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Protesters decry logging practices, rally outside MLAs’ offices

Conservation groups stepped up the pressure on the B.C. government Thursday to protect pristine old-growth forests on Vancouver Island.
Tsastilqualus Ambers, of the Ma‘Äôamtagila First Nation, adresses the crowd in front of the office of Finance Minister Carole James, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill. Demonstrators demanded the provincial government protect old-growth forests. June 6, 2019

Conservation groups stepped up the pressure on the B.C. government Thursday to protect pristine old-growth forests on Vancouver Island.

At rallies outside MLA offices in Victoria and across the province, the groups and their supporters expressed frustration with the NDP for allowing old-growth logging to continue.

“Unfortunately, [Premier] John Horgan and the B.C. NDP government have shown us again and again that they aren’t going to do the right thing when it comes to protecting old growth on their own. They’re going to have to be pushed there by the public,” said Torrance Coste, a Wilderness Committee campaigner who spoke to a crowd of about 100 people outside Finance Minister Carole James’s office on Fort Street.

“I wish that wasn’t the case, but they’ve been in power for two years and, despite promising better forest management, they’ve taken no meaningful steps towards that, and that’s really frustrating to see,” he said.

Coste predicted increasing unrest unless the government moves to reform logging practices soon.

“The frustration has really increased in the last couple of years because of the expectation that an NDP government, backed by the Greens, should be better,” he said.

“People were frustrated under the Liberals but it was fairly expected, and to see the exact same forest management — or forest mismanagement — practised by the NDP, that has people really frustrated.”

The conservation groups argue that the ancient trees are worth more left standing as tourist attractions and buffers against species loss and the impacts of climate change.

The Sierra Club, which organized the protests at 17 MLA offices, stopped short of calling for an outright ban on all old-growth logging.

Instead, campaigner Galen Armstrong said the organization wants to see logging halted in pristine “hot spots” such as the Central Walbran or Schmidt Creek, north of Sayward.

The B.C. Green Party issued a similar call last month following a public outcry over plans — now on hold — to log 109 hectares of old-growth forest near Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.

Green MLAs Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen called on Forests Minister Doug Donaldson in the B.C. legislature to impose a moratorium on logging in areas deemed to be of critical conservation value.

Donaldson quickly rejected the idea, saying it would throw people out of work and devastate coastal communities.

He took a similar stance Thursday in response to the protests at MLA offices, noting that the coastal forest sector employs 24,000 people and generates $3.1 billion in gross domestic product.

“We have taken bold steps to protect critical habitat and old growth and we will have more initiatives to announce in the coming weeks,” Donaldson said in a statement released by his ministry.

“However, we have just seen several hundred workers lose their jobs in the Interior, in part due to lack of logs, and the calls for moratoriums would lead to more job loss on Vancouver Island.”

The statement added that 520,000 hectares of old-growth forest is already protected on Vancouver Island.

David Elstone, executive director of the Truck Loggers Association, said banning old-growth logging on Vancouver Island would close four sawmills and a pulp mill and throw thousands of people out of work.

“What are these communities going to do?” he said. “Certainly, there’s tourism, but there’s no reason that tourism can’t exist hand in hand with an active forest industry right beside it. It’s not black and white.”

In addition, Elstone said calls for a moratorium ignore all the old-growth forest already protected on Vancouver Island, in the Great Bear Rainforest and other areas.

“It’s outrageous to call for a moratorium,” he said. “It totally discounts all the work and sacrifice and investment we have done through setting aside millions of hectares across the B.C. coast.”

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