of non-timber values” could result in no more than a 6 percent reduction in “timber supply”.
But just establishing legal old-growth management areas at the minimum density then recommended by forest scientists would have had more than a 9 percent impact on timber supply. So the ministry, which was—and still is—closely aligned with the values and objectives of the logging industry, chose to ensure that establishment of old-growth management areas was limited. Were the confidentiality agreements that were exposed by the OIPC inquiry used to thwart establishment of legal old-growth management areas in TFLs? That’s how it appears to me.
Back in 2020, I was working on the Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project. The project’s objective is to build up the capacity of communities living on those islands to communicate effectively with government about the impacts of logging. The intention is to create conditions that will lead to an increase in the amount of protected forestland. Our project supports the idea that “nature needs half”.
Toward that end, we were trying to determine why there were no legal old-growth management areas on Quadra Island, a large part of which is in TimberWest’s TFL 47. “Legal” old-growth management areas are legally mandated, spatially defined areas intended to conserve old forest within the timber harvesting land base. Forests scientists have determined that such measures are required to conserve the biodiversity and structure associated with old forests. Legal old-growth management areas are the product of “landscape level planning”, a process started by the Ministry of Forests in the late 1990s. Quadra Island had been given “high” priority for such planning in 2000, but it never took place. So we decided to carry out that planning ourselves, as best we could.
We had mapped and ground-truthed where old forest exists on Quadra Island and just needed to know where those areas coincided with the timber harvesting land base. We reasoned that if the Ministry of Forests didn’t have the resources to do this, we would do it for them. We intended to nominate those areas of old forest that overlapped the timber harvesting land base for conservation as legal old-growth management areas. But we needed to know where the timber harvesting land base was. Finding no publicly available mapping for the timber harvesting land base, we filed the FOI that led to the OIPC inquiry.
It turned out that it wasn’t just Quadra Island that didn’t have legal old-growth management areas. There were none in the entire 125,635-hectare-area of TFL 47. The current tenure holder of TFL 47 is TimberWest. The inquiry revealed that TimberWest had signed a confidentiality agreement with the Ministry of Forests in 2003. As I mentioned earlier, this agreement included a promise to use the data for a “single purpose” and that purpose, apparently, did not include establishing legal old-growth management areas.
Over the past twenty years, TimberWest has been able to log old forest throughout TFL 47 without ever having to plan for even the 9 percent minimum target for old forest set out in the 2004 Order Establishing Non-Spatial Old Growth Objectives for areas of BC that didn’t get landscape level planning. TimberWest admits that on Quadra Island the level of old forest has fallen to about 3.8 percent of the area in its TFL. The 2020 old-growth strategic review panel recommended that if the level of old forest falls below 10 percent in a landscape unit, there should be an immediate deferral of any further logging of old forest (recommendation 3.b). Yet logging of old forest in the Quadra Landscape Unit continues. We have filed a complaint with the Forest Practices Board.
This isn’t a problem that’s confined to TFL 47. In fact, 22 of the 33 TFLs scattered around BC that existed in 2003 do not contain legal old-growth management areas. Sixteen of those 22 “no-OGMA” TFLs were covered by the 2003 confidentiality/single purpose agreement (see list below). The TFLs with no legal old-growth management areas cover a gross area of 3,097,403 hectares. Of that, according to the ministry, 1,471,825 hectares are in the timber harvesting land base. That means that approximately 132,400 hectares of productive forest that should have been designated as legal old-growth management areas haven’t been.
Legislation that led to the establishment of old-growth management areas was enacted in recognition of the critical need to protect the biological diversity and structure associated with old forests. The legislation is proof that protecting biological diversity is a matter of public policy in BC. If the confidentiality agreements signed by the Ministry of Forests in 2003 and 2013 have thwarted the ability of public officials to carry out that public policy, then the confidentiality agreements should be, under the common law doctrine of “Public Policy”, unenforceable, and the mapping should be released to the public.
Once the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has made an order regarding the mapping, I will report on that.
Below is a list of the TFLs in BC that have no old-growth management areas. Areas shown are gross areas. Those marked with an asterisk* were offered confidentiality agreements in 2003:
TFL 3—Interfor—78,672 hectares*
TFL 8—Interfor—77,870 hectares*
TFL 14—Crestbrook Forest Industries—150,968 hectares*
TFL 19—Western Forest Products—171,111 hectares*
TFL 23—Pope & Talbot—313,778 hectares*
TFL 25—Western Forest Products—196,233 hectares*
TFL 26—District of Mission—14,828 hectares
TFL 30—Canfor—179,809 hectares*
TFL 33—Federated Co-operatives—8396 hectares*
TFL 38—Interfor—177,381 hectares*
TFL 43—Holmalco Forestry—5405 hectares
TFL 45—Interfor—223,272 hectares*
TFL 47—TimberWest—125,635 hectares*
TFL 48—Canfor—625,980 hectares*
TFL 49—Tolko—110,510 hectares*
TFL 53—Dunkley Lumber—87,838 hectares*
TFL 54—Ma-Mook Natural Resources—136,008 hectares*
TFL 55—Louisiana-Pacific Canada—92,657 hectares*
TFL 56-Revelstoke Community Forest—119,353 hectares
TFL 59-Weyerhauser—46,894 hectares
TFL 60—Taan Forest—134,565 hectares
TFL 61—Pacheedaht-Andersen Timber Holdings—20,240 hectares
Total gross area of TFLs with no OGMAs—3,097,403 hectares
(Note: this commentary is based on the reading of documents posted on B.C. government websites (https://bclaws.gov.bc.ca) (https://news.gov.bc.ca) and does not constitute legal opinion or advice.)
The Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek conflict involves a clearly circumscribed issue in forestry reform: the permanent protection of the remaining unprotected primary and old growth forest stands with large and very large old trees within British Columbia before these stands are completely liquidated by industrial logging. Old growth forests with large and very large old trees are a tiny fraction of the original primary forest of the province (1).
This specific issue has a great deal of urgency because old growth logging continues year after year (2), continues to take place in proposed logging deferral areas (3), and the unimpeded industrial logging of old growth results in irreparable harm to the environment, unique ecosystems, biodiversity, and the habitat of species at risk.
Following years of advocacy from ENGOs and the public on protecting the remaining unprotected old growth forest stands in British Columbia from logging, the BC government issued on July 17, 2019, a media release announcing the creation of the Old Growth Strategic Review Panel (OGSRP) and temporary protection for 54 groves with individual extremely large iconic trees listed on the Big Tree Registry of the University of British Columbia through short-term designated areas under the authority of section 169 of the Forest Act (FA) (4).
The BC government subsequently used section 169 of the FA to designate a few small areas for the short-term logging deferral of exceptionally large individual iconic old trees and their supporting tree area within a 56-metre radius (5). The current Tree Designated Area No.1 and Tree Designated Area No.2, which presently protect only 8 and 5 iconic trees respectively, are set to expire on July 5, 2023.
The BC government issued on October 23, 2019, another media release outlining the OGSRP’s engagement process, which included the schedule for 12 regional panel meetings and a platform for the public to engage in completing an online questionnaire and to submit written submissions online by January 31, 2020 (6).
In its public engagement document issued following the creation of the OGSRP (7), the BC government referred the public to the BC Biodiversity Guidebook for “… a more detailed and technical definition of old growth forest” and stated the following:
“Every type of forest is distinct, and there is no commonly accepted definition of an old growth forest. British Columbia’s scientists have developed a working definition based on the age when the province’s different forest ecosystems typically begin to develop old growth characteristics…Since the 1990’s, the Government of British Columbia has used a definition that is based on the age of trees, biogeoclimatic zones and the frequency of natural disturbance, such as wind, fire and landslides. Generally speaking, most of B.C.’s coastal forests are considered old growth if they contain trees that are more than 250 years old, and some types of interior forests are considered old growth if they contain trees that are more than 140 years old .”
More than three years later, there is still no clear, cogent, binding and legally enforceable definition of “primary forest”, “old growth”, “old growth forest”, “old growth stand”, or “old growth tree” in any statute of British Columbia (8), despite the decades-long history of protests on old growth logging, the work and report of the OGSRP (9), and the further work and report of the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) (10).
The OGSRP submitted its report to the BC government on April 30, 2020, but the BC government did not publicly disclose this report and its 14 recommendations until September 11, 2020, almost a month after the Ada’itsx/ Fairy Creek protest first erupted in mid-August 2020.
Faced with the growing protest movement in Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek and mounting pressure from ENGOs and the public, the BC government issued on September 11, 2020 a news release heralding “… a new, holistic approach as a first step for the benefit of all British Columbians to protect old-growth forests”, government’s intention to defer old forest harvesting in “… nine areas throughout the province totalling 352,739 hectares as a first step”, and “… further work to protect up to 1,500 exceptionally large, individual trees under the Special Tree Protection Regulation” (11). The minister responsible for Forests at the time of the release is quoted as saying:
“For many years, there has been a patchwork approach to how old-growth forests are managed in our province, and this has caused a loss of biodiversity.”
On September 11, 2020, the Old Growth Designated Area No.1 was established under the authority of section 169 of the FA for the purpose of effecting a short-term logging deferral on a limited area of Crown land within the Fairy Creek watershed, effective on September 11, 2020, and expiring on August 31, 2022 (12). Also on September 11, 2020, the BC government issued the Special Tree Protection Regulation (STPR) made under the authority of the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA), coming into effect on that same date (13).
The STPR defines specified trees in a Schedule as trees from 14 different tree species having an extremely large prescribed minimum diameter at breast height relative to their respective biogeoclimatic zone location. These “specified trees” and immediate surrounding “supporting trees” within a 56-metre radius from the “specified tree” are to be protected subject to exemptions granted at the discretion of the minister for “forest management”, and subject to “awareness” of the “specified tree”, as reported to the minister by “a responsible person for a primary forest activity” in the area where the “specified tree” is located (i.e., the holder of the tenure agreement in that area). The STPR does not therefore provide effective protection for most large to very large old growth trees, or even most of the exceptionally large iconic trees specifically listed in the BC Big Tree Registry managed by UBC’s Faculty of Forestry (14). The BC government stated that it would protect up to 1,500 exceptionally large, individual trees through the STPR, but it has not disclosed how many of them are protected more than 2 years later, or where they are actually located.
