‘Punch In the Gut’ – Loss of Canada’s Old-Growth Forests a Growing Concern for Activists
Clearcutting has long been a contentious issue on Canada‘s Pacific Coast, with activists protesting the loss of British Columbia’s old-growth forests. Recently, the Ancient Forest Alliance shared photos of a grove that had been clearcut in Quatsino Sound, on Vancouver Island, which the non-profit says highlights “the urgent need for dedicated funding to enable both temporary logging deferrals and permanent, Indigenous-led protected areas initiatives.”
The images and drone footage were captured as part of the Ancient Forest Alliance‘s goal of pushing the government of British Columbia to commit funding to protect the province’s old-growth forests and identify at-risk groves for deferral that had been missed during the initial mapping process.
The non-profit, whose work is being supported by a grant from the Trebek Initiative, recently visited the grove in Quatsino Sound and came across a 25-hectare cutblock in Tree Farm Licence 6. The area, once home to vibrant western red cedars, is currently in the possession of Western Forest Products, a logging company.
The location, in particular, has been hit hard by the logging industry, “with less than 25% of its productive (big tree) old-growth forests remaining,” according to a press release by the Ancient Forest Alliance.
“This was a superlative ancient forest,” photographer and campaigner TJ Wyatt said in the release. “I was floored by the sheer number of monumental red cedars that had been cut down. It was the most shocking example of industrial old-growth logging I’ve witnessed since the logging in the Caycuse and Nahmint Valleys.
“Dozens of centuries-old trees littered the ground, trees that were taller on their side than I was standing beside them,” he added. “Some of them were alive earlier that day. After more than a century of high-grade logging in BC, groves of unprotected giants like these are extremely rare to find. To lose another one as special as this is heartbreaking.”
Old-growth forests are among the most unique in the world, with 34 percent of the world’s forests falling under the category. They are unique to other wooded areas, both in their ecological structure and composition, with all stages of tree life found. Dead trees, in particular, play the biggest role.
Along with offering crucial support for endangered species, they also help the environment, ensure clean water supplies, play an important part in the cultures of First Nations peoples and drive tourism.
In 2021, the government of British Columbia agreed to issue temporary logging deferrals for 2.6 million hectares of the province’s most at-risk old-growth forests. However, less than half of these areas have been agreed upon by First Nations communities and the province. According to The Guardian, a large number are involved in the logging industry and would see a drop in revenue if logging is stopped.
While home to trees well over 500 years old, this particular grove wasn’t included in the deferral recommendations presented by the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP). As the Ancient Forest Alliance explains, this is because the forest was incorrectly labeled as 210 years old – 40 years younger than the necessary 250-year-old threshold.
According to the organization, the primary reason for this is the fact the government only uses field verification to remove areas that don’t meet the TAP’s criteria. As well, there’s no way for the public or members of the logging industry to flag forests whose trees are older than previously identified.
“Knowing that this irreplaceable ancient forest could potentially still be standing today if the BC government was using field verification to identify and defer old-growth forests missed due to mapping errors is a punch in the gut,” Wyatt explained.
The province recently agreed to create a new conservation financing initiative by the end of June 2023, funded by sources outside of the government. Officials have also committed to protecting 30 percent of land area by 2030, as part of a national preservation effort.
According to the Ancient Forest Alliance, without significant funding, it’ll be nearly impossible to secure the much-needed logging deferrals. At least $120 million CAD is needed to immediately facilitate this, with at least an additional $600 million required for both conservation financing and the support of First Nations communities.
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“Witnessing the disappearance of the last unprotected stands of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island leaves one with a profound sense of ecological grief,” Wyatt explained in the media release. “The BC government can and must use its vast resources to help pave the path toward the protection of what still remains.”