B.C. premier’s new forestry plan adds fuel to old-growth fire

Published: June 1, 2021
Posted in: News Coverage
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National Observer
June 1st, 2021

Environmentalists say B.C.’s new vision for forestry isn’t going to quell the current wildfire of old-growth protests. File photo of Caycuse Camp activists locked to chainsaws courtesy of Rainforest Flying Squad

Environmental groups already riled by the pace of protections for ancient forests in B.C. were further provoked after the province failed to announce any new old-growth logging deferrals in its new vision for forestry Tuesday.

“If Premier John Horgan’s intention is to make the conflict raging around old-growth forests even worse, this is the perfect plan to do that,” said Torrance Coste of the Wilderness Committee.

The unveiling of the NDP intentions paper to modernize forestry policy took place as 1,000 protesters defied an injunction over the weekend to support Fairy Creek blockades — happening in Horgan’s own riding on Vancouver Island for the past nine months.

As of Monday morning, RCMP had arrested 142 people in connection to protests in logging company Teal-Jones’s tree farm licence (TFL) 46 near Port Renfrew — which is becoming the epicentre of environmental civil disobedience on a scale comparable to the 1990s War of the Woods in Clayoquot Sound.

The plan — which won’t be complete until 2023 at the earliest — includes worthy goals such as reconciliation and co-operation with First Nations, ensuring more communities benefit from forestry, and diversifying access to tenure and timber supply, Coste noted.

But the NDP government’s vision will do nothing to quell the immediate wildfire of public discord about the lack of protection for big trees and the at-risk ecosystems that support them, he said.

“It’s gasoline on the fire. It completely fails to speak to what this moment demands,” Coste said, adding the NDP is losing social licence for its forestry objectives.

“The premier doesn’t seem to grasp that everything in this plan is unachievable without immediate-term on-the-ground changes.”

B.C. needs to take urgent action to protect increasingly scarce old-growth ecosystems because forests have been managed solely for timber values for far too long, as the old-growth strategic review commissioned by the province found, Coste said.

“There’s strong public value for all the other important things the forests provide,” he said.

“While there are nods in this plan to change that over the course of coming years, there’s still this denial of the basic reality that we need some immediate stop-gap measures.”

Environmental groups (ENGOs) in the province want Horgan to temporarily defer old-growth logging in the most critical ecosystems, and put money on the table for First Nations that might lose revenue while discussions take place over the longer term.

Horgan reiterated his intent to meet all 14 recommendations in the old-growth review while unveiling the intentions paper Tuesday.

The province was following a core recommendation of the report by ensuring it was consulting with First Nations to avoid making any decisions around forestry in their territories unilaterally, he said.

B.C. Premier John Horgan unveiled an intentions paper around the future of forest policy on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the B.C. government

“The critical recommendation that’s at play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title-holders, the people whose land these forests are growing on,” Horgan said.

Not doing so would smack of colonialism, the harms of which were graphically depicted with the confirmation of a mass grave with the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops last week, he noted.

“I’m not prepared to do that,” he said.

There must be buy-in by area First Nations for any deferrals in the Fairy Creek or other old-growth areas located in TFLs 46 and 44 in the region, he said.

The province made initial old-growth deferrals in nine areas of the province in September and has established the Special Tree Regulation to protect up to 1,500 exceptionally large trees, Horgan said.

As well, a timeline to implement all the old-growth recommendations has been set.

Old-growth activists at blockades aren’t going anywhere after hearing the province’s plan, according to the Rainforest Flying Squad (RFS), the grassroots coalition organizing the movement.

“We’re profoundly disappointed,” said RFS spokesperson Saul Arbess on Tuesday afternoon.

“What you’re going to see is a strengthening of resolve, and a strengthening of the barricades.”

More and more people from all walks of life and age groups are joining the protests, Arbess said, adding more than 90 per cent of British Columbians want protections for old-growth.

“Old-growth protection was barely mentioned, and we’re not seeing any kind of sustainable ecosystem-based management,” Arbess said.

“What we’re seeing is essentially business as usual with some modifications and changes, and a greater emphasis on allocation of timber to First Nations.”

But the economic model for relying solely on the extraction of timber is still at play, said Arbess, who had hoped to see funding commitments and initiatives to lay the foundation for other forest values, as was done in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Arbess said he hoped that ENGOs would be among the stakeholders consulted in any coming talks around the NDP’s promise to make additional deferrals — especially since no such groups were present to speak to the plan today, though unions and First Nations were extended the opportunity to do so.

“This is the opportunity to defer the five forest areas that we’re trying to protect,” Arbess said.

“But you don’t enter into an engagement process while at the same time the lands and forests under discussion are being destroyed.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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