Subsequently, while facing continuing pressure from protesters, ENGOs and the public, the BC government issued another media release on June 9, 2021, announcing old growth logging deferrals respectively in the Fairy Creek watershed and Central Walbran areas “… spanning over 2,000 hectares” at the request of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations “… for two years while the First Nations title holders build resource stewardship plans for their lands” (15). The successor Fairy Creek Watershed Designated Area No.1 was made under the authority of section 169 of the FA (16). Also on June 9, 2021, the minister made a new ministerial order under the authority of section 170 of the FA respecting the separately defined and mapped Zone A and Zone B of the Fairy Creek Watershed Designated Area No.1 (17). The order for Zone B has several specific added definitions for the determination of the “Suspended Harvest Area”. Also on June 9, 2021, the minister made another order in relation to the initial Old Growth Designated Area No.1 to repeal a previous ministerial order (18), apply the same added new definitions for the determination of the “Suspended Harvest Area”, and defer logging in the other designated areas in the province. The Fairy Creek Watershed Designated Area No. 1 is set to expire on June 8, 2023.
On June 24, 2021, the BC government announced the appointment of the 5-member Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) to “… provide recommendations and advice on priority areas for development of deferrals” but stated that “Decisions on specific deferrals will continue to be made at a government-to-government level with First Nations rights and title holders” (19).
On October 20, 2021, the BC government announced and tabled Bill 23 in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (Forests Statutes Amendment Act, 2021) containing mainly extensive amendments to the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) with a view to eventually replacing forest stewardship plans with forest operations plans, instituting a new forest landscape planning (FLP) regime, and allowing the eventual conclusion of decision-making agreements by the chief forester and/or the minister with individual Indigenous governing bodies (20). Bill 23 did not contain any provision dealing with old growth protection.
On November 2, 2021, the BC government publicly released the TAP’s report, announced its “… intention to work in partnership with First Nations to defer harvest of ancient, rare and priority large stands of old growth within 2.6 million hectares of B.C.’s most at-risk old-growth forests” (21), and further stated:
“The Province is requesting that First Nations indicate within the next 30 days whether or not they support the deferrals, require further engagement to incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge, or would prefer to discuss deferrals through existing treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.”
On November 15, 2021, the BC government announced and tabled Bill 28 in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (Forest Amendment Act, 2021) containing extensive amendments to the Forest Act with the addition of three new parts respecting the designation on Crown land of “special purpose areas” for First Nation, BCTS licence or community forest purposes (Part 15), compensation to forest tenure holders for these “special purpose areas” (Part 16), and area reductions to accommodate the First
Nation or BCTS licence purposes (Part 17) (22). Bill 28 did not contain any provision dealing with old growth protection.
On December 16, 2021, the BC government issued another media release (23), with the following statement:
“The Province is working to finalize deferrals with First Nations that indicated support for immediate deferrals. Deferrals can be implemented in two ways: by licensees agreeing to voluntarily pause harvest; or by a minister’s order under part 13 of the Forest Act, rescinding approved permits and preventing new permits from being issued. Deferrals will be announced as soon as they are implemented.”
The BC government next issued a media release on April 1, 2022 (later updated on May 11, 2022) stating that “Deferrals have been implemented on nearly 1.7 million hectares of old growth, including 1.05 million hectares of B.C.’s forests most at risk of irreversible loss”, including 1.05 million hectares through First Nations engagements on deferrals (24). The media release also stated:
“Government received responses from 188 out of the 204 First Nations in B.C. Eleven First Nations have either no old growth or no commercial forestry in their territory. The Province will continue to reach out to the five First Nations that have not responded. To date, 75 First Nations have agreed to defer harvest of at-risk old growth in their territory. Only seven First Nations have indicated they are opposed to any deferrals proceeding in their territory. More than 60 First Nations have requested more time to decide, including time to incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge. The Province continues to engage with these Nations.”
The BC government issued a media release on November 2, 2022 (later updated on November 3,2022), stating that there was a declining annual number of hectares of old growth logged in the province for the period from 2015 to 2021 (25). However, the Wilderness Committee BC pointed out on November 3, 2022, that the BC government was still not saying where old-growth logging was taking place, and mentioned that “… independent mapping, satellite imagery analysis and on-the-ground visits have confirmed ongoing logging in thousands of hectares of at-risk old-growth forests across B.C. (26)
The BC government held in Vancouver a meeting with selected invited representatives of some First Nations on February 2 and 3, 2023, and an “Old Growth Muti-Sectoral Forum” with selected invitees of various sectoral stakeholders on February 6 and 7, 2023, to inform on the process moving forward, report back on what was heard in the old growth strategic review (OGSR) and a First Nations Forestry Council forum held in November 2022, gather input on vision, principles, goals, and actions, and gather constructive and solution-focused ideas for the implementation of the action plan.
Shortly thereafter, on February 13, 2023, the BC government issued an Order in Council announcing the removal of the “without unduly reducing the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests” clause in
sections of the Forest Planning and Practices Regulation (FPPR) (27), and two days later, on February 15, 2023, the BC government issued a media release announcing “… new measures to protect more old growth by fast-tracking innovation and co-developing new local plans with First Nations to better care for B.C.’s forests” (28). This was presented as significant progress on old growth protection, but a more in-depth review of this latest round of government statements and documents shows that it is not the case.
O.C. 76/2023 simply states that the BC government has decided to amend the FPPR by striking out the “without unduly reducing the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests” clause from the prescribed government objectives in the FPPR for forest stewardship plans (FSPs) respecting soils (section 5), wildlife and the survival of species at risk (section 7 (1)), water, fish, wildlife and biodiversity within riparian areas (section 8), fish habitat in fisheries sensitive watersheds (section 8.1 (3)), water in community watersheds (section 8.2 (3)), wildlife and biodiversity at the landscape level (section 9), and wildlife and biodiversity at the stand level (section 9.1). The date for the coming into force of the amendments is not stated in O.C. 76/2023, the amending regulation has yet to be published in the B.C. Gazette, Part 2, and there is no published B.C. Reg. number at this time.
O.C. 76/2023 contains in its Schedule the following new section 115 to be added to the FPPR:
“Sections 5, 7 (1), 8, 8.1(3), 8.2 (3), 9 and 9.1 of this regulation, as they were immediately before the coming into force of this section, continue to apply to a forest stewardship plan that is in effect on the coming into force of this section.”
In plain language, what this means is that as, if, and when the proposed amendments to the FPPR come into force, all the forest stewardship plans in effect at that time will continue to be subject to the same “without unduly reducing the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests” clause.
The BC government has not proposed to amend as well section 2 (1) (b) of the Government Actions Regulation (GAR) (29), which contains an almost identical clause saying that the minister of Forests must be satisfied that an order issued under sections 5 to 15 of that other regulation “would not unduly reduce the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests”. Sections 5 to 15 of the GAR deal with resource features (section 5), lakeshore management zones and objectives (section 6), scenic areas and visual quality objectives (section 7), community watersheds and water quality objectives (section 8), general wildlife measures (section 9), wildlife habitat areas and objectives (section 10), wildlife habitat features (section 11), ungulate winter ranges and objectives (section 12), species at risk, regionally important wildlife and ungulate species (section 13), fisheries sensitive watersheds and objectives (section 14), and temperature sensitive streams (section 15).
In plain language, this means that the minister of Forests remains constrained by the same obligation not to “… unduly reduce the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests” when making ministerial orders relating to these key non-timber values in forest stewardship plans and practices.
The BC government’s latest media release fails to mention that the objectives set by government for timber in section 6 of the FPPR are and will remain unchanged. This section states the following:
“6. The objectives set by government for timber are to
maintain or enhance an economically valuable supply of commercial timber from British Columbia’s forests,
ensure that delivered wood costs, generally after taking into account the effect on them of the relevant provisions of this regulation and of the Act, are competitive in relation to equivalent costs in relation to regulated primary forest activities in other jurisdictions, and
ensure that the provisions of this regulation and of the Act that pertain to primary forest activities do not unduly constrain the ability of a holder of an agreement under the Forest Act to exercise the holder’s rights under the agreement.”
O.C. 76/2023 and the BC government’s other measures announced on February 15, 2023, show that the BC government intends to keep its existing “belt and suspenders” regime in place for favouring timber extraction in forest stewardship and forestry practices, but will drop the suspenders from only one of its shoulders (the FPPR) at some undetermined time in the future once forest stewardship plans are all phased out, and most if not all of what little remains of the unprotected old growth has actually been logged.
The BC government’s latest media release fails to mention why there is still no objective prescribed by the BC government for the protection of old growth forests in any of its forest regulations under the authority of the FRPA.
Also, one can only wonder why the BC government has not dealt in O.C. 76/2023, or in another Order in Council, with the Fairy Creek Watershed Designated Area No.1, which is due to expire on June 8, 2023, and the Tree Designated Area No. 1 and the Tree Designated Area No. 2, which are both due to expire on July 5, 2023, leaving these small areas of old growth and exceptionally large iconic trees no longer protected from logging after their expiry dates.
Almost three years ago, the OGSRP report called for two immediate responses by the BC government:
Recommendation 6. entitled “Immediate Response to Ecosystems at Very High Risk” (30), and Recommendation 7. entitled “Compliance with Existing Requirements” (31). The subsequent report of the TAP, publicly released on November 2, 2021, clearly recommended to “Defer harvest (i.e., no development or harvesting) in all mapped highest-priority at-risk old forests” and to “Defer harvest in the most intact watersheds for each region and ecosystem” in order to support urgent conversations between Provincial and First Nations. These recommendations called for immediate government protective action, not for government standing by while its strategy continues to undergo more consultation and discussion.
Instead of immediate protective action, the BC government states in its latest media release:
“At the centre of the eight-point plan is $25 million for new Forest Landscape Planning (FLP) tables that will drive improved old-growth management while incorporating local knowledge and community priorities. Enabled by 2021 amendments to the Forest and Range Practices Act, forest landscape plans are a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to forest stewardship that will replace existing, industry-developed plans”.
The amendments to the FRPA in Bill 23 passed on November 23, 2021, for the future Forest Landscape Planning (FLP) regime have still not been brought into force by the BC government, nor is there any indication as to when they will be. At any rate, the further protracted new process of just setting up and holding these future FLP tables will not actually prevent harvesting in old-growth forests in the meantime as the BC government claims in its latest media release.
The BC government’s February 15, 2023, media release does not even refer to government’s two previous media releases on old growth protection (32), and does not provide a detailed up-to-date breakdown of the nature, location, areas, and duration of temporary old growth logging deferrals that have “… now been implemented on approximately 2.1 million hectares of old growth.”
