Old Mindsets Destroy Old Forests

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Old Mindsets Destroy Old Forests
by Ken Wu
BC's ancient, old-growth forests are under attack from the ancient, old mindset of Rich Coleman, BC's Minister of Forests and Range. A few weeks ago Coleman told a convention of the BC Truck Loggers Association,"We have enough protected areas and parks" and that he was "frustrated with the people on the coast of British Columbia who keep saying 'quit cutting all the old-growth forest.'"(Vancouver Sun, Jan.17, 2008).

One gets the impression that Coleman, a former police officer with no background in forestry, cares little about his position in charge of forestry in BC. He even said it: "I wonder some days just what I did to the premier to have been made the forests minister", he told the convention.

As an example of how much Coleman pays attention to his forestry file, he told the A-Channel News that there are;
  • "4 million hectares of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island, but only 700,000 are available for logging". That's odd, considering that Vancouver Island is only 3 million hectares in size.

Then he was quoted in the Vancouver Sun stating that;
  • "there is 4 million hectares of old-growth forest in the province of British Columbia and there is only 700,000 hectares available for logging."

BC is 95 million hectares in size, and we'd be even more alarmed than we already are if there were only 4 million hectares of old-growth forests, including in the vast northern reaches of the province. The "correct" figure - according to spin-doctors in the Ministry of Forests and Range who feed Coleman his stats - is that the coast of BC has 4 million hectares of remaining old-growth, while only 769,000 hectares are available for logging. With these figures, one gets the impression that the BC government has protected over 80% of the magnificent old-growth forests on BC's coast!

These are the deceptive figures provided in the BC government's recently released "Coastal Forest Action Plan", which also states that "BC's old-growth forests are in no danger of disappearing."

The BC government's old-growth statistics, however, are public relations spin. They fail to mention that the majority of the 4 million hectares of old-growth forests are economically marginal to worthless to the logging companies, as they include vast tracts of stunted trees growing in the cold subalpine zone, on rocky sites, or on other sites with poor soils and slow growth rates. In contrast, the classic giant redcedars, Sitka spruce, and Douglas firs in the productive old-growth forests at lower elevations where logging has historically occurred now constitute only a tiny fraction of our remaining old-growth forests, especially on the southern coast.

Government and industry analysts often neglect to mention that the main "constraint" facing the timber industry that makes it the "highest cost producer" is the industry's own history of overcutting and mismanagement. The timber corporations have largely logged-off the biggest and best trees at the lower elevations, leaving behind the expensive to reach, smaller, lower value trees high up steep mountainsides in remote areas.

The BC government's statistics also don't make any distinction between the southern coast (Vancouver Island and the Southwest Mainland) where little old-growth remains and where very little is protected, and the northern coast (Queen Charlotte Islands and the Great Bear Rainforest) where old-growth forests and protected areas are significantly more extensive as a result of major campaigns by environmental groups and First Nations.
One cannot justify the liquidation of the scarce old-growth forests on the southern coast - which has the largest trees and is home to many species not found farther north - with statistics from the northern rainforests.

At any rate, for more accurate statistics that better illustrate what's really going on, an analysis of satellite photos of Vancouver Island in 2004 revealed that of an original 2.3 million hectares of productive old-growth forests, only about 600,000 hectares remained - one-fourth of what was originally here. Of this, only about 140,000 hectares are protected in our parks, or about 6% of the original big trees. In addition, only one-tenth of the original, productive old-growth forests on the valley bottoms - the areas with the largest trees, richest soils, greatest biodiversity, and all of the fish-bearing streams - still remained. In contrast, there are still 750,000 hectares of low productivity old-growth forests on Vancouver Island - the typically stunted trees found in the bogs, rocky sites, and high altitudes that the government spin-doctors like to include in their statistics of how much old-growth remains. See maps at www.viforest.org

As such, the Wilderness Committee is calling on the BC government to:

Enact concrete restrictions with timelines to quickly end old-growth logging on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland where productive old-growth forests are now scarce.

Ensure that our second-growth forests which now cover most of Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland are logged sustainably.

Ban raw log exports and assist in the development of second-growth manufacturing facilities to sustain the jobs of BC's timber workers.
Farther north, the Wilderness Committee supports a combination of expanded protected areas and careful logging of old-growth and second-growth forests on centuries long rotations to ensure there will always be old-growth forests on the harvestable landbase.

Our stance on coastal logging contrasts with the repeated mischaracterizations by Rich Coleman, who proclaims that the Wilderness Committee "wants to protect every stick of wood" (Times Colonist, June 21, 2007).

