Go to Site Index See "Articles" main page
19th October 2020
Opinion: The Old Growth Panel’s top recommendation was to “declare conservation of ecosystem health and biodiversity of British Columbia’s forests as an overarching priority." This declaration would be paradigm-shifting, new and holistic.

Author of the article: Karen Price • Rachel Holt and Dave Daust
Publishing date: Oct 09, 2020 • Last Updated 10 days ago

Last year, the NDP government convened an independent Panel to travel the province and gather input on old-growth forests.

The Panel’s Old-Growth Strategic Review provided 14 recommendations addressing old forest, industry transition, Indigenous rights and public engagement. After receiving the Panel’s review this spring, the provincial government responded mid-September stating that it is taking a “new, holistic approach” to “protect old-growth forests.”

If we were grading student projects, we’d award the Old-Growth Strategic Review an A and the B.C. government’s initial response a D, along with the comment “good effort, but incomplete; needs improvement.”

As a first step, the province announced it will engage “the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations.” This is an excellent step, but is already a commitment under B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. Meanwhile, we wonder why First Nations still have to engage in court action to stop logging of old-growth on their territories. A first step in meaningful engagement would seem to be deferral of contentious logging.

t the heart of the response, the province announced it will defer old forest harvest for two years in nine areas covering more than 350,000 hectares. On the surface, this sounds like a large area, but let’s look more closely at these highly-heralded deferrals. First, more than one-quarter of the deferred area is not classified as forest, growing scattered stunted trees at most. Another quarter is forested, but isn’t old. This area includes recent clearcuts. At best then, less than half of the announced deferral area is actually old forest.

Digging deeper, the Old-Growth Strategic Review Panel recommended immediate deferral of old forest harvest in ecosystems at very high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss. The Panel agreed with our recent analysis of B.C.’s old-growth forest showing that high productivity forests throughout the province are at very high risk.

These complex, multi-layered forests with large live and dead trees are biodiversity hubs, carbon repositories and climate change refugia. They are internationally renowned and globally important, the type of ecosystem most people picture when they think of old-growth.

How many of these high-risk, valuable and iconic forests are included in the deferred list? Excluding areas already legally designated as no-harvest zones, only 3,800 hectares out of the deferred 350,000 hectares contains productive old forest of the type identified as needing immediate action by the Old-Growth Panel. Of B.C.’s remaining 415,000 hectares of productive old-growth forest, the government’s announcement defers harvest on less than one per cent.

Other elements of the government’s response include complying with existing provincial targets and providing public access to information. We’re happy to see these foundational errors corrected, late is better than never, but without a commitment to update targets to reflect science, these steps are insufficient to reduce risk to biodiversity, resilience and ecosystem services.

The Old-Growth Panel’s top recommendation, along with the need for full engagement with Indigenous peoples, was to “declare conservation of ecosystem health and biodiversity of British Columbia’s forests as an overarching priority.” This declaration would be paradigm-shifting, new and holistic. It would move forest management beyond simple rules that place minimizing impact to timber supply at the apex. But this recommendation is noticeably absent in the government’s response to date.

With most of B.C.’s remaining at-risk productive old-growth forests still available for harvest, the next provincial government has a choice. We hope that they — whoever they may be — follow public input and implement the full suite of recommendations in the Old-Growth Strategic Review for the sake of the long-term health and resilience of both ecosystems and communities.

Karen Price (PhD) and Rachel Holt (PhD) are independent ecologists; Dave Daust (MSc) is a professional forester. All three live and work in the woods, Karen and Dave near Smithers and Rachel in the Kootenays. Their report “B.C.’s Old-Growth Forests: A Last Stand for Biodiversity” emphasized a need for science-based decisions.