In short, none of the measures announced by the BC government on February 15, 2023, actually implement any of the immediate protective actions recommended by the OGSRP and the TAP reports.
While reporting annually the very large volumes of raw log exports from the coastal and interior regions to foreign countries involving mostly British Columbia’s older-growing and more valuable tree species (33), the BC government apparently still does not specifically mark, track, and audit the location, diameter and actual volumes of raw logs exported abroad, nor does it do so for their shipping and final destination within the province or within Canada. The annual British Columbia Log Export Permit Report prepared by the Economics and Trade Branch of the Ministry of Forests (34) contains a cryptic qualifying note stating that:
“Federal and Provincial volumes are based on export permit data as of the date and time of revision and are subject to corrections and final reconciliation. Not all volumes permitted are exported.
In order to fully understand where we currently stand on priority high-risk old growth protection, we must look not only at the present patchwork of the BC government’s short-term protection measures, continuing procrastination on the immediate implementation of key recommendations from its own OGSRP and TAP experts, and the absence of permanent protection measures, but also at the continuing lack of binding financial commitments by the BC government to fund these measures. The federal government has specifically committed over 18 months ago $50 million of federal money for a new old-growth protection fund to be matched by the BC government, which has yet to commit its part of the new fund. The latest BC government published documents on its 2003 provincial budget and forecasts (35) are silent on this or other specific funding commitments urgently needed to support priority high-risk old growth protection measures going forward.
Finally, but not least, the BC government has yet to table a Bill in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia to address directly, specifically, and conclusively the immediate and permanent protection of the most at-risk primeval and old growth forest stands remaining in the province (36). The majority BC NDP government could quite readily protect without any further delay all the few remaining unprotected high-risk old growth forest stands by tabling such a Bill amending forest legislation before the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia with a legally binding and enforceable definition that simply refers to an attached Schedule incorporating the detailed maps already developed by the TAP for its October 2021 report (37), together with a clear agreement and funding mechanism for the First Nations to opt in on the permanent protection of the mapped areas in the new legislation. The BC government has stated almost a year ago that 75 First Nations have already agreed to defer harvest of at-risk old growth in their territory. Nothing precludes the BC government from proactively offering and concluding agreements with affected First Nations to finally conserve and protect their respective high-risk old growth forest stands based on the TAP maps, with a fully committed BC government funding scheme, before engaging in another protracted and complex multi-year new forest landscape planning exercise and allowing in practice the continued depletion of these irreplaceable stands.
The BC government will no doubt continue to insist that it must first consult with First Nations on its future Forest Landscape Planning (FLP) scheme. However, this FLP scheme, which has yet to come into force, is another putative and bureaucratic initiative announced with the tabling of Bill 23 at the Legislative Assembly on October 20, 2021, without prior meaningful public consultation. One cannot help but note that the BC government did not even see the need for any prior meaningful consultations with First Nations before giving them a 30-day notice to agree or disagree on protection of the 2.6 million hectares of priority high-risk old-growth mapped by the TAP (38), or speedily passing Bill 23 on November 23, 2021, proposing substantial amendments to the FRPA, or precipitating the passing of Bill 28 on November 25, a mere 10 days after it was tabled, which proposed substantial amendments to the FA, including a very elaborate and detailed new government compensation regime specifically for forest tenure holders as, if and when new ‘Special Purpose Areas” would be established by the BC government once the new Parts 15 to 19 are eventually brought into force and effect.
In conclusion, the arcane piecemeal regime of temporary short-term and limited logging deferrals through the use of sections 169 and 170 of the Forest Act, the spurious and ineffective Special Tree Protection Regulation, the key recommendations of the OGSRP and the TAP not followed by immediate, binding and enforceable permanent protection measures, the never ending succession of forums, panels and tables, and the continuing lack of clear and binding BC government funding commitments to support old-growth protection measures, are all evidence of a systemic pattern of procrastination, stonewalling and obfuscation by the BC government on the permanent protection from logging of the 2.6 million hectares of priority high-risk old-growth forest identified and mapped by the TAP over 16 months ago, with no end in sight.
1 See Dr. Karen Price, Dr. Rachel Holt and Dave Daust, “BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity”, April 2020 (https://sierraclub.bc/laststand). Based on 2019 BC government data available at the time of writing their report, the authors estimated that there were around 415,000 hectares of large and very large old trees, including 35,000 hectares of very large old trees, left in the province. These are respectively less than 0.8 % and 0.07 % of the original 56,200,000 hectares of primary forest in the province.
2 See Amanda Follett, “Old Growth Forest Logging Approvals Are Soaring in BC”, The Tyee, May 3, 2021, and the BC government’s latest published figures (https://news.gov.bc.ca/27710) .
3 See the Wilderness Committee report (https://www.wildernesscommittee.org/news/new-evidence-shows-logging-and-cutting-permits-proposed-old-growth-deferral-areas) .
4 “Government takes action on old growth, protects 54 groves with iconic trees” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/20245); the original list of 54 trees to be protected can be found on the BC government website (https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/BG_Big_tree_list.pdf) .
5 Trees Designated Area No. 1, B.C. Reg. 170/2019, effective July 16, 2019; and Trees Designated Area No.2, B.C. Reg. 261/2019, effective December 12, 2019. Both designated areas were continued by B.C. Reg. 168/2021, effective July 5, 2021, and are now set to expire on July 5, 2023.
8 In the Forest Planning and Practices Regulation (FPPR) issued under the authority of the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA), section 1 states that the term “old growth management area” means an area that is subject to old growth management objectives established under section 3 (resource management zones and objectives) or 4 (landscape units and objectives) of the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act; these two sections were however repealed in 2003. Meanwhile, the BC government, the forest industry, and forest professionals continue to use the term “old growth management area”, usually referred to by its acronym OGMA, as coined in the outdated BC Biodiversity Guidebook issued by the BC government in September 1995 under the now defunct Forest Practices Code.
9 “A new Future for Old Forests: A Strategic Review of How British Columbia Manages for Old Forests Within its Ancient Ecosystems”, April 30, 2020; Recommendation 6. Immediate Response to Ecosystems at Very High Risk reads: “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”.
10 “Priority Deferrals: An Ecological Approach”, October 2021.
11 “Government embarks on a new approach to old forests” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/23062) .
12 B.C. Reg. 228/2020, O.C. 500/2020.
13 B.C. Reg. 229/2020, O.C. 501/2020.
14 A view shared by Lannie Keller and Johanna Paradis, BC’s Big Tree Protection: a legacy of public deception, November 9, 2021, on the Evergreen Alliance website (https://www.evergreenalliance.ca), and Andrew MacLeod, BC’s Big Trees Protection is Toothless: Government Knew It, The Tyee, September 26, 2022. The B.C. Big Tree Registry currently lists 54 champion trees, 457 conifer trees, and 146 broadleaf trees (https://bigtrees.forestry.ubc.ca) .
15 “Old growth harvesting deferred in Fairy Creek, Walbran areas” (https://new.gov.bc.ca/24654) .
16 B.C. Reg. 148/2021.
17 Ministerial Order No. M233/2021.
18 Ministerial Order No. M338/2020.
19“Science to help drive old growth deferrals” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/24757) .
20 “Revamped forest policy puts environment, people first” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/25564) .
21“Government taking action on old-growth deferrals” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/25648) .
22 “Province building a more diverse, inclusive forest sector” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/25730) .
23 “Progress update on old growth, worker supports” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/25972) .
24 “B.C., First Nations move forward with unprecedented old growth deferrals” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/26519) .
25 “Old growth logging declines to record lows” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/27710) .
26 “BC government continues to avoid transparency and accountability on old-growth”
27 O.C. 76/2023, February 13, 2023.
28 “B.C. introduces new measures on old, growth, innovation, forest stewardship” (https://news.gov.bc.ca/28240) .
29 B.C. Reg. 582/2004, O.C. 1246/2004.
30 Recommendation 6. states the following: “Until a new strategy in implemented, defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.”
31 Recommendation 7. states the following: “Bring management of old forests into compliance with existing provincial targets and guidelines for maintaining biodiversity.”
32 “B.C., First Nations move forward with unprecedented old growth deferrals”, released on April 1, 2022 and updated on May 11, 2022 (https://news.gov.bc.ca/26519); “Old-growth logging declines to record lows” released on November 2, 2022 and updated on November 3, 2022 (https://news.goc.bc.ca/27710).
33 Douglas fir, hemlock, balsam, spruce, and cedar.
34 This annual report can be found on the BC government website (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry/forestry/log-exports/bc_log_export_permit_report_2017_2021.pdf) .
36 A study entitled “An Old Growth Protection Act for British Columbia” published by University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre Clinic on April 10, 2013, advocated the adoption of such an Act and what it should contain to address many of the old growth issues that are still outstanding a decade later.
37 The maps for “Priority Deferral Areas”, and the layered maps “Big-treed Old Growth”, “Prioritized Big-treed Old Growth” and “Ancient Forest”.
38 See the news releases of the B.C. First Nations Forestry Council on November 1 and 2, 2021, and on January 5, 2022 (https://www.forestrycouncil.ca) .
Great investigative reporting by the BBC on DRAX’s destruction of primary forest southeast of Prince George. Reporter Joe Crowley, with assistance from BC’s Ben Parfitt, shows that whole logs from primary forests are being used as feedstock for the manufacture of wood pellets that are then shipped thousands of kilometres to the UK to be burned for generation of “green” electricity in the UK.
As Conservation North’s Michelle Connolly says in the video, “That is absolutely insane. There’s no other word for it.”
IN NOVEMBER 2021, British Columbia finally released detailed maps showing 2.6 million hectares of old growth forests across the province that needed to be immediately set aside from logging, through a process known as deferrals. Keeping these rare big-treed, ancient, and remnant old growth forests standing was meant to be an urgent first step—initially given a timeline of 6 months from the release of the Old Growth Strategic Review in April 2020—while the province undergoes a paradigm-shift in forest management, from a model that puts timber value above all else to one that fully upholds Indigenous Title and Rights and centres ecological integrity.
A temporary ban on logging in the most rare, at-risk old growth forests was meant to be the most urgent and straightforward of 14 recommendations on old growth that the British Columbia government promised to implement in 2020. Two years into a three year timeline for all of those recommendations, not a single one of the 14 recommendations has been fulfilled and old growth continues to be destroyed at alarming rates.
