Nanaimo urges B.C. to defer logging in old growth forests

Nanaimo is calling on the provincial government to defer logging of old-growth forests as public opposition mounts to harvesting them.

A split council, voting five-to-four, decided Monday to send its motion in favour of holding off logging old trees to the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

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Coun. Ben Geselbracht, who championed the move, said, “Globally, we’ve crossed critical ecological limits in terms of biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions and conversion of forest lands — critical limits that we are exceeding here in B.C. and part of our current forest practices.”

B.C. should defer logging old-growth until it has addressed recommendations in the independent Old Growth Strategic Review, commissioned by the province, he said.

The report recommended deferring ­development in old forests, where diverse ecosystems are at risk, until a new forest management strategy is developed.

B.C. has said it will bring in a new old-growth strategy which would include holding off old-growth logging in nine areas of the province totalling more than 350,000 hectares and that it would be meeting with Indigenous leaders and organizations on policy development.

Critics have been rallying, arguing it is taking too long to protect old forests. A Saturday rally in Victoria drew hundreds of people to the B.C. legislature.

Geselbracht said areas which should be left alone for now include Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew, the Upper Walbran Valley, Nahmint Valley, Eden Grove and Nimpkish Lake. Protesters have been at Fairy Creek since August in the hopes of stopping logging.

Just 2.7 per cent of original high productivity old-growth forests remain and of that, 75 per cent is at risk, Geselbracht said.

He was backed by councillors Zeni Maartman, Erin Hemmens, Don Bonner and Tyler Brown. Opposed were Mayor Leonard Krog and councillors Sheryl Armstrong, Ian Thorpe and Jim Turley.

Maartman said this is not an either-or choice. B.C. can protect a lot of its old growth and at the same time operate in a sustainable way.

“What we’re doing here is we’re holding the provincial government accountable for a very in-depth, comprehensive process they went through with the Old Growth Strategic review. And now it is time for the province to step up and to follow through on those recommendations.”

Brown said it makes sense to “pump the brakes” on logging old growth until the implications are thought through.

Forests of today look different from the forests his father was familiar with, he said, adding that his fear is that when 1,500-year-old forests are gone, “you don’t know what you’ve lost.”

“That’s not to say that we’re not gonna log at all. That’s not to say that we’re never going to log old growth. It’s just going to say that there’s a little bit to unpack here.”

Krog opposed addressing the logging issue, saying council had other matters, which it has jurisdiction over, to deal with. Debates around forestry belong in the B.C. legislature, he said.

“This really is out of our lane. This is not our knitting.”

Referring to the War in the Woods — the name for the protests and blockades in the 1990s which saw anti-logging action in the Clayoquot area — Krog said, “I have no interest in going back to fight a battle that was dealt with over a quarter century ago.”

Thorpe said the motion is divisive and puts council in the middle of the conflict. Nanaimo council should instead spend time discussing matters directly related to running the city. “I’m not going to debate the merits of logging old-growth forests. That’s not the point. I’m not an expert in that area and nobody at this table I believe is.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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