The B.C. government announced additional temporary measures on Friday to protect the province’s iconic old-growth trees that can live for hundreds of years and support rich ecological areas.
Approximately 1.05 million hectares of forests that are most at risk of irreversible loss will now be off limits to logging for at least two years, nearly half of what was determined to be at high risk by a scientific panel in November of 2021.
“We have made real progress,” said Katrine Conroy, minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development at a news 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 made public a review of how old-growth trees and the land around them should be better managed to protect biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change.
The Old Growth Strategic Review (OGSR) made 14 recommendations, including immediate deferrals of logging in some areas most at risk of biodiversity loss; funding to help communities reliant on logging old-growth trees to transition away from the practice; and more meaningful engagement with First Nations.
The province has come under criticism from stakeholders, such as conservation groups and some First Nations, that action on the issue has been slow and lacking in transparency during the past 18 months.
On Friday though there was optimism.
“This makes me hopeful that we can see similar progress in coming months to ensure that all at-risk old growth can be set aside before logging happens,” said Jens Wieting with Sierra Club B.C.
On Friday the province said deferrals have now been implemented for a total 1.7 million hectares of old growth, which includes 1.05 million hectares in the most at-risk areas.
Garry Merkel, a retired forester and member of the Tahltan First Nation, co-authored the OGSR and participated in the Friday news conference. He was positive in his assessment of the deferrals made so far and the cooperation between government, nations, communities and logging companies.
“I’m really happy right now,” he said. “I think this is a monumental task and we are making incredible progress compared to what I was worried we would do.”
By any measure, at least 3/4s of remaining old-growth in BC remain open to logging, and that needs to change.<br><br>Hopeful this announcement signals an intention from government to accelerate the pace of action, but we need some more evidence of that.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/bcpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#bcpoli</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/oldgrowth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#oldgrowth</a>
Yet the Wilderness Committee, an environmental group, says more than half of the areas identified as seriously at risk are still unprotected.
“Logging companies are still targeting and cutting down ecologically threatened old-growth forests across B.C., despite the deferrals that have been completed,” national campaign director Torrance Coste said in a statement. “Many of these irreplaceable forests can only be protected on one timeline — right away.”
Critics also said on Friday that the province should provide maps showing which areas have been protected and which have not.
First Nations engagement
Over the past five months the province said it has received responses from 188 of the 204 First Nations in B.C. about old-growth deferrals in their territories.
“To date, 75 First Nations have agreed to defer harvest of at-risk old growth in their territory,” said a release from the province.
The province said seven nations have said they are opposed to any deferrals, while 11 have no old growth or commercial forestry in their territories. Five First Nations have yet to respond.
Carl Archie of the Canim Lake Band told the news conference that caribou had once sustained his people and their way of life in what’s now B.C.’s Central Interior, but the caribou are nearly gone in a decline largely blamed on habitat loss from logging.
“Where there were mass herds numbering in the thousands as far as the eye could see, they now hover near 100 animals in the Wells Gray park.”
The band is participating in the deferral process and has developed a forest stewardship plan that was recently approved by the province, Archie said.
“Our caribou rely on old-growth forests for their very existence and it’s our responsibility to bring them back.”
Conroy also said $185 million in funding included in February’s budget is being used to help workers and communities affected by deferrals including short-term jobs for contractors, bridging older workers to retirement and retraining.