In fact, in the 10 months since deferral maps were released the province has largely failed to stop the logging of the most at-risk deferrals: those that overlap with active and pending forest harvesting permits.
See full report
Scientists urge BC to immediately defer logging in key old-growth forests amid arrests.
BC’s RAREST FOREST ECOSYSTEMS are rapidly disappearing and if the Province doesn’t act immediately to defer logging in key areas, as recommended by the 2020 Old Growth Strategic Review, they will be lost forever, according to a report released May 19, 2021 by a team of independent scientists.
The analysis of BC’s remaining old growth forests and mapping tools aims to help the Province meet the recommendations of the old-growth panel.
While the map was designed to flag forests that meet the criteria for deferral rather than note specific at-risk locations, the authors noted it includes places like the Nahmint River watershed and Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, currently a hot spot of protest and near where the RCMP began making arrests on Tuesday as part of its enforcement of an injunction. The map also identifies unharvested old-growth in the Babine watershed near Smithers and rare cedar hemlock old-growth near Nelson as top-priority areas for logging deferrals.
The new analysis takes its lead from the independent strategic review commissioned by the Province, which outlined criteria to determine which forests are of the highest value and most at-risk, and clarifies which areas should be immediately protected. The review recommended the Province defer development in old forests with a high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.
“It’s been a year since that report went to the government and there have been no meaningful deferrals since that time,” Rachel Holt, forest ecologist and one of the authors of the report, said in an interview. “We waited for the government to map what the panel recommended and there’s been no action—so we decided to just do it.”
While the Province implemented deferrals last year that ostensibly protected 353,000 hectares of forest, closer inspection revealed how the numbers were skewed to include already protected areas and 157,000 hectares of second-growth forests open to logging. The Province subsequently adjusted its numbers to reflect the inclusion of second-growth.
The new analysis identifies about 1.3 million hectares of at-risk forests across the Province, which is about 2.6 percent of BC’s timber supply. According to the analysis, the actual area that requires logging deferrals will be much smaller and the Province has the tools to put any planned cutblocks and road building on hold while it works with First Nations and other stakeholders to develop land use plans.
“Following the old-growth strategic review panel’s direction, [the Province] should take that map and overlay it with planned cutblocks and defer harvest in those areas until the planning is done,” Holt said.
A low resolution version of the map of old forest created by Dave Daust, Rachel Holt and Karen Pryce. Click the map to enlarge.
Old-growth review recommended a “paradigm shift” in how BC manages its forests
The strategic review highlighted the urgent need to stop looking at BC’s forests as timber supply and start prioritizing Indigenous rights and ecological and cultural values. It acknowledged this transition won’t happen overnight but noted the urgent need to put the brakes on logging the rarest trees while creating a new strategy.
The first step is to figure out which forests need to be saved, which is where Holt and her colleagues come in.
“Our map represents the key criteria that the old-growth panel outlined for immediate logging deferrals, including the tallest, largest forests, plus rare and ancient forest,” Dave Daust, forester, modeller and project lead, said in a press release.
“With this blueprint, the Province can act immediately to ensure any existing or planned logging in these areas is put on hold while it pursues a government-to-government approach for forest management that puts Indigenous rights and interests, ecological values and community resilience ahead of timber volume.”
Holt explained that the data and maps were created based on current provincial information, but said there are gaps that will need to be addressed.
“There will be places on the ground that aren’t on the map. They should be added, like known cultural areas or known high-value areas that for some reason don’t show up,” she said, adding that there may also be areas that have already been logged.
Scientists say there is no time to “talk and log”
In his 2020 election campaign, Premier John Horgan committed to implementing the panel’s recommendations. “We will act on all 14 recommendations and work with Indigenous leaders and organizations, industry, labour and environmental organizations on the steps that will take us there,” he wrote.
But Holt said the Province isn’t acting fast enough.
“There isn’t time to talk and log and try to create perfect maps,” she said. “Nothing is perfect, but we need to move forward.”
Very little remains of BC’s old-growth forests. Holt, Daust and ecologist Karen Price calculated that just 415,000 hectares of productive old-growth forest remains in the Province. Productive old-growth supports numerous endangered and threatened species, including caribou and northern goshawk.
As to whether the Province will use the map to implement meaningful deferrals, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development wrote in an emailed statement that it is committed to protecting BC’s ancient forests for future generations.
“We know there is a lot more work to do. That’s why this government commissioned an independent panel to advise us on how we could do better when it comes to protecting old forests. Now, our government is working on next steps—which includes important engagement with Indigenous peoples, environmental advocates and forest-dependent communities around identifying additional deferral areas.”
Holt emphasized that the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“We are losing biodiversity and we’re losing carbon storage,” she said. “Old large tree ecosystems hold a phenomenal carbon store. We don’t have time to plant trees and wait 100 years.”
Matt Simmons is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with The Narwhal. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
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.
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: Teal_Cedar_Products_Notice_of_Application for injunction.pdf
Justice Verhoeven’s judgment
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.
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
BC government gives Pacific BioEnergy green light to log rare inland rainforest for wood pellets.
Matt Simmons is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
SEAN O’ROURKE WAS HIKING in BC’s globally rare inland rainforest this spring when pink flagging tape indicating a planned cutblock caught his eye. Finding flagging tape is nothing new, but when he looked closer, he realized the tape had the name of a nearby pellet company on it—Pacific BioEnergy.
The company operates a plant in Prince George where it turns waste wood products—sawdust from mills, tree bark, wood shavings and clippings—into pellets to be burned to produce heat or electricity, replacing coal and fossil fuels. More than 90 percent of Canadian wood pellets are shipped overseas to Europe and Asia, according to the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.
But the ancient cedars and hemlocks in the rainforest in Lheidli T’enneh First Nation territory, about 60 kilometres east of Prince George, are most certainly not waste wood.
Sean O’Rourke amongst old-growth Red Cedar in the Inland Rainforest north of Prince George (Photo by Conservation North)
O’Rourke, a field scout with Conservation North, a grassroots organization advocating for the protection of old-growth forests in northern BC, took photos of the flagging tape to show his colleagues. He later combed through the publicly available harvest data to confirm the Province had indeed issued permits to Pacific BioEnergy to log the old-growth forest.
While wood pellets are often touted as a renewable energy source, Conservation North director and ecologist Michelle Connolly challenges that claim.
“If the raw material for harvested wood products or pellets is coming from primary and old-growth forest, it is not clean or green or renewable in any way, shape or form,” she said in an interview.
“Destroying wildlife habitat to grind forest into pellets to ship them overseas to burn, to feed into an electricity plant so that people can watch Netflix or play video games really late at night—we can’t allow that to happen,” she added.
The planned cutblock is set to be logged this winter for pellets, but Conservation North is asking the BC government to provide legal protection to all primary forests—those that have never been logged—in the northern region.
Rare ecosystem home to massive trees, endangered caribou, vast carbon stores
After O’Rourke showed his colleagues his photos, they went to the rainforest together to explore the areas slated for logging. The group walked for almost two hours to get to the flagged boundary. The forest is surrounded by clearcuts and second-growth stands of lodgepole pine. Connolly described it as an oasis.
“There are low carpets of moss and beautiful fallen old trees,” Connolly said. “The stands that we’ve seen have really large western red cedars and western hemlock, and we occasionally came across massive Douglas firs that are really large for this area…it would take at least three people to wrap your arms around them.”
More than 500 kilometres from the coast, the inland rainforest is one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. Temperate rainforests far from the sea are only found in two other places on the planet: in Russia’s far east and southern Siberia.
The rainforest supports a variety of animals including moose and endangered caribou. The stands of old-growth trees have been absorbing carbon from the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and the soil also stores huge amounts of carbon.
The rich biodiversity of these old-growth forest ecosystems is threatened by logging, according to a report published in June.
As The Narwhal reported last year, much of what remains of the inland temperate rainforest is at risk of clearcutting. Connolly said there is “little to no social licence” to harvest these old-growth trees.
“We talked to a lot of people who hunt, who trap, who fish, who guide, and among those people, we’ve sensed a lot of dismay about what’s happening,” she said. “We’re kind of at the limits of tolerance up here.”
BC government ramps up support for pellet industry while plants run out of raw materials
The Province’s promotion of the pellet industry focuses on using wood that would otherwise be wasted or burned in the forest to reduce the risk of wildfires, but rarely mentions the use of whole trees.
“The pellet pushers [including the present NDP government] originally said they would use only logging and milling debris as the source of wood fibre for pellets,” Jim Pojar, a forest ecologist wrote in an email.
However, a recent investigation by Stand.earth found that pellets made of whole trees from primary forests in BC are being sent to Europe and Asia.
“No mature green trees should be cut down and whole logs ground up to produce wood pellets for export, especially if the trees are clear cut from globally rare and endangered temperate rainforest,” Pojar said.
Connolly said a lack of legal protection allows the provincial government to greenlight logging whole trees for pellets—and the government’s language around the industry hides the fact that old-growth is being cut down.
“My understanding is that this is allowed because these forests don’t have any other use,” she said, meaning that they aren’t suitable for making lumber.
“The BC government has some really interesting language around justifying pellet harvesting,” she said. “What they say is that they’re using inferior quality wood.
This isn’t the first time a pellet facility has logged trees to meet its production needs. As The Narwhal reported earlier this year, both Pacific BioEnergy and Pinnacle Renewable Energy, another large-scale pellet company, use whole trees to produce pellets.
Over the past few years, BC has been ramping up its support for the wood pellet industry, but as sawmills shut down across the province, pellet facilities are running out of raw material.
Recently, the Province handed out a number of grants to support projects that take trees that would otherwise be burned on the forest floor in massive slash piles and convert them to pellets. Pacific BioEnergy has received more than $3.2 million from the Province through the Forest Enhancement Society for projects related to its operations.
Connolly said the Province’s push to support the pellet industry is problematic. “We’re kind of rearranging the deck chairs, you know? They’re making little modifications of things they already do, instead of actually looking at the value of keeping the carbon in forests.”
The Ministry of Forests could not comment on this story because government communications are limited to health and public safety information during election periods.
Pacific BioEnergy was also not available to respond by publication time.
Ecologists say burning pellets is not carbon neutral
WOOD PELLETS, sometimes referred to as biomass or bioenergy, are often touted as carbon neutral and sustainable, but critics claim that’s a dangerous misconception.
