Comment: A new path for B.C.ís last great ancient stands
Times Colonist - Ken Wu, May 18, 2013
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Photo by TJ Watt
Ancient Forest Alliance executive director Ken Wu with a giant cedar stump near Avatar Grove
New maps of the remaining old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and the southwest mainland highlight the large-scale ecological crisis underway in B.C.’s woods.
In the 1990s, conservationists fought for whole valleys. Those are now gone, except in Clayoquot Sound. Today, almost all of our ancient forests are tattered and fragmented.
At least 74 per cent of the original, productive old-growth forests on our southern coast have been logged, underscoring the need for a science-based provincial plan to protect our remaining old-growth forests and for a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forest industry.
Most significantly, at least 91 per cent of the biggest, best “high productivity” old-growth forests in the valley bottoms have been logged. These are the classic monumental stands rich in biodiversity that most people visit and picture in their minds, places like Cathedral Grove, the Carmanah, Walbran, Goldstream and Avatar Grove.
A century of unsustainable high-grade logging has depleted these lowland ancient forests, resulting in diminishing returns as the trees get smaller, lesser in value and more expensive to reach.
The ecological footprint from logging millions of hectares of B.C.’s grandest ancient forests — an area bigger than many European nations — is at least on par with any pipeline or fossil-fuel megaproject.
Scientific studies show that our coastal old-growth forests store two times or more carbon per hectare than the ensuing second-growth tree plantations. Only a tiny fraction of the carbon gets stored in long-lasting wood products. The vast majority ends up decomposing as wood waste in clearcuts, landfills and sewage. It would take 200 years or more for the second-growth to re-sequester all of the released carbon, which won’t happen with our 70-year rotations.
A recent B.C. Sierra Club report showed that just one year’s worth of old-growth logging in southwest B.C. in 2011 released more carbon than the province’s entire “official” greenhouse-gas reductions over three years, from 2007 to 2010.
The dramatic decline of old-growth species reveals our collapsing ecosystems. An estimated 1,000 breeding adult spotted owls once inhabited B.C.’s wilds. Today, fewer than a dozen individuals survive. Marbled murrelets have declined substantially over much of the coast, while in B.C.’s interior, mountain caribou have declined by 40 per cent since 1995.
Across B.C., thousands of salmon- and trout-bearing streams have been decimated by siltation and logging debris.
B.C.’s diverse First Nations cultures are being impoverished, not only by the destruction of salmon streams, but by the disappearance of monumental cedars that many once carved into canoes and totem poles.
The massive export of raw logs has been driven by a combination of the government’s deregulation agenda and by the unsustainable depletion of the prime old-growth red cedar, Douglas fir and Sitka spruce stands in the lowlands that coastal sawmills were originally built to process.
At a critical juncture in 2003, the B.C. government removed the local milling requirement for companies with logging rights so that they didn’t have to retool their mills to process the changing forest profile — the smaller old-growth hemlocks and Amabilis firs higher up, and the maturing second-growth trees in the previously cut lowlands.
Without any government regulations or incentives to retool or add value to second-growth logs, this resulted in three million logging-truck loads of raw logs going to foreign mills in China, the U.S. and elsewhere over the last decade. More than 70 B.C. mills closed and 30,000 forestry jobs were lost. B.C.’s coastal forest industry, once Canada’s mightiest, is now a remnant of its past.
Most of our remaining old-growth forests are “low-productivity” marginal stands of smaller trees with little to no timber value, growing at high elevations, on steep, rocky mountainsides and in bogs. The B.C. government has been spinning a tale that “old-growth forests are not disappearing” with their statistics that fail to mention how much productive old-growth forests once stood, and that include vast tracts of stunted, low-productivity forests to overinflate how much remains. It’s like combining your Monopoly money with your real money and then claiming to be a millionaire, so why curtail spending?
The history of unsustainable resource extraction around the world is filled with examples where the biggest and best stocks have been depleted, one after another, causing the collapse of ecosystems and the loss of thousands of jobs along the way. B.C.’s politicians must not allow this familiar pattern to continue in B.C.’s forests under their watch — or through their active support.
A major change in the status quo of unsustainable forestry is vital. Politicians who fail to understand this fundamental concept don’t deserve power. Those who do will finally bring an end to B.C.’s War in the Woods.
Ken Wu is the executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance.
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