Created on Sunday, 24 February 2008 13:27
Written by Western Canada Wilderness Committee
Old Mindsets Destroy Old Forests
by Ken Wu
'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!
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."
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.
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
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
As such, the Wilderness Committee is calling on the BC government to:
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.
raw log exports and assist in the development of second-growth
manufacturing facilities to sustain the jobs of BC's timber workers.
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).
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
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.
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.
are important for many First Nations cultures. In particular, western
redcedars are used to make everything from longhouses to canoes to
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.
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.
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.
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.
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