Burning wood to generate energy is less efficient than burning fossil fuels, which means more wood is needed to produce an equivalent amount of electricity, according to Pojar. More carbon dioxide is sent into the atmosphere from pellet-fuelled power plants than traditional coal or natural gas plants, he pointed out.
The pellet industry and its supporters argue that replanting trees will eventually sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which means burning pellets for heat or energy is carbon neutral. But even if that is true, it could take hundreds of years for those replanted trees to grow big enough to offset the emissions produced by harvesting, transporting, processing and burning the wood.
In a 2019 report entitled Forestry and Carbon in BC, Pojar outlined myths and misconceptions about emissions and the forestry industry. “The CO2 from the combustion of biofuel is released almost instantly, whereas the growth and regrowth of wood takes several decades at least (mostly more than 75 years in BC)”
Connolly, who was an editor of the report, said the green narrative around the pellet industry and industrial logging is misleading.
“It’s so ridiculous to claim that somehow logging is good for the climate,” she said. “What we’ve seen happen is that the BC government and industry have co-opted climate change to argue for more industrial logging. In this case, it’s for pellets, but they’ve been doing the same thing for harvested wood products for the last few years.”
As climate change, industrial logging and other resource extraction projects continue to impact forest ecosystems, maintaining intact primary and old-growth forests is essential, she said.
“BC claims to be exploring all emissions reductions opportunities, but they are not,” she said. “They’re ignoring basically the biggest, best and cheapest opportunity, which is protecting nature. If we’re going to meet our climate commitments, keeping primary forests intact is an important step and what all of us should be asking is, ‘Why are they totally ignoring this?’ ”
Matt Simmons is a writer and editor based in Smithers, BC, unceded Gidimt’en Clan territory, home of the Wet'suwet’en Nation. He is the author of The Outsider’s Guide to Prince Rupert. This story was originally published in The Narwhal under the Local Journalism Initiative.
Conservation North’s short video interview of trapper Don Wilkins on liquidating BC rainforests for electricity in other countries:
BC to destroy old-growth caribou habitat, sabotaging restoration efforts nearby
DAYS AFTER THE PROVINCE announced a new provincial approach to old-growth forests, conservation groups are blowing the whistle on plans to log more than three square kilometres of intact rainforest north of Revelstoke, destroying endangered southern mountain caribou critical habitat. While B.C. quietly advances plans to log the old-growth, the province is trumpeting spending of more than $33,000 to restore caribou habitat nearby.
The B.C. government is taking two steps forward and three steps back by attempting to create habitat while also obliterating old-growth habitat that caribou have been known to use. It’s a net loss. The government is sabotaging itself and caribou, not to mention wasting taxpayer money, by logging right next door.
On the ground investigation from Wildsight, Echo Conservation Society and the Wilderness Committee in the Argonaut Valley has revealed the planned logging will destroy a large area of primarily old-growth rainforest, with massive cedars and hemlocks over 50 metres tall and many hundreds of years old. This comes right after a provincial review of old-growth forests found that a paradigm shift is necessary to manage B.C.’s old-growth forests. The authors recommended 14 steps to preserve the remarkable old-growth found in the province including immediately deferring logging in old forests where ecosystems are at high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss. Argonaut Creek is one of these areas where biodiversity and old-growth forest is at risk.
The Upper Argonaut Valley (Photo courtesy of Wildsight)
“The rainforest in the Argonaut Valley is an incredible place, with giant ancient cedars,” says Echo Conservation Society Executive Director Thomas Knowles. “B.C.’s interior rainforest is a hidden ecological jewel along the eastern edge of the province, but we’re letting it slip away to logging.”
This rainforest is critical habitat for endangered southern mountain caribou, which have recently disappeared from the southern part of their range in the Kootenays after two herds were lost in the Purcell and Selkirk mountains.
“Mountain caribou have already been wiped off the map in southern B.C., mostly because of the destruction of their habitat through logging,” says Wildsight Conservation Specialist Eddie Petryshen. “The North Columbia herd is the southernmost herd left in B.C. with the best chance at survival but they won’t survive if we keep clearcutting the old-growth forest they need.”
These cutblocks are being auctioned off by BC Timber Sales, which is the provincial government’s own logging agency. The groups are calling on the provincial government to cancel the auction of these primarily old-growth logging blocks and restore the five kilometres of already-constructed road.
If B.C. won’t protect this critical caribou habitat, then federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson must use his powers under the Species at Risk Act and issue an emergency protection order to protect irreplaceable caribou habitat.
The proposed clearcuts fall within the 150-member North Columbia herd’s critical habitat under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and tracking data shows that caribou use the area. Logging and other industrial activity is largely blamed for the severe decline of southern mountain caribou to less than 1,200 animals. This population of deep-snow caribou survive by eating lichen from trees in the winter and are disappearing not just because of the loss of the old-growth forests they rely on, but also because of an increase in predators because of changes in forest ecosystems and backcountry roads that come with logging.
This summer, the B.C. government announced $1.1 million in funding for caribou habitat restoration. Splatsin First Nation is leading a restoration project in the area and the province has devoted over $33,000 to this effort. Yet at the same time, the province is auctioning off cutblocks less than two kilometres from the area being restored. In past years, the province has also spent significant sums on maternal penning for caribou in the North Columbia herd, culling predators like wolves and other measures.
“Habitat restoration is an incredibly important aspect of recovery,” says Knowles. “But it makes no sense to restore habitat, build maternity pens and kill predators for caribou and then turn around and cut down the old-growth forest they need to survive.”
With less than 5 percent of the inland rainforest still standing as old-growth, conservation groups are asking why the province is allowing any logging of the little old-growth that remains
“British Columbians want their old-growth forests protected, not logged,” says Petryshen. “So why is B.C. planning to log one of the few remaining valleys of old-growth in the rainforest north of Revelstoke?
Charlotte Dawe is Conservation and Policy Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.
Forests minister Doug Donaldson's announced 2-year logging deferrals of old-growth forest are almost entirely in areas that have little or no productive old growth on them—or were already protected.
BACK IN JUNE OF THIS YEAR, three BC forest scientists released an independent report quantifying the remaining scattered areas of forest containing “large” and “very large” old trees in this province. These are the “old-growth” forests that contain the highest levels of productivity and biodiversity—the forests that many thousands of British Columbians have fought hard to save from logging for decades. Karen Price, Rachael Holt and Dave Daust used forests ministry data to determine that only 35,000 hectares of “very large” old trees remained in BC, and only 380,000 hectares of “large” old trees. Those two areas amount to 415,000 hectares.
Their report, BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity, was issued in the hope that their findings would help inform, or influence, a strategic review of old-growth forests that was being conducted by Al Gorley and Gary Merkel. Gorley and Merkel were appointed by the BC government.
On September 11, forests minister Doug Donaldson released the Gorley-Merkel report and, at the same time, announced 2-year logging deferrals on 352,739 hectares spread over 9 areas in the province. The minister’s press release referred to these areas as “old-growth.” The 9 areas were indicated as points on a map of BC, along with a brief description of the values that are at stake in each area. No other details about the areas were released. Crucially, no mapping of the areas was provided.
Minister Donaldson’s map of where 2-year logging deferrals would be applied
The “352,739 hectares” of old growth on which Donaldson was deferring “old forest logging” for two years would amount to 85 percent of the spatial extent of remaining old forests containing large and very large trees identified by Price, Holt and Dauss. That sounds like it could be an impressive movement in the direction of conservation of forests with large and very large old trees. Of course, as everybody knows, the devil is in the details, and Donaldson didn’t provide any details.
Instead, his announcement was made simultaneously with the release of the Gorley-Merkel report, as if Donaldson’s announcement somehow reflected their findings. I expected to be writing about the Gorley-Merkel report, but instead, after obtaining some of the details about the 9 areas, details that Donaldson left out, it seemed pointless to review the report. In light of the details I found, the Gorley-Merkel report appears to have been used by Donaldson as little more than sugar coating around a bitter pill. The bitter pill is that, at best, Donaldson is deferring logging for 2 years on 64,191 hectares, almost all of it in Clayoquot Sound. At best, Minister Donaldson’s deferrals amount to 15 percent of the area identified by Price et al. Here are the details:
1. Crystalline Creek, where Donaldson claims logging on 9595 hectares is being deferred. You’ve probably never heard of Crystalline Creek before. There’s been no logging road blockades, no media stories. That’s because there is little chance that it would ever be logged, let alone in the next two years. Except for one-tenth of one hectare (no, that’s not a typo), it lies entirely outside of BC’s Timber Harvesting Land Base (THLB) and a 2-year “deferral of logging” there is meaningless. The precisely estimated area—9595 hectares—is the total area of the small valley, which includes high, rocky ridges that are part of the Bugaboo Mountains. That precise number came from Canfor’s documentation of high value conservation areas within TFL 14, a requirement to obtain Forest Stewardship Council certification. Let’s subtract 9594.9 hectares from Donaldson’s total area where logging is to be deferred for 2 years.
For any readers unfamiliar with the term “Timber Harvesting Land Base,” this is, according to the Province, “Crown forest land within the timber supply area where timber harvesting is considered both acceptable and economically feasible, given objectives for all relevant forest values, existing timber quality, market values, and applicable technology.” It is reasonable to assume that if an area of forest is not currently inside the THLB, applying a 2-year deferral of logging to it is meaningless.
2. Stockdale Creek, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 11,515 hectares. Same particulars as Crystalline Creek, except in this case there is a 233.6-hectare overlap with the THLB. It is possible that logging of those 233.6 hectares could occur one day, but Canfor had no plan to do so within the next two years. But just to be safe, let’s subtract only 11,281 hectares from Donaldson’s deferral area.
3. Incomappleux Valley, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 40,194 hectares. The Incomappleux Valley is part of Valhalla Wilderness Society’s Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposal. Most of the magnificent Inland Rainforest along the Incomappleux River has been logged, but 1500 hectares of 1000- to 2000-year-old red cedar near the confluence of Boyd Creek and the Incomappleux River remain. Most of the remaining high-productivity old growth is within Interfor’s TFL 23. It was saved from being logged in 2005 by a 2-person blockade of a logging road. Days after the blockade was ended by a court injunction, a rockslide blocked the road and damaged a bridge, bringing a natural halt to logging. The Valhalla Wilderness Society confirmed there could be another 500 hectares of old-growth forest in the valley that is within the THLB and could be economical to log. Valhalla Wilderness Society estimates that within its 156,461-hectare park proposal (see link to PDF at end of story), which includes the Duncan River Valley to the east, there are 17,827 hectares that overlap the THLB. It is unknown what the “40,194 hectares” on which logging has been deferred for two years refers to, but that is over twice the area of the THLB within the entire park proposal, and much of that has already been logged. Subtract 38,195 hectares from Donaldson’s deferral area.
