As the British Columbia government moves to overhaul the province’s forestry sector, the Sierra Club of BC is decrying the decision to prioritize access to wood fibre over old-growth forest protections.
In a June 1 announcement, Premier John Horgan’s government “released a series of goals, plans, and an initial year-long timeline as it works to ‘modernize’ its regulation of the forest sector,” reports The Canadian Press.
A key element of the new plan is to ensure greater access to forest tenures by Indigenous peoples and smaller operators, who have historically been shut out of an application process that favours big companies like Canadian Forest Products, West Fraser Timber, International Forest Products, Tolko Industries, and Western Forest Products. Together, these five heavyweights own roughly 50% of the province’s active forest tenures.
Proposed changes include improving “access to wood fibre for value-added domestic manufacturers” and conducting an audit of the fee-in-lieu charged to companies for the export of unprocessed logs.
“We very much want the major players to continue to participate,” Horgan told media. “But they have to understand that the old chasing volume is no longer viable in a time of climate change.”
Over the next two years, according to a paper released by the province, the new plan is to address the recommendations of an independent review of B.C.’s old-growth forest management issued last year, “including the deferral of logging in ecosystems at risk of irreversible loss.”
CP notes that, last September, the province announced it would temporarily defer harvesting in 1,960 square kilometres of old-growth forests in nine different areas, while further work was under way to protect up to 1,500 exceptionally large trees.”
CBC News says Horgan also addressed questions over why his government has not moved to prevent old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed, currently a site of significant protest.
“If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place there, that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to this week by the discovery in Kamloops,” he said.
But the Sierra Club issued a rebuke of Horgan’s priorities, describing its claims of old-growth protection as “outrageous”.
“Preparing to redistribute forest tenure without first taking action to ensure that the most endangered old-growth forests have at least interim protection will only make it harder to save any of these forests later,” wrote senior forest and climate campaigner Jens Wieting. “People in B.C. who care about the web of life should be deeply worried about this government’s ongoing denial of the severity of the old-growth and biodiversity crisis.”
As a solution, the Sierra Club recommended “immediate short-term funding for First Nations and forestry workers seeking an alternative to logging the last old-growth.” In a separate report last month, the group detailed research by forester Dave Daust and forest ecologists Rachel Holt and Karen Price that mapped the 1.3 million hectares of old-growth forest (some 2.6% of B.C.’s total forest area) most in need of immediate deferrals.
“The B.C.-based experts used the criteria from the independent old-growth panel recommendations that the provincial government promised to implement last fall but has so far failed to enact,” the Club wrote.
“We don’t have time to wait for the province any longer,” said Kwakwaka’wakw Chief Rande Cook. Adding that provincial inaction has “forced the hand of Indigenous leadership” as old-growth forests fall “by the day.”
While Horgan positions himself as a champion of Indigenous peoples and calls any assignment of deferrals as “arbitrary,” Sierra Club’s Wieting says the measures are needed “to ensure sufficient time for a sincere process with Indigenous governments to identify what support is needed for communities and Nations that seek to protect the last old-growth forests instead of logging it for short-term relief.”
Mark Worthing, Sierra Club BC’s coastal projects lead, said the deferrals “are what make space for a safe conversation to cultivate public trust and free, prior, and informed consent for the future of old-growth forests and biodiversity.” Without such Indigenous consent and science-based deferrals in place, he said, “all we’re left with is an outcome designed to please greedy logging corporations above all else.”