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Comment: Forests Ministry pushing grizzlies to extinction

Forests Minister Steve Thomson and the ministry he heads have lost credibility over management of forests for grizzly bear populations across the province.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson and the ministry he heads have lost credibility over management of forests for grizzly bear populations across the province.

In 2012, the provincial Ministry of Environment reported nine grizzly bear populations as having “threatened” status, which means they will be at risk of facing imminent extirpation or extinction, unless limiting factors such as unsustainable logging are reversed.

The minister claims that management of grizzly bears is science-based, when the evidence refutes his assertion. Let’s take the population of the threatened Kettle-Granby grizzly bear near Grand Forks in southeastern B.C. as an example.

B.C. Timber Sales — the logging arm of the Ministry of Forests — claims it is managing the grizzlies’ habitat and the wildlife connectivity corridors within it for the protection of grizzly bears when, in fact, it is pushing the grizzly bear to extinction through excessive road-building and unsustainable clearcut logging.

Scientists agree that high road densities are detrimental to grizzly bears and should be no greater than 0.6 kilometre of road for every square kilometre of forest.

According to an independent analysis commissioned by a conservation group called Friends and Residents of the North Fork using 2012 road data, the Ministry of Forests has allowed road density to exceed 0.6 km per square kilometre on 61 per cent of the grizzlies’ habitat.

Worse still, the ministry, as a result of unsustainable clearcut logging, has allowed 61 per cent of the forest it has designated as “wildlife connectivity corridors” within the grizzlies’ habitat to exceed the recommended road density. In fact, 52 per cent of designated connectivity corridors have a road density greater than 1.2 km per square kilometre, twice the acceptable density.

Unforgivably, the provincial government is misleading the public (and possibly itself) by using 2003 information on road density in its 2012 report on the status of grizzly bear populations in which it accurately states: “Roads are known to have a negative effect on grizzly bear habitat when they reach a density of about 0.6 km of road per square kilometre; this effect gets stronger when road density increases over 1.0 km/km2.”

By ignoring the science of his own government, the forests minister is undermining the confidence placed by export markets and their retailers in B.C.’s public forests being managed sustainably — a misplaced confidence that might lead to unwanted boycotts of B.C. forest products once environmental organizations refocus attention on B.C.-style industrial forestry.

The plight of the Kettle-Granby grizzly bear is symbolic of what is happening to wildlife across the province: to mountain caribou, to moose and to salmon. Biodiversity, which includes all animal species, is a key international criterion for sustainable forest management against which British Columbia is failing badly. The auditor general, in his 2013 audit of the status of biodiversity in the province, has condemned forest management as unsustainable and without vision and planning.

The cause of this precipitous decline in the quality of forest management stems from the enactment of forest legislation mostly written by the forest industry over a decade ago, and the rescinding of the legislation that provided internationally accepted standards of forest practice. The result of that deregulation is accelerated degradation of the productivity, quality and value of B.C.’s forests.

The forests ministry’s standard retort is that B.C.’s forests are independently certified by third parties for sustainability and are managed under a regime of professional reliance. But forest certification and professional reliance are only as good as provincial forest and environmental laws, which are inadequate. And B.C.’s forest watchdog — the Forest Practices Board — is similarly muzzled by inadequate legislation.

The present forest law gives precedence to logging timber over all other forest values and allows for continued unsustainable rates of cut at the expense of the survival of iconic species like salmon, caribou and grizzlies, and of the many forest-dependent communities in the Interior. One day soon, they, like the residents of B.C.’s coastal islands, will need to depend on other forest values such as tourism and recreation for survival once the local sawmill closes for lack of timber.


Anthony Britneff recently retired from a 40-year career with the B.C. Forest Service, during which he held senior professional positions in inventory, reforestation and forest health.