I agree with you Salmon in the Sky, that clearcut logging ought to be seen as an “immoral practice”.
Does that mean people shouldn’t do it? This question leads to a consideration of what it means for a practice to be considered “moral.”
One definition of “moral” is “a person’s standards of behaviour or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.”
Morality, then, is a personal standard. By extension, consideration of what is an “immoral” practice is also based on a personal standard.
In BC, if we look around carefully enough, we see large numbers of clearcuts. They are everywhere. In some parts of the province there are far more clearcuts that there is mature or old forest.
It seems evident, then, that most people aren’t offended by clearcuts, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of them. So, for most people, clearcutting is not an “immoral practice”.
That’s partly because they are told, relentlessly, by government and industry that the benefits of clearcutting far outweigh the costs.
How can more people—including our political leaders—be made conscious of why clearcutting is immoral?
I think you hit the nail on the head when you describe the impacts of clearcutting: loss of the ability to create oxygen, depletion of soil, polluting water and creating landslides. There are several other negative impacts, including loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat, increasing the risk of forest fire, loss of carbon sequestration capacity, and increasing climate instability by the destruction of forest carbon sinks.
Most people would understand that any person involved in creating these effects is damaging our common life support systems and is, therefor, behaving immorally. But most people aren’t aware of these impacts. All they hear, from government, industry and media, is that logging provides jobs and building materials.
So how do we persuade more people to be conscious of the overall impacts of logging and the need to limit it?
If we can do that, whatever it is, then clearcutting will eventually be widely considered an immoral practice and we will stop doing it.
In 2019, the Council of Forest Industries published a paper titled: “Smart Future: A Path Forward for BC’s Forest Products Industry”
The gist of this paper is captured in the following quotes which exemplify the intent of its several proposals. My comments are in italics.
COFI wants the government to:
1. Define the working forest land base. Like conservation areas, designate the area that will be available for harvesting and lock in the commitment. (Lock in the THLB.)
2. Implement a “no-net-loss policy” to provide certainty in the long term. Undertake a review every 5 years. (Keep it locked in with no reductions.)
3. Ensure policies and processes allow for timely and consistent access to the working forest land base. (Ditto. This mantra is repeated a third time to make sure everyone was clear on what the forest industry wanted and continues to want.)
4. Transition a portion of the existing forest licenses from volume-based to area-based to encourage further investment by companies in intensive forest management. (Give us more TFLs so we have more control over these areas and can then better manage (exploit) them.)
5. Convene an expert working group including government, industry, and academic experts to develop innovative and flexible approaches to climate-affected forests to ensure a more stable, fire-resilient and sustainable timber supply. (The Chief Forester’s Leadership Team was created to fulfill this role and has achieved remarkable success in doing so—except for the sustainable part!)
A copy of this paper is attached as is a copy of my comments made shortly after it was released. Many people in BC had then, and still have, a much different vision of what actually constitutes a “Smart Future” for BC’s forests.
16-year-old climate and old-growth activist Kyle Hicks stands beside an ancient western red cedar in the Inland Temperate Rainforest in the Ladybird Creek Watershed.
Logging as it is now practiced is an immoral practice that destroys nature. Not only does it destroy nature, it will slowly but surely kill us.
Trees are the “Lungs of the Earth” because they create and cleanse the oxygen we breath. In logging (at least in how it is now practiced—clearcutting) we plunder and rape and kill our very breath of life—it can be no plainer than this.
We also set off irreversible chain reactions and compromise our children’s futures. In the name of Love for our children we will cut down irreplaceable old-growth forests for temporal "satisfactory pleasures"—that all too soon lose their amusement.
We deplete the soil, pollute the water and create landslides that the children will have to deal with. Do you call this love? It definitely is not.
And with climate change threatening us this is definitely not the time to be procrastinating.
We have the means and the ability to stop unsustainable forestry and get off fossil fuels. The only thing in the way is our sinful selves with not enough Love in our hearts to really stand up for what’s right, for the whole future of the planet, for everything special to us. Are you willing? Are you going to act? Are you going to act in love, now?
Just to be clear, Brian, the courts have recognized Indigenous land title and rights and the BC government has to abide by those court decisions. You might be right that the government led by John Horgan delayed implementation of the old growth strategic review panel's recommendations on the basis of the need to consult with First Nations governments, but we can't blame Indigenous governments for that, which it sounds like you are doing. Correct me if I am wrong.
We are not going to get "forest reform" without that reform being led by Indigenous people and Indigenous wisdom about the land. That's now settled. It was their land, it was stolen, and over time they are going to get it back, or at least the right to decide what happens on their lands. We all need to work within that reality. I am looking forward to it.
The only interest group we really need to worry about is that tiny segment of settler culture in BC who see forests strictly as a commodity to be traded. Unfortunately, right now, that 19th century mode of thinking is still powerful enough that it is allowed to continue to degrade whatever land it touches.
