31st January 2020
EDITORS NOTE: I have been sent a number of presentations that were made to the Old Growth Panel. I am placing them below for your comments, use, or whatever.
Thank you to those who sent these to me.
There will be several more additions over the coming days, so stay tuned!
Old-Growth Strategic Review Panel
Thank you panel members for the opportunity to address an issue that has been close to my heart since my arrival on this coast in 1985, at which time I worked in silviculture, planting trees in the largest clearcut in the world, near Quesnel, an area devastated by the spruce beetle bug infestation. My name is Bobby Arbess. I am a veteran tree hugger, member of the Friends of Carmanah-Walbran and organizer with the Forests4Climate! Coalition, representing over 50 civil society groups and youth, climate, Indigenous, faith and sustainable forestry leaders across B.C. calling for bold action to protect the last remaining carbon-rich old-growth temperate rainforests as a necessary measure to help stabilize the atmosphere and buffer the planet from runaway climate change.
I wish to acknowledge that this meeting is taking place on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen people and that the climate crisis that I would like to address today in the context of the urgency of protecting old-growth forests, in my opinion, not talked enough about in forestry circles, is a by-product of a system of resource colonialism and economic growth that in only 150 years of colonization has pushed the planet to the point of the dangerous decline of every ecosystem on Earth. So that by acknowledging land, I also acknowledge the history of resource extractive violence on these lands, the violence to culture, to children, to Indigenous peoples and to all life, that has led us to this moment in which the future of all children and all life is uncertain.
The purpose for leaving my "native" Montreal was to help protect the dwindling ancient temperate rainforests of the West Coast, that until I received a Western Canada Wilderness Committee calendar sent to a previous tenant of my apartment in Montreal, I did not know even existed. That Canada has a rainforest, was a revelation to me that quite literally changed my life. Of course, up until recently the coastal timber industry, including the BC Forest Service, did not recognize that Canada has a west coast rainforest, referring instead to the big-tree forests of this coast under the industry timber classification system, less affectionately, as the Coastal Western Hemlock Zone.
In 1989, I visited the fabled Carmanah valley, a place I had only seen in WC calendars and began trail-building through the giant Sitka Spruce habitat on its pristine alluvial valley bottom and in the neighbouring big cedar country of the Walbran valley, almost every weekend and some time for longer stretches from 1989 to 1991. In 1991, with multinationals Fletcher Challenge and
McMillan Bloedel poised to punch mainlines through most of the Walbran valley in one summer, I participated in the organizing of a three-month road blockade, to prevent over 13 kms of logging road development. These actions helped lead to the the creation of Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park, over 15, 000 hectares of old-growth forest paradise. Despite, the very heart of this area being left out of the park, for its giant Western Red Cedars, now known as the Central Walbran, for which we are still fighting today, this was a victory for the movement to protect this amazing land-base from reckless destruction for short-term profit. Since that time, however, over the last 25 years, almost 10, 000 hectares a year, an area roughly 16 x the size of Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park of old-growth rainforest, has been lost forever.
I say forever, because an old-growth forest is an irreplaceable and therefore non-renewable source of life ( notice how I didn't say resource) that has evolved under the moist, cool conditions of the post-Pleistocene glacial period that provided the optimal conditions for thriving forest succession. In a rapidly warming world, created partly due to deforestation, those conditions are not something we can wilfully reproduce. Once these forests are gone they are gone forever. We need to come by that honestly. The biologically barren environment of an industrial tree plantation with trees spaced 10 feet apart over hundreds of thousands of hectares, all the same age, height and devoid of the structural, age, height and biological diversity of a climax successional , low-disturbance forest naturally evolving for 10, 000 years, is no substitute for the real thing. That said, I hold hope that a dramatically scaled down version of the industry can thrive in a restorative capacity tending the vast silvicultural lands to bring back the characteristics of an old-growth forest and with it improved high quality wood, the future of forestry in BC.
The tragedy of the industrial forestry model is that we have been liquidating some of the best softwood forests on earth and replacing them with something the companies that have been cutting them down want nothing to do with. Once the 'green gold' is gone so go the companies, leaving local communities with diminishing jobs and a degraded land. The Tree Farm License system, stripped if its apppurtenancy clauses that once held logging companies accountable for job stability in exchange for the gargantuan privilege of timber rights over vast areas of unceded Indigenous lands, has been a nightmare to local communities and ecosystems alike.