4. Clayoquot Sound, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 260,578 hectares. The Friends of Clayoquot Sound have been fighting for years to protect all the remaining areas of old growth in the Sound and, by their reckoning, those areas—Meares Island, Flores Island, the Sydney Valley, Ursus River Valley, Clayoquot River Valley and Hesquiat Point Creek—have 54,120 hectares of old-growth forest remaining. It’s nice that Donaldson wants to protect 260,578 hectares of old growth in the Sound, but it’s too late. Over 206,000 hectares of his deferred logging is on land that has already been logged. (Edit: see my comment below this story about a more accurate number for Clayoquot Sound provided by David Leversee.)
5. Skagit-Silverdaisy, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 5,745 hectares. Canadian Press’ Laura Kane reported in December 2019 that Donaldson had banned logging in the “doughnut hole” of the Skagit Valley in response to an appeal by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and US environmental groups. Kane quoted BC Environment Minister George Heyman: “Heyman said when the [High Ross Dam Treaty] was signed decades ago, the BC and Washington governments signalled clear intent that, once the issue of mineral tenures was resolved, the doughnut hole would be returned to park status. ‘Somewhere along the line…there was a lapse in corporate memory,’ [Heyman] said. ‘We’re restoring that today.’” Somewhere along the line, between December 2019 and September 2020, it seems, there was a second lapse in corporate memory about this forest. Subtract 5,745 hectares from Donaldson’s deferral area.
6. The Upper Southgate River, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 17,321 hectares. The area is within what Donaldson’s ministry describes as the Southgate Landscape Unit. A 2014 plan for Old Growth Management Areas in the unit notes the total area of the unit is 122,155 hectares, of which 5,380 are within the THLB, the area available for logging. In the entire Landscape Unit the plan identified 121 Old Growth Management Areas, and these covered an area of 3212 hectares. How much of that was in the THLB? Forty-six hectares. So while Donaldson promised to defer logging for 2 years on 17,321 hectares of old growth, there’s only 46 hectares that could be logged. Subtract 17,275 hectares from Donaldson’s deferral area.
7. McKelvie Creek, where Donaldson claims 2,231 hectares. McKelvie Creek flows into the Tahsis River in the middle of the Village of Tahsis on Vancouver Island. Tahsis has been seeking to stop logging in McKelvie Creek Valley because the village believes logging there could result in flooding in the village. A hydrological study by the engineering consultancy McElhanney has established the size of the watershed, which corresponds to the area on which Donaldson says he will defer logging for 2 years.
8. H’Kusam, where Donaldson claims 1050 hectares. No information on this area, other than it is likely within sight of Mount H’Kusam, has been found. For now we’ll leave Donaldson’s 1050 hectares in the total.
9. Seven Sisters, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 4510 hectares. When the 39,206-hectare Seven Sisters Provincial Park and Protected Area were created, a 6,287-hectare bite out of the west side of the park was named the Coyote-Hells Bells General Resource Development Zone, where logging has been ongoing. I have no information on the extent of old growth in this area, so to be sure we will leave Minister Donaldson his full 4510 hectares.
As mentioned above, what’s left is 64,191 hectares of old-growth forest, at best.
There’s been lots of response to Donaldson’s announcement of logging deferrals, much of it simply reporting what he claimed in his press release. Vicky Husband, the den mother of old-growth forest activism in BC and an Order of Canada recipient in recognition of her 40-year-long effort to conserve such forests, didn’t mince her words when I pointed out some of the details Minister Donaldson left out. Husband responded, “The government’s response to the Gorley-Merkel old growth report is a shoddy piece of spin-doctoring in advance of an election. It is duplicitous in intent; short on facts; and intentionally misleading for the electorate giving the appearance of doing something when the reality is to keep the industry logging the little remaining productive old growth.”
I’ll leave it at that.
David Broadland lives amongst rare old-growth Douglas fir in the Coastal Douglas-fir Biogeoclimatic Zone on Quadra Island. He notes that Donaldson’s ministry’s maps of BC’s biogeoclimatic zones, published in the Gorley-Merkel report, don’t show any such forest type on the south end of Quadra Island, Read Island or Cortes Island.
The Gorley-Merkel old growth report: A New Future for Old Forests A new future for old forests.pdf8.04 MB · 68 downloads
Valhalla Wilderness Society’s Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposalVWS Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park Proposal.Incomappleux.pdf5.79 MB · 56 downloads
Two weeks into a campaign to halt logging of ancient rainforests in the last intact watershed of the San Juan River system, activists have set up a third blockade on unceded Pacheedaht Territory.
by Saul Arbess and Joshua Wright
IN THE MIDST OF AN ONGOING CLIMATE EMERGENCY, logging of the ancient rainforests continues at an unfettered rate. The amount of old-growth forest logged each day on Vancouver Island is equivalent to 32 soccer pitches according to the Wilderness Committee. These forests are not only vital for carbon sequestration, but also fundamental for the integrity of complex, interconnected ecosystems that support keystone and culturally significant species, such as salmon. Alarmingly, less than one percent of largest stature forest was found to be remaining on the Island according to the scientific report BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity recently authored by Dr Rachel Holt, Dr Karen Price and David Daust. And most of that is going at an accelerating rate on Vancouver Island, with an estimate of three years remaining before it is all gone, except the meagre areas that have been protected.
Grassroots forest defenders from across Vancouver Island have prevented Teal Jones Group from blasting logging roads into the headwaters of the Fairy Creek watershed for the past two weeks. The road would have penetrated the last remaining intact, unlogged tributary in the entire San Juan River system. The tributary is near Port Renfrew on unceded Pacheedaht territory.
Last Sunday, August 23, saw a second blockade established east of the Fairy Creek watershed. A third blockade was set up August 24 on a logging road on Edinburgh Mountain (also unceded Pacheedaht Territory).
With the exception of Eden Grove on Edinburgh Mountain, contiguous old-growth corridors have been severed between the rich valley bottom and the protected upper reaches. The infamous Big Lonely Doug stands in stark contrast to the clear cut it stands in on Edinburgh, the sole remaining giant fir in the cut. Big Lonely Doug has become an internationally recognized symbol for BC’s devastating logging practices. Just up the mountain, logging is ongoing. This is what the newest blockade will stop.
Zoe Cilliers, a forest defender at the blockade, says, “If we pick and choose where our actions line up with our words, our words don’t mean anything. I’m an ecologist; I work with kids, I teach them about old growth, I teach them the value of these ecosystems. Being here means keeping a promise. If I don’t stand for this, how can I stand behind what I say to these kids?”
K.L, also at the blockade, states, “Anyone who wonders why people are blockading, they should go and spend some time in an old growth forest, and they will understand. It’s the mosses, the spongy floor, the smell, it’s the stillness, the spaciousness.”
Old-growth forest in the Fairy Creek Valley
In April 2020, the BC government finalized its commissioned review on the current state of Vancouver Island’s remaining old-growth forests. The report has not yet been released to the public by the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development who may sit on the report until October for reasons not understood, given the crisis in our forests. Meanwhile, old-growth logging persists; roads are blasted into pristine mountains; massive, ancient trees are falling. Time is of the essence. As protester J.C. says, “Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. It’s short-sighted to be logging like this.”
Gary Merkel, one of two Old Growth Strategic Review commissioners, said in an interview with the Narwhal, last January: “We’re managing ecosystems—that are in some cases thousands of years old—on a four-year political cycle. The management systems change from government to government.”
The demands for the Province from the forest defenders at the frontline of the Fairy Creek blockades are the following:
(1) Immediately release the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review, which have not been made public since the panel submitted its report in April 2020.
(2) The immediate and permanent end of all old-growth logging in BC.
(3) Work with sovereign First Nations to implement a comprehensive plan for a sustainable and restorative second-growth forestry model.
Saul Arbess has been a forest activist since the late 1980s on southern Vancouver island and a retired professor of anthropology. Josh Wright is a forest activist maintaining a watching brief on old growth destruction across the Pacific Northwest.
A new report on old-growth forest in BC says only 415,000 hectares remain. The BC Ministry of Forests has claimed there are 13 million hectares.
A “very large” old-growth Western Red Cedar, felled in the Nahmint Valley on Vancouver Island in 2019. (Photo by TJ Watt)
THE DEGREE TO WHICH the BC Ministry of Forests has become the public relations arm of BC’s forest-industrial complex is measured precisely, if not intentionally, in a report by three former BC government forest ecologists. In their evaluation of the old-growth forest remaining in the province, the scientists characterized the ministry’s simplistic approach to estimating old growth forest as “very misleading.”
The report, “BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity,” was authored by Karen Price, Rachel Holt and Dave Daust.
When they say “very misleading” we need to ask: How much is “very?” Publicly, the ministry estimates there are 13 million hectares of old-growth forest remaining in BC.
Advocates of protecting the remaining large, old trees have long argued that most of what the Province calls “old growth” is indeed old, but includes short, small-diameter trees, many growing in bogs, at high elevation or on rock, sites that don’t support the level of biological productivity and biodiversity found in forests with large old trees.
Along come Price, Holt and Daust. Their report provides a more detailed breakdown than we’ve seen before of the nature of the remaining unprotected old growth. They differentiate, for example, between “very large old trees,” “large old trees,” and “small old trees.”
They estimate there are only 35,000 hectares on which “very large old trees” still grow in BC. That’s an area smaller than BC Premier John Horgan’s home municipality of Langford (41,000 hectares). The scientists report that under circumstances in which forest growth is in equilibrium with natural disturbances like fire and insect infestation, there would be 1.5 million hectares of forest in BC that would contain old trees that are “very large.” Today, only 2.3 percent of that remains.
Price, Holt and Daust estimate that in all of BC there are an additional 380,000 hectares of forest that contain “large” old trees. That’s an area 1.6 times larger than the Capital Regional District. They estimate that—under natural circumstances—there would be 3.5 million hectares of forests with large, old trees in BC. That’s an area larger than Vancouver Island. Today, only 11 percent of that remains.