I couldn’t agree more! I’ve always said the only solution to something this mangled and corrupted is to push it over the edge, and start anew; and that includes the failed regulatory framework (i.e. the shadowy ministry known as Forests Lands & Natural Resource Operations) that has, at every twist and turn, enabled this relentless monster to deprive British Columbians of their democratic privileges (rights?) and the foundation of our society, our land, forests, and water. The missing link for citizens has always been the absence of a public involvement and “control” mandate which could have and should have been enabled by a declared and legislated Public Trust doctrine.
Sadly, this NDP government, and previous ones, have taken almost every wrong turn when it comes to protecting the only thing that British Columbians have in common, our land. The latest, and most troubling and destructive agenda, is the theft of public land and regulatory authority from the public trust in a misguided and treasonous effort too appease Indian leadership / bands / and the immense, lawyer-laden Indian “industry”.
As long as diversion of authority, money and assets to special interest like Indian bands is a dominant political agenda (look at who new Premier Eby now has as insiders / advisers in his office), divisive and diversionary agendas, like land giveaways under the name of social justice, will cripple land and forest reform and hamstring the management and conservation science behind it.
Its been nothing short of a brilliant diversionary strategy (devised by the NDP in secret meetings, and virtually without public discussion or endorsement) that appeals to the noisy virtuous minority in society but has totally befuddled the public and almost all environmental groups; but the ugly consequences will plague land and forest management and conservation for decades if not longer.
Dr. Brian L. Horejsi
Ecologist and public interest advocate
The first President Bush isn’t the only one who has struggled or is struggling with “the vision thing.” Be it the need to protect the global climate or B.C.’s forests—meaning we must become wiser and much more responsible stewards of both—vision to achieve these transitions from where we are now to where we need to get to (and as quickly as possible) is sorely lacking.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the room where the B.C. government made the decision to provide Canfor with a new subsidy of $90 million in the face of 300 lost Canfor jobs in Prince George. What was the government’s rationale? Because we’ve always done it this way, even if it’s proven not to be tried and true? Because we think it’s necessary if we want to be seen as politically competitive in the Prince George region and if we want to retain the allegiance of our trade union partners?
Could the government have huddled and consulted with these partners and other stakeholders to holistically develop and pursue a vision of and for forest reparation, enabled by legally enforceable ecosystem management? Why couldn’t the aforementioned $90 million have been a first installment toward the creation of a vision of forest reparation and sustainability, the commencement of work to achieve that vision, and supports to provide a fair and just transition during the interim?
Questions for the government: Do you have the will to act in this manner? Do you have the capacity to genuinely lead and enable?
We need both vision and the will to implement it if we are to achieve the level of stewardship required of us.
Once again retired forester Anthony Britneff shows how active he is on behalf of saving B.C. forests from yet more degradation and depredation.
I write as a British Columbian watching and listening from Oxford, England, whose green environs are under constant threat. In particular by a government-supported scheme called “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc” which the Westminster government and its “central construction command” claim will turn a large area of southern central England into the UK’s silicon valley. This at a time when Silicon Valley is in decline, after decades of doing permanent damage to the Paolo Alto-San Francisco area, a locale from which the techies are now fleeing.
Mr. Britneff raises the spectre of industry propaganda, giving the example of how glibly and misleadingly the rhetoric of “sustainability” is applied. Mr. Britneff concludes that “Foresters are a failed profession in B.C.” and prefaces this by saying the “the UBC Faculty of Forestry” might be renamed the “UBC Faculty of Ecology.” Let’s hope.
For decades now I have been involved with eco-campaigns in and around Oxford, notably in support of what is called green belt, land protected by statute from development. Yet it is now very easy for planning inspectors to close down that protection in favour of the mass building of carbon-spewing housing—and worse.
Recently a member of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, chaired by a construction oligarch, stated that those who oppose the Oxford-Cambridge Arc should be declared traitors to the national interest and a bill currently going through the Westminster Parliament is seeking to outlaw protests and demonstrations.
Mr. Britneff sets out what needs to be done to save B.C. forests and, by extension, the province's biodiversity, in the best interests of everyone.
The UK has led the world in degrading the natural environment. If Mr Britneff and his colleagues’ words aren’t heeded, it won’t be long before Canada catches up.
Hi Anthony, I totally agree professional foresters working for government and industry have failed to protect the public interest in the natural world. And their professional association has failed to enforce their code of ethics. Of course there are professional foresters like you, Herb, Fred and probably hundreds of others who have and are diligent in their commitment to the public interest.
I've been thinking alot lately about why our activism is generally not succeeding. Not just in forestry but also in many domains of public interest. I appreciate our exchange as it is helping me deepen my thinking.
Hi Margaret, Thank you for your well considered comment. In response to the selected quotation from your comment, I remind readers that every clearcut is approved by a government forester, who has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Crown, the trustee of public forests on behalf of the public.
Further, that same forester is a member of Forest Professionals BC (new name, previously called the Association of BC Forest Professionals) to which all practising foresters belong. The Professional Governance Act, which replaced the Foresters Act, requires Forest Professionals BC to serve and protect the public interest with respect to the conduct of registered professionals.