If I were the Premier of British Columbia I would revoke those timber licenses as they have violated the very trust upon which they were first granted. I would return land to the people it was stolen from and I would work with them to create new legislation to ensure the maximum number of jobs per trees extracted from the land, rather than maximized profits for multinational logging companies who have called the shots around here for far too long. Perhaps the Panel can make such recommendations for returning wealth back to the communities, human and more-than-human from where it is has been stolen by an industry bent on maximizing profit through over-cutting, mechanization and the unbridled export of raw timber.
Only then will we have our cake and eat it too. Only then can we protect all or most of the remaining old-growth forests and have no net loss, but rather more, sustainable jobs in a thriving, value-added forest economy based on diversification and investment in transitioning the smaller and smaller work-force still involved in old-growth logging into long-term sustainable careers in eco and cultural-tourism, land-based aquaculture, salmon enhancement, sustainable harvesting of non-timber forest resources such as berries, mushrooms, plant medicinals and manufacturing of quality finished wood products requiring skilled craftmanship and pride in work. This is what is missing in BC and there is no better time than now to make that investment in a vibrant future of human-scale, sustainable economic development for local forest-dependant communities that gets them out of the rut of boom and bust economic cycles that has been the scourge of land-based communities.
The primary, old-growth and ancient temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest are amongst some of the most carbon-rich forests, containing the highest volumes of woody biomass of any forests in the world. Their geographic distribution is extremely restricted. There is a large volume of scientific evidence that confirms the role these forests play as a critical storehouse of carbon, sequestering vast amounts of C02. Many scientific reports have established evidence that protecting the last of these forests can be one of the most important measures to tackle both the climate and biodiversity crisis we are in. Forests4Climate! have urged B.C Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman to take a bold stand to protect these forests as part of the Province's climate action plans.
There appears to be large disagreement and discrepancy between government/corporate and non-profit organization figures about how much old-growth forests remain on Vancouver island and the southwest mainland. Sierra Club and Ancient Forest Alliance figures seem to concur that less than 10% of the low-elevation coastal old-growth forest remains-- that 90% of the original low-elevation old-growth forest has been logged in under 150 years of settler-colonialism on this coast, an astounding disaster in my mind, and reason alone to halt all further industrial logging of this globally-significant natural ecosystem.
FLNRORD figures suggest that over half of the old-growth forests remain. Although these forests on unceded Indigenous lands are purportedly managed in the public trust, there is no publicly-available information of any scientific inventory of how much of the low-elevation old-growth forests remain and the government appears to have no clue what is left or to have any scientific basis for determining a conservation baseline required for protecting biodiversity and maintaining the ecological services these forests provide including critical carbon sequestration and storage, salmon spawning and other wildlife habitat of commercial and non-commercial species, fishwater and drinking water and clean air; as well as ethnocultural resources and cultural sites of Indigenous peoples who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial.
One thing we know: We will run out of old-growth if we keep cutting it and once we do we will have to fallback on the silvicultural land-base for wood. If that day is inevitable and we need the carbon sequestration of the old-growth forests to help get us through the next 30 years in which we must neutralize our carbon footprint on this planet or put the survival of humanity at risk, why not protect these forests now? There is nothing we can do in British Columbia that will more effectively contribute natural solutions to the climate crisis and to act on the rare opportunity to be wise carbon stewards than to safeguard the globally significant critical carbon sink that is embodied in these old-growth forests. The accelerating severity of the climate crisis now considered the greatest existential threat facing humanity and the web of life on this planet adds an unprecedented moral urgency to the protection of the last old-growth forests. In no small way, our collective future and the welfare of our children and their children depends on it.
We must all rise to the occasion and do what we can, where we can to reverse catastrophic climate change.
As we know, these coastal and interior rainforests are not naturally subjected to the kinds of fire cycles and pest and disease outbreaks of other forests in the province. As more and more of BC's forests are consumed in climate-related wildfires it is especially critical that we protect the forests that don't typically burn and which act literally as climate guardians preventing further global warming and its associated litany of "natural" disasters.
For too long the conversation about old-growth forests has taken place strictly within an industrial paradigm that views forests predominantly as a resource to exploit. The unquestioned assumption and operating norm of the industrial forestry system that is about liquidating old-growth forests and replacing them with tree farms, has always been that what can be logged will be logged and if something is to be protected, taken out of the industrial land-base, viewed ironically, as if protecting something is a form of removal, then members of the public will have to fight for years for a park or Indigenous communities will have to engage in civil disobedience to establish ICPAs or Tribal Parks on their traditional territories.
...continued in Part 2