A 336-year-old Douglas fir felled recently on Quadra Island. This is an example of a “large” old-growth tree. (Photo by David Broadland)
Combined, the scientists say, the area of BC covered with unprotected forests containing “large” and “very large” trees is 415,000 hectares. If you drew a line on a map of Vancouver Island from Duncan to Bamfield, the area of land south of that line is about 415,000 hectares (see map below). Price, Holt and Daust note that’s less than 1 percent of BC’s 50 million hectares of forested area. (By “forested area” the scientists mean land in BC that could support forests, including the millions of hectares that are currently bare clearcuts or young regrowth.)
Let’s summarize all those numbers: On one hand we have the Ministry of Forests claiming there’s still 13 million hectares of old-growth forest and, on the other, these three scientists estimate there are 415,000 hectares remaining of the forests needed by endangered and threatened plant and animal species, including the Northern Spotted Owl, the Woodland Caribou, the Marbled Murrelet, the Wandering Salamander, the Northern Red-legged Frog and so on.
When you put these two estimates side-by-side, one appears to be supported by data, arithmetic and logic, and the other is revealed as a public relations gimmick designed to maintain the illusion that old forests are plentiful.
Price, Holt and Daust estimate there are 415,000 hectares of unprotected old-growth forest remaining in BC that contain “large” and “very large” trees. That’s equivalent to the area of Vancouver Island shaded in dark grey in the map above.
Does it matter if there’s less and less forest containing large and very large old trees? The scientists say it does. In their report, they link the loss of large and very large trees to higher ecological risk. This occurs as a result of the loss of ecological function when large and very large trees are removed from a forest. You’re not a Pileated Woodpecker or a Northern Red-legged Frog, so such loss is hard to comprehend, and understandably so. Most of us spend so little time in an old-growth forest that we have little knowledge of what lives there, what it needs to live, and what happens when its habitat is logged. But think of what your life would be like if aliens from another world suddenly arrived in your town, physically removed all of the houses, and then left a 2x4 in everyone’s front yard. The loss of your habitat would put you and everyone else in the community at greater risk of harm or death. Could you move to a nearby city? No, the aliens took that, too. The food system has disappeared and there’s far less water available.
The end result? The forest scientists noted, “Conservation science agrees that habitat loss leads to declines in populations and ultimately loss of species.” They observed that shifts in a forest’s ecological function “mean that forest ecosystems can pass a point whereby a particular species may not be able to recover to former abundance even if habitat is subsequently increased, and/or that ecosystems are less able to withstand disturbance and they become less resilient.”
While we might think the scientists are talking about Pileated Woodpeckers and Red-legged Frogs, the same principles apply to humans.
The scientists connect the magnitude of ecological risk directly to the extent of forest removed: “Studies of habitat change suggest that risk to biodiversity and ecological function is low when more than 70 percent of natural forest remains, high when less than 30 percent remains, and moderate between.”
What happens to plant and animal communities that live in forest stands of old and very old trees when less than one percent of the natural forest remains? The plants and animals already know. The human community is slowly becoming aware of the enormous loss in biodiversity that is underway.
Price, Holt and Daust call for an immediate end to logging old-growth forests. In response, Forests Minister Donaldson told CBC reporter Rafferty Baker, “We want to make sure that [old growth] is being managed properly, and we recognize the importance old forests have for biodiversity in the province…We also recognize the importance that [old growth] provides for communities and workers who depend on harvesting.”
Donaldson’s ministry has recently conducted a review of its old-growth policies. Given his comment to the CBC, it doesn’t appear he’s going to impose the moratorium Price, Holt, Daust and many others are recommending. What will that mean?
Sierra BC has put the rate at which old-growth forest is being logged in Coastal BC at 15,200 hectares per year. For the Interior they estimate 126,000 hectares are logged annually. Added together that amounts to 141,200 hectares being lost each year. At that rate, the 415,000 hectares that Price, Holt and Daust have identified would be gone in three years. What Sierra BC calls “old growth” may not correspond exactly with the analysis of Price, Holt and Daust, but it’s in the same forest.
Imagine for a moment, though, that both the scientists’ and Sierra BC’s estimates are essentially correct, and that there is only a three-year supply of old forest “for communities and workers who depend on harvesting,” as Donaldson put it. If the Province’s new strategy were to cut the rate of old-growth logging in half—which Donaldson implies would impose significant hardship on communities and workers—all the large and very large old growth would be gone in six years instead of just three. Old-growth-related forestry jobs would still be gone forever, the end coming just a few years later. Plant and animal communities dependent on old forests would be gone, too, perhaps permanently.
Whether this ecological catastrophe unfolds in three, six or even twenty years isn’t clear, and it shouldn’t matter. Why would a small difference in the timing of the endpoint of a catastrophe make any difference to decision-makers who have a responsibility to avoid such catastrophes altogether?
Surely the correct course of action for a government to take is to ensure that our economic activities do not put the planet’s life support systems at risk. Given the hard numbers provided by Price, Holt and Dauss—which were derived from the Province’s own records—the only reasonable course of action for the Province to take is to permanently protect the remaining 415,000 hectares identified by the scientists.
That shouldn’t be difficult. If the Province has been truthful about there being 13 million hectares of old-growth forest, protecting the 415,000 hectares identified by the scientists will mean a loss of just 3 percent of the old-growth forest the government claims is still there.
David Broadland has been writing about BC’s forest industry since 1990.
BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity: bcs-old-growth-forest-report-web.pdf
As they are logged, whole ecosystems disappear forever, along with their superior ability to sequester carbon.
(First published in Focus Magazine)
GLOOM AND SILENCE lodged in my memory first. An occasional shaft of golden light lanced between immense trees. They towered like the columns of some ancient Greek temple. If there was a breeze in the foliage, its rustle was muffled by the dense canopy hundreds of feet above.
It was 1956. I was nine. My father had taken me on my first real hike into the back country.
A stand of old-growth Douglas fir on Vancouver Island (Photo by David Broadland)
The temple allusion seems apt. The only other times I would feel that sudden, deep-shaded sense of sacredness—imprinting itself for the first time upon the virgin sensibility that art critic Roger Shattuck has called “the innocent eye”—occurred years later. Then I stood in the vaulting nave of an 800-year-old cathedral. Its construction began about the same time those Island trees of childhood memory were seedlings, pushing their first roots down into the decaying bole of a fallen ancestor, repeating the endless pattern of regeneration that had recurred over ten or more of their unimaginably long generations.
The ancient forests of Vancouver Island are ancient, indeed. The south coast was one of the first places deglaciated at the end of the last ice age. Palaeobotanists studying plant pollen in lake-bottom mud discovered that more than 12,000 years ago, when most of what’s now the province still slept beneath glaciers as deep as Mount Waddington, these forests were growing here.
On my first encounter with the ancient forest that once covered all of Vancouver Island, the trees seemed timeless, inexhaustible. And yet, that primeval forest, the living connection with our Palaeolithic origins in the natural world, was already in rapid retreat when my father took me to experience its miraculous, never-to-be-forgotten presence.
It is utterly astonishing to think that in my brief lifetime, less than 10 percent of the life span of one of those trees, that same primeval forest has almost vanished from Vancouver Island.
Seventy years ago, my father, now 96, was still hand-logging old growth west of Sooke with double-bitted axe and misery whip. “We thought it would never end,” he recently said—sadly I thought.
But ending, it is.
“We’re down to the guts and feathers now,” laments Erik Pikkila, a forester at Ladysmith who is assembling the “big data” needed for accurate, detailed analysis of BC’s practices and their consequences—what he calls “forgotten history”—both long and short term. “Here in BC we run forestry in a black box,” he says. “We need a technological revolution. The Province has run away from inventories. We don’t even know what is out there. If we don’t know what’s in the bank account, how do we manage that account sensibly going forward?”
A decade ago, the Liberal government’s cost-cutting mania resulted in a savage downsizing of the Province’s forest service. In 2010, a BC auditor-general’s report concluded that despite high-minded declarations about preserving ecological integrity, the Province was falling short of its goals.
“We should know where every tree is, where every log is at any given moment in the forestry cycle,” Pikkila says. “This is how you achieve real efficiency and sustainability in forest management. It’s how you eliminate waste. They can do this in Scandinavian logging. We can do it here.”
“What is the state of the forest? We don’t really know anymore. We have to do things differently.”
One step might be, as the Province has done with threatened grizzly bears, to boldly declare an immediate moratorium on logging the remnants of the ancient forest until we can gather the best science to determine what we should preserve, what we can preserve, and what we must preserve. Where to start? Perhaps with all trees still standing that were here before Europeans arrived—say 300 years old.
The governments of Washington State and Canada, with the support of British Columbians, pledged more than $1 billion to attempt to save the iconic Southern Resident killer whales from extirpation. Yet BC not only tolerates, but enables and even encourages the killing of 500-year-old trees to manufacture disposable products.
Today, probably 85 percent of the original ancient forest that covered Vancouver Island has been mowed down and turned into toilet paper, newsprint, dimensional lumber and plywood—purportedly a sustainable use, although most construction lumber goes into landfills after 50 years, the usual lifespan of a building in our throw-away culture of planned obsolescence. Tattered remnants remain in the North Island’s littoral zone and in a few parks and protected areas. Pockets survive in the most remote river valleys.
To fly the Island from Cape Scott to Greater Victoria is to witness a landscape modified almost beyond recognition on an industrial scale. Ten thousand-year-old ecosystems have been stripped and replaced with artificial plantations that are, themselves, already in some places being stripped for a second time in less than a century. Forestry is now agriculture. Loggers, their historic self-perceptions notwithstanding, have become well-paid farm hands.
Government, industry, academics and technicians reassure us that they can reconstruct ancient forests. Others don’t think so.
“By treating 500 to 1,000-year-old forests as if they were a renewable resource, we are acting out a fiction and thereby making a grave mistake,” wrote Peter Raven, then-director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, in a prescient forward to the book Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest.
“Once they have been removed from a particular area, the ancient forests…will never appear again, given the human activities in the contemporary world and their consequences,” Raven wrote. “We not only kill the trees that are cut, but we annihilate the possibility of such trees for all time. No manifestation of the anthropomorphic causes of tree death could be more permanently fatal than this.”
NOMINALLY, GOVERNMENT FOREST POLICY supports jobs and the economies of small forestry-based communities. But this, too, is a lie of self-deception. Government decoupled forest resources from workers and their communities a generation ago.
