Province failing to protect old growth forests, environmental groups say

The province is running out of time to take action to protect old growth forests, says a coalition of environmental groups.

The Sierra Club, Ancient Forest Alliance and Wilderness Committee released a “report card” Thursday ­giving the B.C. government a failing grade for inaction on meeting the short-term milestones for old-growth protection recommended in an independent report released six months ago.

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Jens Wieting, a senior forest and climate campaigner and science adviser with Sierra Club, said the Old Growth Strategic Review represented a “moment of hope” for old-growth ­protection when it was released in ­September. “This report really outlines a blueprint for solutions. It shows what steps the B.C. government must take to have this paradigm shift that the panel calls for,” he said.

The report provided a three-year framework to improve management of old growth forests, including the recommendation that development be deferred in old growth forests at high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss within six months.

In September, the province announced the deferral of old-forest harvesting in nine areas, totalling 353,000 hectares, but that represents “a small fraction” of the most at-risk forests, Wieting said.

“What we are seeing is there’s no work plan with milestone dates, there’s no funding,” Wieting said. “Not a single dollar has been committed.”

Doing nothing means logging of old growth forests continues, he said, and at the current rate of old-growth logging, “many endangered old-growth ecosystems like those in Fairy Creek will be logged to the brink within three to five years.”

A group of protesters have been ­preventing logging company Teal Jones from accessing a cut block near Fairy Creek for seven months. Teal Jones has responded by applying for an injunction to remove the blockades. Last week, a judge granted the activists a three-week reprieve to allow their legal team more time to assemble materials.

Joshua Wright, a spokesman for the protesters, said the province needs to take responsibility for the conflict at Fairy Creek.

“This is us doing their job for them, in a way,” he said. “They committed to protecting extremely high-value ecological areas within six months and they haven’t, so we’ve been out there instead protecting it for them.”

Torrance Coste, national campaign director for Wilderness Committee, said the lack of action to protect old growth forests should be just as upsetting to loggers as it is to environmentalists.

“We’re going to run out of old growth, and then what’s the plan for the industry?” he said. “That’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. It’s a big question, and so far government seems to be avoiding it.”

Katrine Conroy, minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, said in a statement the province is developing a new approach to how old-growth forests are managed.

“We know some are calling for an immediate moratorium, but this approach risks thousands of good family-supporting jobs. We know others have called for no changes to logging practices, but this could risk damage to key ecosystems,” Conroy said.

The province committed to implementing all 14 recommendations in the report and took action on four recommendations in September, she said. “Our commitment to this important work has not changed.”

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