The British Columbia government will consult First Nations about deferring the logging of big, ancient and rare old-growth trees across 26,000 square kilometres of forests.
An independent panel of scientific experts has mapped priority areas, and the province has asked First Nations to decide in 30 days whether they support the deferrals or require further discussion.
The province says it is following the recommendations of an independent review released last fall, which found that inaction could result in permanent biodiversity loss for the most at-risk old-growth ecosystems.
The government says it will stop advertising and selling of BC Timber Sales licences in the at-risk areas identified by the panel and further deferrals will be determined through agreements with Indigenous nations.
It says licensees may then volunteer to pause harvesting or the deferrals would be implemented by order of the forests minister under a section of the Forest Act that allows a pause of up to 10 years, with compensation required after four years.
The province says it’s working on programs to help affected forestry workers, communities and First Nations, including skills training, bridge funding to retirement, and job creation through innovation in the industry.
When the initial two-year deferral periods end, the province says the old-growth forests identified as being at risk will either remain off-limits for harvesting or be included in new, more sustainable forest management plans.
The logging of old-growth forests has created friction over the last year, with a court injunction against logging protests in the Fairy Creek area on southern Vancouver Island resulting in more than 1,150 arrests by the RCMP since May.
B.C. had announced the temporary deferral of harvesting across 196,000 hectares of old-growth forests in nine different areas next fall. In June, the government approved a request from three Vancouver Island First Nations to defer old-growth logging across about 2,000 hectares of the Fairy Creek and central Walbran areas.
Earlier this month, Forests Minister Katrine Conroy introduced a bill to amend B.C.’s Forest and Range Practices Act that she said would reshape forest management. A new system of forest landscape plans developed in partnership with First Nations, local communities and others would prioritize forest health, replacing the current system of forest stewardship plans developed largely by industry, she said.
The province has been working with the forestry industry on those changes, which are expected to come into effect over the next year, Conroy said.