In 1980, says Natural Resources Canada, about 100,000—one in 10 BC workers—were employed in the forest sector. By 2018, Statistics Canada listed 18,600 as employed directly in forestry, logging and support. Over that 38 years, though, the annual allowable cut remained the same. So that 20 percent of the original work force—and the communities depending upon it—now cuts the same amount of wood. The wealth from that productivity gain did not go to workers. It went to government and corporate bottom lines.
Industry rationalizes liquidating old-growth forests on the fiction they are “over-mature.” The real reason, however, isn’t concern for the well-being of the forest, it’s because, as Charles Little pointed out in his book The Dying of the Trees, “Plantation trees are worth only about one-tenth as much as the 500-year-old pre-Columbian veterans.”
Ironically, liquidating what’s left of old-growth forests merely accelerates the problem for forest-dependent workers and their communities. When the high-volume old wood runs out, the replacement feedstock can only be low-volume plantation wood of inferior quality. This warning isn’t a radical idea cooked up by naive environmentalists. The Vancouver Province ran a major newspaper series more than 80 years ago warning about the coming “fall down” effect.
LOOKING DOWN FROM A LIGHT PLANE cockpit upon the patchwork quilt of clear-cuts, newly replanted cut blocks, immature growth, and the few protected areas and crannies too rugged to log, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Island is being defaced by some disastrous case of disfiguring psoriasis.
Satellite mapping shows as shamelessly optimistic estimates that 15 percent of old-growth inventory in moderate-to-high-value forest remains intact. Image analysis shows what remains is about a third of that or less. Only about 10 percent of the biggest trees, the 1,000-year-old giants from river bottoms and lower elevations, still stand. So, 90 percent of the most majestic trees are already gone—flushed down your toilet; used to wrap fish and chips; used to make disposable forms during construction of steel and glass skyscrapers, and then discarded.
Break it down by actual ecosystems, and the picture is grimmer yet. Of low elevation coastal Douglas fir and the Douglas fir adapted to the Island’s dry east coast rain shadow, only about one percent remains. For mountain hemlock in the very dry zone, about seven percent is left.
“This is crazy policy,” Pikkila says. “Ecologically, we need to be leaving all those big trees. Between 60 and 80 years in the growth cycle of those trees, the volume of wood doubles. The bigger the tree, the greater the volume of wood, the more carbon captured from the atmosphere and sequestered for a thousand years.” He adds, “The best tool we have against climate change is forests—but we have to let them get old. We have to plant a trillion trees, but the catch is to let them get really old.” While vigorously growing young trees sequester atmospheric carbon, they have to grow for 500 years to match the carbon sequestered in old-growth veterans.
On a per-hectare basis, temperate old-growth rainforests in BC sequester better than twice the carbon in equivalent forested areas of the tropical Amazon basin, whose deforestation has been so much in the news of late. More than 1,000 metric tons of carbon is sequestered in one hectare of BC rain forest, compared to about 400 tons in the Amazon.
Ecologist Elliott Norse points out in a seminal study of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest that timber operations in old growth “release a huge pulse of carbon dioxide in the few years after logging.”
This doesn’t square with the carbon budget targets bloviated by the NDP in the provincial legislature.
Based on the best current science, Ken Wu of the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance calls for a dramatic expansion of targets for protecting remaining old growth. The United Nations target is currently 17 percent. BC has achieved 15 percent. Wu says we need to go to at least 50 percent protection by 2030.
Ken Wu stands beside an old-growth Douglas fir on McLauglin Ridge (Photo by TJ Watt)
“To continue logging the last giants is akin to slaughtering the last herds of elephants or harpooning the last great whales,” Wu has written. “It’s unnecessary and unethical, given that second-growth forests dominate more than 80 percent of BC’s productive forest lands and can be sustainably logged.
“Indeed,” he continues, “the rest of the Western world is focused on logging 50- to 100-year-old second- or third-growth trees. BC is one of the very last jurisdictions on Earth that still supports the large-scale logging of 500-year-old trees. On Vancouver Island alone, about 10,000 hectares of productive old-growth forests are logged each year while only 8 percent of the original is protected.”
As with cancer patients, it’s easy to get drawn into a confused and confusing realm of contested statistics when it comes to evaluating survival rates, statistical probabilities, fretting over what the numbers actually mean—or if they mean anything. Yet for any lay person trying to sort out the facts, one thing is certain: government and industry data have gaps, sometimes large ones, and whether by incompetence or designed obscurantism, it’s opaque.
Spending an hour trying to extract intelligible data from the equivocating, jargon-laden labyrinth hosted by the Provincial Ministry of Forests feels like the same mind-numbing paralysis that follows sucking in a Freezie too fast.
Government, which is responsible for managing about 20 percent of timber sales (through BC Timber Sales), and industry, which has billions vested in business-as-usual, both argue that more old-growth forest has been protected than environmental groups acknowledge.
But Wu, a long-time campaigner for expanded old-growth protection, says the spin cycle has been cranked up to high for government and industry statistics.
He argues, for example, that provincial statistics mislead, because they include in protected old growth all the low commercial value forests growing on terrain so rugged it can’t be logged; stunted forests in shore bogs; treeless high alpine zones of rock and snow. They lump together fundamentally different ecosystems, from temperate coastal rainforest to arid rain shadow.
Wu likens this greenwashing of provincial forest policy to a politician combining Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown East Side, where the median household income was $13,000 in the last census, with West Vancouver, where the median family income was $90,000, and then huffing that everyone, including those in the Downtown East Side, is doing just fine because median household income averages $50,000. Well, it does, but it’s misleading.
Furthermore, he argues, if you include protected parklands in your annual old-growth inventory, the proportion of protected to unprotected old growth will appear to increase as unprotected old growth is logged. Eventually, when you’ve liquidated all the unprotected old growth, you’ll be able to claim that 100 percent of your old growth is protected, although it will represent only a minuscule fragment of what was once present.
The fact is that at least 80 percent of the moderate-to-high-value forest—those are the big trees—has already been extirpated on Vancouver Island, Wu says. Another 15 percent is unprotected. Only about five percent is protected by parks or ecological reserves. So, the NDP government’s plan, inherited from the opposition Liberals, appears to be to adopt a legacy of having stripped 95 percent of our ancient forest from the landscape, all the while congratulating itself on its environmental commitment.
Vicky Husband, another battle-scarred veteran of the fight to save what’s left of a vanishing ecosystem, concurs.
“Our ancient, old-growth forest of giant tree ecosystems is seriously endangered and irreplaceable,” she says. “Less than 15 percent of the original extent of ancient forest remains. There is very little valley-bottom ancient forest. Most [of what does remain] is seriously fragmented across the landscape by rampant clear-cut logging, with no regard for protection of other values.”
A typical clear cut with grapple-yarder that hauls bucked logs up to the cold deck where they are sorted into truckloads. When dragged logs disturb the surface of the forest floor they can create furrows that channel winter runoff down steep slopes, contributing to erosion. (Photo by TJ Watt)
She observes that the temperate coastal rain forests never amounted to more than about 0.5 percent of the world’s original forest and yet it’s still being logged to near extirpation. “The kind of extreme mismanagement and liquidation of the last of our ancient forests is a total crime against nature. We have the best remaining ancient temperate rainforests in the world, and we are losing them so fast,” she says.
Continuing, Husband says, “We have protected only 5.5 percent of the original extent of the ancient forest on Vancouver Island. Does anyone think that is enough? The NDP has totally betrayed us all. They have continued the Liberal regime with regard to mismanagement of our forest, no consideration or protection of other important values, only timber.…and they are massively overcutting what we have left as fast as they can.”
MORE THAN 60 YEARS AGO, when my father hiked me up into the old growth, it covered the lower slopes of Mount Arrowsmith, flanked the Cameron River where it winds from Labour Day Lake under Mount Moriarty, and swept over to Cameron Lake.
He showed me liquorice ferns, deer ferns, maidenhair ferns—a whole palette of vivid greens—offset by the pale, corpse-coloured ghost pipes that live in parasitical symbiosis with living tree roots.
Another persistent recollection, embedded like a kind of muscle memory, is the springiness underfoot. Moss that seemed knee-deep in places moved beneath my feet like a trampoline, although it was a more fragile kind of trembling.
We looked at nurse logs, huge trunks of ancient trees that had died, stood for another century or so, then fallen to the forest floor to begin a new cycle of growth. The moss, explained my dad, was so deep that nothing could take root, and the canopy so dense that there was little light. But these falling giants laid down a nutrient-rich bed into which seedlings had a brief window in which to push tiny roots into crevices and capture light slanting in through the opening left in the canopy.
We gorged on the fat, red huckleberries that take root in decaying stumps and took home a couple of cups, which my mother tossed with lemon juice, some sugar and promptly baked into a tart, tangy pie—another indelible childhood memory.
As we climbed towards the tree line, spring-fed rills bubbled up and frothed down the slope, tumbling over deadfalls and rock ledges. It was a landscape as magical and mesmerizing as any I’d found in the books at the tiny Port Alberni library where I was often deposited while my mother shopped.
Timespans are different in childhood. Summers seem so long that their end is always a shock. But it was nothing like the shock when I went looking for that vividly remembered ancient forest of childhood. It was a ruin of debris.
All that remains of that forest of my memory is the beautiful but ecologically insignificant postage-stamp park called Cathedral Grove, a thin ribbon of trees in the steep canyon of the Cameron River, and a few veterans here and there left to blow down in some big storm.
Logging in old growth on McLaughlin Ridge. Only about 5 percent of ancient forest is protected. (Photo by TJ Watt)
Provincial forest policy, and the attitudes of our elected politicians, seem maddeningly obtuse. The forest sector supports fewer and fewer people who are used to mow down the last intact bits of unprotected old growth at a time when children are taking to the streets demanding that we do something to preserve their future and their heritage.
BC’s parks recorded 200 million visits over the last decade. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve gets about a million visitors a year. If hikers continue to reserve places on the West Coast Trail at the current rate, 75,000 will complete the arduous wilderness trek over the next decade.
Government brochures, reports, and websites celebrate and promote these visits because they inject billions into the provincial economy—certainly more than logging does. The promotions are plastered with dramatic photos of pristine forests, hikers gazing at huge trees, and campers setting up in a pastoral paradise.
But it’s really more of the Big Lie to which our children object. Beyond the park boundaries—and parks are now so jammed that reservations months in advance are a necessity—the landscape is still being shaved bald.
Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.