by Eddie Petryshen
British Columbia markets itself as “supernatural B.C.” and yet we are one of the last jurisdictions in the world still logging irreplaceable old growth forests on public lands.
The fight for B.C.’s forests is often pitted as a battle between resource workers and environmentalists. Meanwhile, the policy failures and corporate agendas responsible for the current state of B.C.’s forests rarely make the headlines.
B.C.’s biodiversity strategy is almost exclusively reliant on old growth forest. Biodiversity is simply all of the living things that make this province so special. Old growth is one of the only things we manage at a provincial scale for biodiversity.
Simply put, if we are failing old growth at a provincial scale, we are likely failing frogs, caribou, bull trout, salmon, and all of the critical living things that we collectively refer to as “biodiversity.”
In the ’90s, B.C. embarked on land use planning through the Commission on Resources and Environment. These locally-led land use tables provided a plan and a benchmark for how regions would manage natural resources including old growth into the future.
The resulting Kootenay Boundary and Revelstoke Land Use plan(s) produced old growth targets which were later dramatically reduced with one stroke of the pen. This is what is often referred to as “the drawdown.”
In these two areas old growth retention targets were reduced by two-thirds in low biodiversity emphasis areas (45 percent of the landscape).
For example, if the original target for old growth retention for logging companies was to conserve 12 percent of the low elevation old growth cedar-hemlock forests in one area, after the drawdown was implemented the legal target became four percent.
With one change, logging companies only had to preserve one-third of the original target in nearly half of the landscape in the Kootenay Boundary and Revelstoke area. This drawdown has resulted in the sacrifice of some of the most important low elevation old growth forests.
In 2011, the Revelstoke area requirements for old growth were once again weakened.
The changes enabled licensees to place old growth management areas outside of the timber harvesting land base and freed up previously protected or constrained old growth forest for logging. In all, the amendment made 7,049 hectares, or more than 8,000 soccer fields, worth of previously protected or constrained old and mature forest available for potential logging (Forest Practices Board 2013).
In 2018, the West Kootenay Ecosociety launched a formal complaint to the province that old growth forests in the Kootenay Lake and Arrow Timber Supply Areas were not being effectively protected in old growth management areas, and that the province was failing to meet already weakened legal old growth targets set out in the Kootenay and Boundary Higher Level Plan Order.
The province did a formal analysis and found licensees were in deficit for old growth in 47 areas of the Arrow and Kootenay Lake Timber Supply and likely not meeting the legal requirements for old growth set out in Land Use Plans.
They also found that only 17 and 18 percent of forests in old growth management areas (OGMA) are actually composed of old growth forest.
The vast majority of forests in old growth reserves in these two timber supply areas (TSA’s) are composed of young, middle, and mature aged forests. This equates to a massive shortfall of 76,000 ha of old forest in OGMA in the Arrow TSA and nearly 36,000 ha in the Kootenay Lake TSA (MacKillop 2018).
Old growth management areas are intended to conserve old growth forests, but the current management of OGMA in these two areas highlights policy failures big enough to drive a logging truck through.
We will soon learn what the provincially appointed old growth technical review panel will recommend in order to stop the bleeding caused by decades of logging irreplaceable old growth forests. Industry lobby groups are already attempting to dismiss the findings of the old growth technical review panel and delay action further.
As citizens continue to put their bodies on the line at blockades around the province to protect forests, the rubber will hit the road with a new round of old growth deferrals expected early this fall.
Will “supernatural B.C.” continue to be known as one of the last jurisdictions in the world still logging irreplaceable old growth forests?
Eddie Petryshen is a conservation specialist based in the Wildsight office in Kimberley.