VICTORIA (Unceded Lekwungen Territories) – Conservationists with the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) commend a BC government announcement made today releasing independent scientific mapping of BC’s endangered old-growth forests, and in principle accepting recommendations to defer logging in 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old-growth forests. The province has also immediately deferred all future BC Timber Sales (BCTS) cutblocks that overlap with identified at-risk forests. However, critical conservation funding to enable the full scale of deferral recommendations is still missing.
A summary report and new scientific mapping produced by an independent Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel has revealed there are 5 million hectares of unprotected, at-risk old-growth forest across BC. These forests are categorized into ancient, rare, and big tree forests. The panel recommended the province immediately defer logging in 2.6 million hectares of these forests, focusing on the most critically endangered stands.
“The independent mapping is a major step forward,” stated Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner TJ Watt. “For the first time in history, the province has used the best available science to accurately identify old-growth forests at risk. This mapping confirms what conservation organizations have been saying for years: that much of BC’s forests are at risk of irreversible biodiversity loss and must be protected.”
“The province’s acceptance of the recommendation to defer logging in 2.6 million hectares of the best and most at-risk old-growth forests is also unprecedented,” stated Watt “However, these are not immediate and without a matching provincial commitment of several hundred million dollars in conservation financing, with a primary focus on First Nations economic relief linked to deferrals, the full scale of the deferrals, and eventual permanent protection, will be impossible to achieve. We have the road map in hand, but we’re missing the gas in the tank.”
A highlight of the announcement is that BCTS, which has stood at the centre of considerable controversy for the logging of some of BC’s finest remaining old-growth stands, will see immediate logging deferrals. Covering about 20% of the province’s annual allowable cut, this could represent an area of about 500,000 hectares being placed under temporary deferral. This area is larger than all protected park land on Vancouver Island put together, vastly exceeding all deferrals in place thus far. Included in this area are some of the most critical old-growth hotspots remaining in BC, such as the Artlish, Tsitika, and Nahmint watersheds, areas that conservationists have struggled to protect for decades.
The province also announced its plan to launch a suite of programs to support workers that will be impacted by the deferrals, including connecting workers with short-term employment opportunities, education and skills training, or funds to bridge to retirement. However, the province did not announce economic relief for lost forestry revenues in First Nations communities due to proposed deferrals. $12.69 million over three years was committed to provide capacity funding for First Nations to participate in planning and negotiation, but no money has yet been committed to provide further conservation financing.
“Today’s announcement is a historic step in the right direction, but there are some critical pieces still missing,” said AFA campaigner Andrea Inness. “Besides a lack of funding, the province has failed to provide timeframes or deadlines for the implementation of deferrals or any of the OGSR recommendations. Meanwhile, at-risk old-growth forests are being left on the chopping block while negotiations take place.”
“The province needs to show leadership in supporting First Nations-led old-growth conservation. The $12 million committed today to support capacity building for First Nations to participate in government-to-government negotiations doesn’t go nearly far enough.”
“It’s about ensuring First Nations in BC have funding made available to support logging deferrals, First Nations-led land-use planning, Indigenous protected areas that conserve old-growth, and economic diversification of First Nations’ communities,” said Inness. “There must also be support for joint decision-making and Indigenous self-determination. Currently, the province doesn’t have the political will to deliver on these pieces. That needs to change.”
The federal government recently committed $2.3 billion to expand protected areas across Canada. Of this, several hundred million dollars are available for the expansion of protected areas in BC, with $50 million specifically allocated to protect old-growth forests in BC.
The Ancient Forest Alliance is urging the BC government to commit several hundred million dollars in conservation financing to match this federal funding in the upcoming spring budget.