Conserve mature second-growth forests for old-forest recruitment, to mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss, and to protect other values.
Hole-in-the-Wall, the channel between Sonora Island (left) and Maurelle Island. Both islands are heavily forested, much of it mature second growth, and are now being heavily logged. The forests here have high potential for safe storage of significant levels of carbon, have high levels of biodiversity, and are located in an area that has high recreational potential.
THE NEED TO CONSERVE mature second-growth forests is easily understood when we consider how little old forest remains and why we need to conserve forests in the first place.
Independent BC forest scientists estimate only 2.7 percent of the original area of big, old trees remain. By “big, old trees” we mean those forests where biological productivity and biodiversity are greatest. These are also the areas most coveted by BC’s forest industry because, for site specific reasons such as soil quality and availability of water, trees grow bigger in a given period of time. But in 33 of BC’s 36 biogeoclimatic zone variants, the amount of highly productive old forest has already fallen below 10 percent, a critical point at which the risk of biodiversity loss becomes high. In those zones, local extirpation of certain species that depend on old-forest habitats becomes likely. This degradation is already occurring all over BC.
Likewise, the long-term carbon storage provided by old forests is down to about 2.7 percent of what it once was. With so little remaining, the long-term potential for safe carbon storage by BC forests would barely be scratched if all we did was protect the remaining old forest.
As well, to restore the risk of biodiversity loss to safer levels, recruitment of areas that could become biologically productive old-growth—150 years or so in the future—is essential, and those areas would need to be given long-term protection from being logged so that, one day, they can become old-growth forests.
Many areas of BC that were logged in the mid-20th century are now being logged again. These forests are being cut during their optimum years of carbon sequestration and right at the beginning of a long, natural period of significant carbon storage. Given the urgent demand to address the climate crisis by 2030, conservation of these forests is far more valuable than their small value as short-lived wood products, 80 percent of which is not even needed to meet BC’s own needs.
Much of the logging of second-growth forests is occurring in areas where commercially valuable 70- to 90-year-old trees are also highly valued for the wilderness-like characteristics they provide that attract people to spend time and money being in those forests.
Together, all these factors point toward setting aside significant areas of mature second-growth forest that are currently within the “timber harvesting land base” and giving that land protected status as carbon and biodiversity reserves.
Governments around the world, including Canada, are moving now to protect more land to slow the collapse of biodiversity. The “30 by 30” initiative would see 30 percent of land and water in Canada protected by 2030. The goal of global conservation organizations is to have 50 percent of land and lakes in some form of protection by 2050. As it is, only 15.4 percent of BC’s land base is protected, according to the BC Ministry of Environment. How much of BC’s forested land base is protected? Only about 10 percent of BC’s estimated 55 million hectares of forest land have been given permanent protection.
Where will the additional protected land come from? Since forested land has the richest pools of biodiversity, all of the new protected lands needs to come from a combination of forested land that isn’t currently loggable and from land that is currently available to logging. The land that has been claimed by the forest industry is always the most biologically productive, and that’s where the majority of new protected lands must come from.
We must, of course, beware of proposals from industry and the ministry of forests that purport to protect mature second-growth forests without fully protecting the remaining old forest in the province, especially those in biogeoclimatic variants with 10 percent or less old-forest remaining.
We have split this issue into two streams where you can read more and provide your thoughts on this issue. For more information on creating non-destructive forest employment, go here.
Conserve old and mature forest to protect other values