Opinion: British Columbians deserve more than continued delays and deflection on old growth

Opinion: British Columbians deserve more than continued delays and deflection on old growth

It was thirty years ago this month that I first spent time in an old growth forest. My friends and I went camping in Carmanah, taking advantage of the warmer, longer days to explore this island we’d recently moved to.  

My memories of that trip remain some of the most vivid of my life. I had never been in a place so filled with abundance, so beautiful, so peaceful. I soon became involved in building boardwalks in the Walbran – an effort to invite people into the ancient forest to help build support to protect it from logging.

Thirty years later, volunteers are building boardwalks in the Fairy Creek watershed – the last intact ancient forest watershed south of Clayoquot Sound. Surrounded by cutblocks and second growth, this watershed is a magnificent bio-diverse forest, with giant cedars, hemlock, and fir trees, and much of it is at imminent risk of clearcutting. 

It is hard to believe that the same battles are being fought today, when we know how rare, precious and essential these ancient forests are. 

The question we have before us today is whether the BC NDP is going to take concrete action to protect what remains of our province’s old growth forests, or whether they are going to allow the destruction of these ecosystems.

For a year, the NDP government has had a report from the Old Growth Strategic Review Panel that they appointed to advise on a strategy to improve management of our old growth forests.

This panel issued a set of recommendations to reverse the loss of at-risk old growth ecosystems and build a new paradigm for forestry in our province.

Chief among them was to immediately defer logging in our most endangered old growth ecosystems. 

Deferrals are a tool to maintain options in a time of crisis. The old growth that was logged last week won’t be available for consultation and informed decision-making. Nor will the old growth that will be logged this week or next. 

You can’t build a new framework for protection while you log the last of what’s left. You can’t consult on what’s already gone. 

Yet today clearcutting is continuing in critical old growth stands across BC, with the direct approval of the BC NDP government. 

READ MORE: B.C. government faces rising criticism for failing to protect old growth forests from logging

The only step taken so far, a set of deferrals announced in September, includes very little of the grandest, high-productivity old growth stands at the heart of the debate. These are the monumental trees that tower high above you, the majestic forests that provide homes for endangered species. 

These ancient, temperate rainforests are astonishingly rare and they are being lost the fastest because their timber is highly prized by logging companies. That is why immediate interim protections are so crucial. 

This week, forestry company Teal-Jones is seeking an injunction in court to allow them access to log the Fairy Creek watershed. 

It is stunning and reprehensible that we could see people arrested for attempting to stop the logging of the last intact ancient valley on southern Vancouver Island. No less that this would take place in the Premier’s own riding, on the watch of an NDP government that has promised to do things differently on old growth.

British Columbians deserve better. They deserve honesty, integrity and a government that lives up to its promise to protect the old growth we have left, as we chart a brighter future for our forests.

Protecting our remaining high-productivity old growth forests, moving forward in partnership with First Nations, and supporting forestry-dependent communities is not an intractable problem. It is solvable, through the very recommendations put forward by the government’s own panel. 

The solutions are clear: what’s lacking is political will. 

These solutions include financial support for First Nations and affected workers and communities, including conservation financing to build alternative economic development opportunities. They include a buyback of tenures and a directive to BC Timber Sales to cease auctioning off parcels in these forests. We need to transition to a truly sustainable economic plan that does not rely on the unsustainable practice of logging old growth; we need to choose to make a managed transition, rather than wait for the inevitable collapse that will come once all the old growth has been cut down.  

Thirty years from now, I hope my grandchildren will stand in the intact Fairy Creek watershed and be able to experience the wonder and awe that I felt in 1991. For this to be possible, 

we urgently need to transform our approach to forestry in this province. We must begin to manage our forests for all their values, recognizing that timber is only one of many benefits that our forests provide. We must also belatedly begin to recognize that often, through the water they filter, the carbon they store, and the home they provide for many plants and animals at risk of extinction, our forests are worth far more standing than they would ever be worth cut down.

BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley

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