Furthermore, Forest Professionals BC has a Code of Ethical and Professional Conduct embodied within bylaw 9. Within this code of ethics, under a section titled "Standard 2 - Independence", a practising forester is required to exhibit objectivity and independence in fact and appearance by, among other requirements, upholding the public interest and professional principles above the demands of employment or personal gain.
So contrary to your assertion, I find it entirely reasonable to expect practising foresters to obey provincial laws and regulations and to abide by the bylaws of their governing body by giving priority to the public interest over the interest of employers. Most would agree that destruction of public forests (biodiversity, soil, water, carbon and air) is not in the public interest. What has happened by way of destruction to the forests of the province under the mismanagement of professional foresters over the past 50 years shows me that collectively they are a failed profession.
As to the future, I will say that Professor John Innes, the former dean of forestry at UBC, did much to improve the education of forestry students. My hope is that a new generation of foresters will have a good basic grounding in conservation biology, in hydrology and in forest ecology that will enable them to abhor the extensive destruction of our forests (biodiversity, soil, water, carbon and air) perpetrated by their predecessors through excessive clearcutting and will motivate them to work towards repairing the damage.
Finally, I need to acknowledge my part in the collective failure of the profession. I was a registered professional forester in B.C. for almost four decades. I resigned my membership on January 7, 2022. I resigned because, in good conscience, I could no longer belong to Forest Professionals BC when I consider that the harm done by its members to biodiversity, soil, water, carbon and air far out-weighed the good done by many members working for the public and private sectors and for some First Nations. Forest Professionals BC and some of its members had become for me agents of ecocide.
Great article, Anthony. Thanks for your commitment to increasing public awareness. The one comment I would make is that I don’t agree forestry is a failed profession. Professional reliance has failed, I think most would agree. But wasn’t it doomed to fail? It is unreasonable to expect an individual professional forester working for a corporation to serve both private and public interests in an economic/political/legislative environment where corporate directors have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize short-run ROI for their shareholders. That is prima facie in conflict with the public interest to safeguard the long-run sustainability of a healthy natural world for current and future generations of humans and all life. On top of that, we have perverse social media algorithms that do nothing to increase collective intelligence but in fact serve only to hijack our emotions and deepen polarization of the citizenry. I have watched with dismay as posts on Facebook attempting to inform people about forest practices have erupted into ad hominen attacks and created division, mistrust and deepened animosity. In the end, we have a poorly informed, rivalrous citizenry on top of the perverse market incentives with a pricing system that does not include externalities such as the impact of forest practices on water, biodiversity, etc. The failures are deep and many and professional foresters are caught in this trap, as are the rest of us. The best we can do is expose the challenges and try to make sense of why we are stuck in this dilemma, as you have done in your article.
No question, our provincial government is insane! The people have made it clear that they are opposed to the current methods of forestry. Yet the NDP continues to blindly support the forest industry, who are intent in wrecking the forest ecosystem, and the economy with it.
The over-riding process that determines and supports the level of forest harvesting in BC is the TSR AAC Determination process. Currently and inherently, this process is designed and manipulated to keep BC's AAC as high as possible for as long as possible---and it has been and continues to be very successful in achieving these two goals.
Until this process and it's associated methodology are changed, BC's forests will continue to be harvested at the rate they always have been. Far to high.
To facilitate this change, a panel of three people (similar to the old Growth review panel) should be appointed and given the task of formally reviewing it. A part of this work their report should include recommendations for change.
The government should then ask for public comments on it and then implement the relevant and appropriate recommendations emanating from these two processes.
Doing so is, without question, in the best interests of the people of BC.
Failing to do so is only in the interests of the forest licensees.
I urge everyone to lobby for such a review.
Well said, Anthony.
Does anyone know of any other industry in BC that would so readily receive multi-million dollar subsidies from government when economic conditions go south? I don't.
The construction industry, which is much larger than the logging-milling industry, is expected to downsize itself during unfavourable market conditions in BC. Construction workers migrate to other locations when the real estate market in BC slumps.
The same expectation applies to all other forms of labour in BC.
But for the logging industry, corporate welfare always kicks in, and quickly. This has the long-term result of exhausted forests and workers that end up believing— wrongly—that they must be foundational to the province's economic well being. Only 10 to 20 percent of what's logged in BC ends up being used in BC.
This history of unrealistic and unwarranted support for the logging-for-export industry by government seems to make those working in the industry super aggressive about their right to access "fibre", and we now know they will push this sense of entitlement right to the last commercially attractive tree.
I have summarized the less obvious subsidies government provides this failing industry here. Without these subsidies, which no other industry in BC could ever expect to receive, we would have a logging industry just large enough to meet the actual need for forest products in BC.
I have little sympathy left for the BC forest industry. Even forest industry union workers are engaged in a race to the bottom--membership plummeting, protecting an ever diminishing work force instead of protecting the resource itself.
The NDP and Liberal governments are still living in the past, supporting an increasingly economically irrelevant industry--by default--because they always have.
While the government appears blind, BC citizens are seeing that the emperor has no clothes.