BC government announces additional logging deferrals for old trees at risk

The BC government on Friday announced additional temporary measures to protect the province’s iconic ancient trees that can live for hundreds of years and support rich ecological areas.

About 1.05 million hectares of forests most at risk of irreversible loss will now be banned from logging for at least two years, almost half of what was determined to be at high risk by a scientific panel in November 2021.

“We have made real progress,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development at a press conference on Friday.

The announcement of new deferrals, covering 619,000 hectares, is part of a process announced in September 2020. That’s when the province released a review of how ancient trees and the land around them should be better managed to protect biodiversity and mitigate impacts. of climate change.

An ancient cedar harvested in the Nahmint Valley outside of Port Alberni BC (Chris Corday/CBC)

The Old Growth Strategic Review (OGSR) made 14 recommendations, including the immediate postponement of logging in some areas most at risk of biodiversity loss; funding to help communities that depend on the logging of ancient trees to abandon the practice; and more meaningful engagement with First Nations.

The province has faced criticism from stakeholders, such as conservation groups and some First Nations, that action on the issue has been slow and lacks transparency over the past 18 months.

On Friday, however, there was optimism.

“It gives me hope that we can see similar progress in the coming months to ensure that all old growth forests at risk can be set aside before logging occurs,” said Jens Wieting of Sierra BC club.

On Friday, the province said deferrals have now been implemented for a total of 1.7 million hectares of old-growth forests, including 1.05 million hectares in the most at-risk areas.

Garry Merkel, a retired forester and member of the Tahltan First Nation, co-wrote the OGSR and participated in the Friday press conference. He was positive in his assessment of the reports made so far and the cooperation between government, nations, communities and forest companies.

“I’m really happy right now,” he said. “I think it’s a monumental task and we’re making incredible progress from what I feared we would do.”

A graph created by British Columbia’s conservation group, the Wilderness Committee, using provincial data to show types of forests in British Columbia and levels of protection from logging. (Wilderness Committee)

First Nations Mobilization

In the past five months, the province said it received responses from 188 of B.C.’s 204 First Nations about the carryover of old-growth forests into their territories.

“To date, 75 First Nations have agreed to defer harvesting of old growth forests at risk in their territory,” said output of the province.

The province said seven nations have spoken out against any postponement, while 11 have no old-growth or commercial forests on their territories. Five First Nations have yet to respond.

“Putting First Nations at the center of complex land-related decisions lays the foundation for reconciliation and brings generations of local resource knowledge and experience to the table,” said Josie Osborne, Minister of Land Stewardship, of water and resources who participated in the news. conference.

Conroy said $185 million in funding included in the February budget is already being used to help workers and communities affected by the postponements.

The money will be used to pay for things such as short-term jobs for entrepreneurs and their workers, preparing older workers for retirement and retraining.

Ancient Forest Alliance activist TJ Watt looks up at an ancient cedar tree in a grove earmarked for logging outside Cowichan Lake, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The province also announced on Friday the creation of a new council to support forestry workers and their communities and “ensure that programs are targeted and provide supports where they are needed most.”

Critics have called on the province to provide $300 million in support.

They also said on Friday that the province should provide maps showing which areas have been protected and which have not.

The Wilderness Committee said about 7.6 million hectares, or two-thirds of remaining old-growth forests in British Columbia, remain without permanent protection.