Log processor
A processor stripping the bark and branches from a log, Copper Canyon, Vancouver Island, B.C. (Photo: David Stanley, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

British Columbia’s gov­ern­ment proud­ly announced this week that log­ging of old-growth forests in the province, once nick­named “Brazil of the north” for its vast clearcuts, has declined to a record low in the past six years.

Not low enough, crit­ics responded.

The move­ment against cut­ting ancient forests has seen protests and sit-ins from Fairy Creek on Van­cou­ver Island – 1,200 peo­ple have been arrest­ed – to Arg­onaut Creek north of Rev­el­stoke in B.C.’s inte­ri­or rain forests.

Enchanting forest in British Columbia
An enchant­i­ng for­est in British Colum­bia:
Cloud on the ridge with old growth yel­low cedars (Pho­to: Dru, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

The cen­ter-left New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty gov­ern­ment has launched an Old Growth Strate­gic Review, promis­ing change. It has deferred, for at least two years, log­ging in such places as the incom­pa­ra­ble Incomap­pleux Riv­er val­ley, where storms from the coast run up against 10,000-foot peaks of the Selkirk Range.

“Our vision for forestry is one where we bet­ter care for our most ancient and rarest forests: First Nations are full part­ners in sus­tain­able for­est man­age­ment and com­mu­ni­ties and work­ers ben­e­fit from secure, inno­v­a­tive jobs for gen­er­a­tions to come,” B.C. Forests Min­is­ter Katrine Con­roy said in a statement.

The gov­ern­ment reports that log­ging of old growth has declined 42 per­cent, from 63,500 hectares in 2015 to 38,300 hectares in 2021. The cut, it says, amounts to .03 per­cent of the esti­mat­ed 11.1 mil­lion hectares in the province.

A hectare equals 2.471 acres.

The B.C. Wilder­ness Com­mit­tee, which suc­cess­ful­ly fought to save Canada’s tallest trees in the Car­manah Val­ley on Van­cou­ver Island, is not reas­sured. “The NDP gov­ern­ment has been asked repeat­ed­ly to tell the pub­lic where old growth log­ging is tak­ing place and they have refused, instead pro­vid­ing mis­lead­ing updates like the one we got yes­ter­day,” said Tor­rance Coste, leader of its old growth campaign.

“At the end of the day, there are only two num­bers that mat­ter: the amount of planned log­ging in threat­ened old growth forests that’s gone ahead, and the amount that’s been stopped,” he added.

“We spent the sum­mer dri­ving out to sites where log­ging plans over­lap with at risk forests the gov­ern­ment says it intends to defer: In almost every instance, we found mas­sive clearcuts filled with giant stumps.”

Along with Alaska’s Ton­gass Nation­al For­est, British Colum­bia is home to the world’s great­est remain­ing tem­per­ate rain forests. Old growth is defined as trees more than 140 or 250 years old along the B.C. Coast, and 140 years old in the inte­ri­or, depend­ing on the type of for­est. Old growth cov­ers 12 per­cent of the province and – after years of cut­ting – 20 per­cent of the for­est base.

British Colum­bia vir­tu­al­ly gave away vast tracks of ancient for­est dur­ing the peri­od of 1950–90. Cana­di­an and multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions were grant­ed “tree farm licens­es” in exchange for the promise to build pulp mills.

“Air pol­lu­tion is the smell of mon­ey,” B.C. Cab­i­net min­is­ter Phil Gaglar­di declared.

What result­ed were sights appeal­ing only to con­nois­seurs of ugli­ness. Erod­ing, ocean-to hill­top clearcuts were the scene at Kyuquot Sound on Van­cou­ver Island. An enor­mous clearcut in the Bowron Riv­er was vis­i­ble from space.

Ham­ber Provin­cial Park, on west slopes of the Cana­di­an Rock­ies, was reduced by 95 per­cent and giv­en over to logging.

The val­leys of Depot, Slesse, Tami­hi and and Masel­pan­ic Crees adjoin­ing our North Cas­cades Nation­al Park were stripped to tim­ber­line and the border.

The cur­rent gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to an old growth man­age­ment sys­tem that “pri­or­i­tizes ecosys­tem health and com­mu­ni­ty resilience,” in words of Josie Osborn, B.C.’s Min­is­ter of Lands, Forests and Resource Stewardship.

The New Democ­rats, when in pow­er, have vast­ly expand­ed British Columbia’s provin­cial parks and pro­tect­ed areas.

Cre­at­ed after protests – the Wilder­ness Com­mit­tee estab­lished a research sta­tion high in the for­est canopy — the Car­manah-Wal­bran Provin­cial Park pro­tects the country’s tallest trees. Ancient forests of the Megin Riv­er were added to Strath­cona Provin­cial Park on Van­cou­ver Island.