Unfortunately, Coleman's "Coastal Forest Action Plan" so far only pays lip service to ensuring a transition away from logging old-growth forests into second-growth forests. His plan essentially speeds up the logging of second-growth forests while doing nothing to restrict the logging of old-growth forests. As such, the logging companies will not only log our second-growth forests at breakneck speeds, but continue to high-grade log the largest, highest value species - the giant redcedars, Sitka spruce, and Douglas firs that are at the center of the controversy.
The plan also does very little to stop the export of raw logs, particularly from private lands where two-thirds of the log exports are coming from. This is why conservationists refer to Coleman's plan as a "log it all" and "export the logs" plan.

But why all the fuss about saving old-growth forests? Why has the controversy over this issue spawned more passionate, involved advocates than any other environmental issue in Canada's history? Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have fought for Clayoquot Sound, the Carmanah Valley, Walbran Valley, South Moresby (Gwaii Haanas), Stein Valley, Great Bear Rainforest, Elaho Valley, and scores of other ancient forests since the 1970's.

What's wrong with replacing our old-growth forests with second-growth tree plantations that are to be re-logged every 55 years? The fact is, old-growth forests and second-growth tree plantations are different. Not only are the giant trees simply magnificent - how many other places on Earth do tree trunks grow as wide as living rooms and as tall as skyscrapers? - but they are important for many other reasons:

They are home to many unique and endangered species that can't flourish in younger forests, such as the marbled murrelet and the northern spotted owl, of which only 17 individuals remain in BC out of an original population of over 1000 individuals.

They are fundamental pillars of BC's multi-billion dollar coastal tourism industry. Millions of tourists come each year to visit the West Coast Trail, Clayoquot Sound, Pacific Rim, Meares Island, Nootka Trail, Cathedral Grove, Juan de Fuca Trail, Sombrio Beach, Cape Scott, Goldstream, Carmanah and Walbran Valleys, and numerous other old-growth forests with giant trees. They're not coming to see clearcuts and second-growth tree plantations.

They are important for many First Nations cultures. In particular, western redcedars are used to make everything from longhouses to canoes to clothing.

They sequester far more atmospheric carbon per hectare in their giant tree trunks, branches, understory vegetation, and soil, than the ensuing second-growth forests do. In fact, North America's coastal old-growth forests sequester more carbon per hectare than any other forest type on Earth, including even tropical rainforests.

This last point is particularly relevant today during this era of concern over climate change. The BC government has recently declared that it will ramp-up efforts to plant tree seedlings to ensure "no net deforestation" in the province. However, provincial laws already stipulate that companies must replant trees after logging on public lands, and with some exceptions in subalpine, dry, and rocky sites where logging should never have been allowed in the first place, most of the trees are growing back, both on their own and through existing tree planting efforts.

In addition, while agricultural expansion and suburban sprawl are important regional concerns, they encompass a tiny percentage of BC's overall forested land base. These truly deforested areas encompass perhaps 1% of the province. However, tellingly the BC government's definition of "deforestation" doesn't include the conversion of our high carbon storage old-growth forests into low carbon storage tree plantations. The ensuing tree plantations take at least 200 years to reabsorb the atmospheric carbon lost through the logging of the original old-growth forests.

In other words, the main culprit in the release of carbon through forest destruction is not primarily driven by a change in the geographic extent of forest cover in BC - instead, it's through the replacement of old-growth forests with seedlings and tree plantations. This is why the BC government didn't opt for a forestry climate policy of "no net carbon release", but is rather focused on a policy of "no net deforestation" in terms of geographic area.

In short, the BC Liberal government's emphasis on planting more seedlings to counteract climate change while doing nothing to stop the logging of old-growth forests is irrational. It's like spending all of one's life savings and inheritance, and then getting a job flipping burgers for the next several centuries to try to rebuild one's fortune.

Luckily, the people of BC love our old-growth forests. Over the past two years, thousands of citizens have participated in Wilderness Committee rallies and protests to end the logging of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, including over 600 people at the last rally at the Legislative Buildings. Almost 20,000 citizens have signed our petition, thousands more have written letters, and the vast majority of public opinion is on our side. Like all major environmental issues in our history, it's only when enough people know, care, and speak up that governments are forced to listen. To Rich Coleman's chagrin, the grassroots movement we've been building for years is continuing to grow.

Premier Campbell is trying to race ahead to promote his green image based solely on climate change policies - but there's a giant pitbull latched on to his leg, and that's the issue of old-growth logging on Vancouver Island. If he doesn't deal with this issue environmentally, it'll be the pitbull that will ultimately drag down his green image, as it has with all previous governments.

The people of BC understand that a transition to second-growth logging - already underway on the southern coast - must be completed soon, BEFORE the last of the unprotected giant trees come down. Laws and timelines are needed to make this happen.

The only ones who don't seem to understand this are the dinosaurs in the BC Liberal government, first and foremost of which is Forests Minister Rich Coleman. However, unless dinosaurs adapt and change, they go extinct. Lets hope Rich Coleman and his cohorts can learn and change.

Ken Wu is the Campaign Director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee's Victoria office. Visit their websites at www.wcwcvictoria.org and www.viforest.org


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