After failing to assess elevated risks of drought, wildfire, and flooding resulting from its standard logging practices, British Columbia urgently needs to address impacts of forest clearcutting that were left out of its 2019 Strategic Climate Risk Assessment, according to a report released Monday by Sierra Club BC.
“Forest conservation, forestry reforms, and Indigenous expertise and knowledge are urgently needed to mitigate climate disaster risks,” the organization says in a release. The report, commissioned from University of Toronto sustainable forests specialist Peter Wood, implicates contemporary logging practices—especially clearcutting—in the majority of the 15 climate risks identified in the 2019 assessment, including several with potential for “catastrophic” impacts.
“The science is clear that clearcutting increases the frequency and intensity of forest fires,” said Wood. Ditto the odds of both drought and flood, with concomitant risks of erosion, slope instability, and subsequent landslides.
The antidote? Old-growth forests, left undisturbed.
“Old intact forests act as a moderating influence on the landscape, supporting ecosystem function and resilience, and lowering risk to surrounding communities,” Wood explained.
Having failed to prevent clearcut logging, the province must now act swiftly to correct its mistake, Sierra Club writes. That begins with writing protection for old and intact forests into the climate preparedness and adaptation strategy the province now has under development—ideally, “by implementing all of the recommendations from the province’s own 2020 Old Growth Strategic Review”.
While Premier John Horgan has committed to implementing all the recommendations put forward in the review, his government “has yet to implement interim protection for all at-risk forests, provide the necessary funding, and disclose a timetable for how they will live up to this commitment,” Sierra Club says.
The report stresses that local Indigenous peoples must be directly and deeply involved in all efforts by the province to protect forests and adjacent communities from climate-related risk.
“The climate crisis impacts us all, but it particularly has devastating repercussions for vulnerable and marginalized people, including First Nations across the province, many who have limited capacity and resources to respond to climate disasters and whose territories are high-risk areas that corporations and governments seek to develop,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Kekinusuqs (Judith Sayers), president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said the new report “reflects what First Nations have always known, that the provincial governments must change the way they manage forests immediately.”