The NDP defied the min­ing indus­try to cre­ate the Tat­shen­shi­ni-Alsek Park at the province’s north­west, a leg­endary raft­ing stream where two rivers carve a path through the world’s great­est coastal mountains.

The Pur­cell Wilder­ness Con­ser­van­cy, in south­east B.C., pro­tects inte­ri­or rain forests, alpine areas and griz­zly habitat.

Still, Coste rais­es an essen­tial ques­tion: What is being logged and where? The Wilder­ness Com­mit­tee was once a rag-tag out­fit, until a young car­tog­ra­ph­er-writer named Randy Stolt­mann dis­cov­ered trees of the Car­manah. A move­ment was born. A sum­mer-long sit-in cam­paign in the ear­ly 1990’s pre­served forests around Clay­oquot Sound, least logged of the five great inlets on Van­cou­ver Island.

Mear­es Island, off Tofi­no, drew Amer­i­can celebri­ties as First Nations activists fought to save its ancient trees.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., was car­ried ashore on a native canoe. Tom Hay­den took his third (post-Jane Fon­da) bride on shores of the island.

The New Democ­rats have tried to accom­mo­date. The par­ty is polit­i­cal home to many of the province’s envi­ron­men­tal­ists, but also its for­est unions.

“I tell my guys if they see a spot­ted owl to shoot it,” crusty Inter­na­tion­al Wood­work­ers of Amer­i­ca leader Jack Munro told the New York Times.

The times, how­ev­er, are chang­ing. British Columbians have fall­en in love with the out­doors. Line­ups of cars along High­way 99 north of Whistler, at the Jof­fre Lakes trail­head, rival larch sea­son back­ups in the North Cas­cades. Quo­tas have been need­ed, from the Life­sav­ing Trail on the west coast of Van­cou­ver Island to the Berg Lake trail in the Cana­di­an Rock­ies, which cir­cles 12,972-foot Mt. Robson.

Incom­ing British Colum­bia Pre­mier David Eby has list­ed old growth man­age­ment as a gov­ern­ment pri­or­i­ty. The New Democ­rats still rep­re­sent pulp mill towns, but their gov­ern­ing cau­cus in the B.C. Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly con­sists large­ly of urban and sub­ur­ban mem­bers. Eby rep­re­sents tony Point Grey, a rid­ing (dis­trict) that includes the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia and Pacif­ic Spir­it Park.

As well, ancient forests are home to endan­gered species.

The Incomap­pleux is a migra­tion route for the crit­i­cal­ly endan­gered moun­tain cari­bou, a species now extinct in Wash­ing­ton. Just 1,200 south­ern moun­tain cari­bou remain, down from 2,500 in 1995 and 40,000 a cen­tu­ry ago.

The New Democ­rats have a new polit­i­cal com­peti­tor, at least on Van­cou­ver Island. Votes from the three Green Par­ty leg­is­la­tors put the NDP in pow­er as a minor­i­ty gov­ern­ment after the 2017 elec­tion. An old growth pro­test­er recent­ly tried to run against Eby for lead­er­ship of the gov­ern­ing par­ty. (Pre­mier John Hor­gan is relin­quish­ing pow­er a bout with throat cancer.)

Once obdu­rate, the tim­ber indus­try is now strik­ing an accom­mo­dat­ing pos­ture, point­ing to defer­ral of log­ging plans in crit­i­cal cari­bou habi­tat. But, it argues, we can­not go cold turkey on the log­ging of old growth.

“In the next 20 years, our har­vest­ing won’t include old growth,” Mike Cop­perth­waite of Rev­el­stoke Com­mu­ni­ty For­est Corp., told CBC News. “Our har­vest­ing is going to be sole­ly in sec­ondary tim­ber stands. But we’ve got this tran­si­tion peri­od where these younger trees have to get to a cer­tain age.”

Even in the resource-depen­dent B.C. Inte­ri­or, how­ev­er, the pres­sure is on. A Rev­el­stoke group called Old Growth Rev­o­lu­tion twice blocked the Trans Cana­da High­way at the Colum­bia Riv­er bridge this spring. A cit­i­zen-led block­ade, of locals and Abo­rig­i­nal First Nations, stopped log­ging in Arg­onaut Creek last year.

In Decem­ber, the provin­cial gov­ern­ment removed the three remain­ing cut­blocks in the val­ley, part of what’s called the Inte­ri­or Wet Belt and source of the lichens vital to moun­tain caribou.

All 14 cut­blocks in Arg­onaut Creek are now off the chop­ping block, at least until the gov­ern­ment decides what it will do to save the caribou.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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