By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter

BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau focussed her last question of week two of the legislative session on forestry management, asking when the government would make good on its promise to protect the province’s most vulnerable old growth forests.

“Where is the action that was promised to protect our most endangered old-growth forests?” BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau asked the forests minister in Question Period on Mar. 11. / HANSARD TV

“This government still has not taken any meaningful action to protect these forests,” Furstenau said to the forests minister in Question Period on Mar. 11. “Instead, we’re losing critical old-growth stands, as the old strategy of talk and log continues.”

Last October, Premier John Horgan committed his government to making dramatic changes in forestry management as recommended by an independent, government-commissioned review of old growth forests in B.C. “We’re committed to implementing the report in its totality,” Horgan said at the time.

The review, A New Future for Old Forests, concluded a ‘paradigm shift’ had occurred in people’s perceptions of the natural environment and that forestry management needed to adapt accordingly, offering 14 recommendations to improve how old growth forests were managed.

During an interview in January, Katrine Conroy, minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, doubled down on the Premier’s commitment.

“We recognize that we need to change the way things are done in the province,” said Conroy. “We’re going to implement the report.”

Among other changes, the report called for government-to-government consultation with First Nations, legally-binding legislation to make ecosystem health overarching priorities for all sectors, and protection of old growth forests at high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.

In the Interior Rainforest, which features the Interior Cedar Hemlock ecosystem and stretches from east of Prince George, across the Robson Valley, less than five per cent of the highly productive, 250 years-plus, naturally-occurring old growth forest remains, estimated independent ecologist Dr. Karen Price, lead author of BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity, a frequently cited scientific assessment of the state of old growth forests in B.C.

Provincially, over 85 per cent of the most productive old growth forests have less than 30 per cent remaining of what would naturally be there, and nearly half of these areas have less than 1 per cent of the old forest you would expect naturally, Price said.

Pretty much all forests being cut in the Northern Interior are original forests—not previously logged—and some of it is classified old growth, said Bill Kordyban, president and owner of Carrier Lumber in an interview last fall. A family business in operation since 1951, Carrier Lumber logs and manufactures lumber from trees in the Prince George and Robson Valley regions.

Industry hasn’t been logging and replanting long enough in the interior for second growth seedlings to be large enough to be used for lumber, Kordyban said. “You need a certain size of tree for those products.”

Many companies are harvesting second growth timber on the coast where trees grow faster, Kordyban said. “We’re not close to that yet.”

“Our government is dedicated… to ensure new, holistic approaches to how we manage B.C.’s old-growth forests,” Katrine Conroy, minister of forests, lands, natural resources operations, responded in Question Period on Mar. 11. / HANSARD TV

While the old growth review recognized the need to have some portion of forests designated for industrial timber harvesting, a key recommendation was to pass overarching legislation “that commits us to shift our entire legislative and policy framework towards ecosystem health,” said Garry Merkel in an interview last fall. A member of the Tahltan Nation, Merkel conducted the old growth review, along with fellow consultant and professional forester Al Gorley. The two-person panel ultimately based recommendations on feedback from about 30,000 British Columbians.

In January, Conroy pledged the government would bring forward legislation in the spring or fall of 2021.

Whether the goals of designating working forests and protecting the most fragile at-risk old growth can be reconciled, remains to be known.
The government is dedicated to “new, holistic approaches” in managing old growth, Conroy told Furstenau, referencing the balance required between protecting ecosystem biodiversity and the workers and communities who relied on old growth logging.

Meanwhile, immediate actions had already been taken to protect very high risk ecosystems, Conroy said.
The minister listed 181,000 hectares of the previously announced 352,000 hectares where development had been deferred for two years by previous forests minister Doug Donaldson last September. At the time, the deferral was offered as a demonstration of the government’s commitment to implementing the review’s recommendations.

A subsequent scientific analysis of the 352,000 hectares, done by Price, Dr. Rachel Holt, and professional forester Dave Daust, revealed less than 4,000 hectares of the deferred areas actually contained productive old growth needing protection as defined under the report’s recommendation.

“People need to recognize it’s a first step… in a number of steps that have to take place,” Conroy said in January.
To Furstenau, she assured, “There is more to do. We are committed to following the recommendations of the old-growth report.”
Ideally, the government will designate specific areas for a working forest, areas of protection, and areas where both values could be managed, said Kordyban.

“So we’re not sitting here fighting about them. I think that would be an awesome outcome,” he said.

Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / [email protected]