Despite its “Super, Natural” branding, British Columbia is by no means a haven for old-growth forests, according to a new mapping project that points to a massive toll from logging and industrial activity.
“The cumulative impacts of industrial forestry have never really been put on display for analysis or review,” Conservation North Director Michelle Connolly told The Narwhal. The organization produced its new Seeing Red interactive map to fill a massive gap in accurate data.
“It became clear that if we wanted the truth, we would basically have to figure it out for ourselves,” she said.
The Seeing Red name is deliberate: the map uses a shade of fire-alarm red to denote the vast swaths of the province that have been entirely emptied of their old-growth forests. The project, completed at a cost of C$4,200, pulled together 10 federal and provincial datasets to map out where natural forest remains, and where it has been disturbed.
The map shows how little old-growth remains in B.C.—even in the places often assumed to be wild.
“The comparatively small green swaths—known as the Walker Wilderness, the Raush Valley, and the Goat River watershed—represent some of the last relatively intact and unprotected areas of rare interior temperate rainforest,” The Narwhal writes. For the most part, B.C.’s landscape is “very fragmented,” Connolly said, leaving the remaining “relatively intact” forests as the province’s last “lifeboats for diversity”.
The amount of red on the map will “shock the heck” out of British Columbians inclined to romanticize their province as the last bastion of pristine wilderness, said Geoff Campbell, creative director at Pacific Wild.
“People around the world and even British Columbians have an idea of what B.C. is—it’s pristine, it’s wild,” he said. “The true reality is that essentially all of B.C.’s old-growth forest has been eliminated, and all you need to do is to look at this map to see that.”
Particularly “heart-breaking,” he added, is the map’s revelation that even the famed Great Bear Rainforest is not as pristine as people might like to believe.
“The only places where you don’t really see habitat destruction happening is in the high, high mountains,” Campbell told The Narwhal. “Everything else is basically red.”
The Seeing Red map has dropped into view even as the province “dawdles on a fall election promise to implement 14 recommendations made by an old-growth strategic review panel led by foresters Al Gorley and Garry Merkel,” The Narwhal writes.
“Gorley and Merkel called for a paradigm shift, saying old forests have intrinsic value for all living things and should be managed for ecosystem health, not for timber supply.” Stressing that old-growth trees cannot always grow back, the researchers urged the province to put a moratorium on development in forests “where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.”
In response, the NDP government “announced old-growth logging deferrals for two years in nine areas, totalling 353,000 hectares.” But the new map reveals the spin: “Much of the deferral areas were already under some sort of protection, had already been logged, or consisted of non-forested areas,” The Narwhal reports.
“We need a transparent, accessible and easy-to-read way of understanding and analyzing the wealth of data around old-growth management in B.C.,” said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band. She added that First Nations hope to add to the existing map, “including further details around the areas that fall within traditional Indigenous territory, and which companies are having the greatest impact in which high-risk areas.”
In September, the UBCIC passed a resolution “calling on the province to implement all 14 of Gorley and Merkel’s recommendations,” stressing that these recommendations “would enable an improved old-growth strategy that will include and respect Indigenous Peoples.”
In response to questions from The Narwhal, the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development has confirmed plans to implement all of Gorley and Merkel’s recommendations within their suggested three-year time frame.