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B.C. isn't doing enough to preserve its forests

British Columbians value the natural wonders of our province. It is the provincial governments' role to see beyond the short-term spreadsheet projections of corporate interests and to use accurate information to develop policy that serves our values.

The Province - Valerie Langer - ForestEthics, June 13, 2011

B.C. isn't doing enough to preserve its forests
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The last of BC's old-growth forest continues to be targeted by logging companies like this example on southern Vancouver Island.
Photo by TJ Watt

One month ago, six Orca whales -black and white, beautiful, and in the mood to show off their swimming skills -showed up in Burrard Inlet. Two weeks ago I saw a mother grizzly bear and her two cubs emerge from the woods to forage beside a gorgeous northern river. These sorts of experiences make B.C. special -they are but dreams for most of the world.

Orcas vacation here. Grizzlies live their lives here. I find myself trekking into B.C.'s wilderness when I'm not foraging in the fresh-food aisle at the grocery store or tied to my desk. Why? Because British Columbia has everything a mammal could want: clean water, air fit to breathe, fish, and forests.

Ensuring that vibrant communities and a diverse economy develop harmoniously with this incredible biological diversity should be central to our vision for the 21st century, but that is not the track our province is on.

It's useful to remember that what we have here in B.C. has vanished from much of the continent. Over the last 200 years, the amount of quality habitat for North American mammals has shrunk dramatically.

Worldwide, 20,000 to 30,000 species die off each year due to deforestation, climate change, sea pollution and poaching.

Meanwhile, British Columbians have made some strides to be an exception to the downward global trend: the Great Bear Rainforest agreement of 2006 and the Mountain Caribou agreements of 2007, for example, should be cornerstones for building a B.C. for the 21st century that recognizes the importance of our old forests as immense carbon storehouses; as well as the living room, dining room and workplace for a multitude of species, including us.

While there have been impressive achievements toward implementing the terms of these agreements, there are still important elements that need to be hammered out -with vocal public support -in order to keep that family of grizzlies and those mountain caribou happy and alive.

But we also need to zoom out, and take a look at the province as a whole. Less than 10 per cent of B.C. is covered by the Great Bear and Mountain Caribou agreements. Outside of these areas, most of the laws, regulations and policies still favour a level of forest degradation that undermines the very aspects of the province that make it special. In spite of this reality, we saw industry taking to the pages of this newspaper on World Environment Day to pat themselves on the back for "the world's most stringent legislative and regulatory framework."

I beg to differ.

The current provincial system for deciding how much forest is allowed to be cut each year is risky: it gambles on tree-growth projections far into the future in order to overcut old growth forests now. Outdated and inflated data are used to justify letting big companies take extreme volumes of timber from the province.

From plans to clear carbon-rich forests for biofuel plantations, to excessive raw-log exports to China, B.C.'s current approach to its forests panders to distant economic interests whose insatiable demand for resources threaten the foundations of the province -if we try to supply it.

British Columbians value the natural wonders of our province. It is the provincial governments' role to see beyond the short-term spreadsheet projections of corporate interests and to use accurate information to develop policy that serves our values.

The science on forest conservation recommends much greater amounts of forest be protected, and I have confidence that B.C. can meet the challenge. We can produce more jobs and value per cubic metre of forest cut while conserving much more of the forests themselves.

Carbon-rich forests keep the planet cool and the local rivers cool. That's why the salmon spawn here, which draws the orcas, and others, to call this home.

It's our home too, so let's remind our politicians that there really is no place like it, and to keep it that way.

Valerie Langer is the director of ForestEthics' B.C. forests campaign.

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