Comment: Our rainforests need action urgently

Remember the story of the boiling frog? A frog placed in cold water and brought to a boil slowly will not perceive the danger until it’s too late. Although it might not be true, it resonates — for some, it is a reminder of the many examples of humans’ failure to act in time to protect our natural world from destruction.

The liquidation of B.C.’s spectacular, endangered old-growth rainforests and their mosaic of species follows the same pattern, at least to those who are willing to see it.

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The urgency to act was recently confirmed in a letter to Premier John Horgan’s government from 223 international forest experts from around the world. They took a close look at current logging trends in this province. The scientists are calling for immediate action to protect the globally unique ecological and cultural values of B.C.’s remaining primary coastal and inland temperate rainforests.

Their letter is a stark reminder that B.C.’s precious old-growth rainforests are a global treasure and a global responsibility. Temperate rainforest never covered more than half a per cent of the planet. B.C. is home to a quarter of it. Our inland rainforests are one of only two such areas in the world.

Unfortunately, a year into taking power, Forest Minister Doug Donaldson appears in denial about how little old-growth is left across most parts of the province. He believes there is still time to wait and deal with this crisis at a later date. This is wrong.

Most of the remaining areas are now so small and fragmented that they can no longer support the web of life as we know it. Sierra Club B.C. mapping shows landscape after landscape in red: the colour of high alert. By delaying urgently needed action, we will find ourselves in the frog’s predicament.

During the 2017 election, the NDP promised to use science to take action for B.C.’s old-growth rainforest, using the evidence-based approach of the Great Bear Rainforest as a model. But one year after forming government, no significant steps to protect at least some of the most endangered old-growth rainforest have been taken. Old-growth clearcutting continues on Vancouver Island, on the south coast and in inland rainforests at a furious pace.

The scientists are urging the provincial government to follow through on its promise to use ecosystem-based management approach to safeguard all of B.C.’s endangered old-growth rainforest ecosystems, while respecting Indigenous rights and supporting First Nations’ land-use planning, compatible economic activities and long-term forestry jobs in improved second-growth forest management.

A recently released Sierra Club B.C. map entitled State of Vancouver Island’s Coastal Temperate Rainforest shows with in-depth detail the scarce remaining endangered intact rainforest ecosystems and recent old-growth destruction on Vancouver Island. Logging is destroying 10,000 hectares of old growth per year on the Island — the equivalent of two soccer fields per hour, 24 hours per day.

Even the most endangered rainforest types with the biggest trees — reduced to tiny percentages of their original extent — are still targeted. Similar losses are occurring in the inland rainforest region, where old-growth logging is contributing to the demise of mountain caribou.

Plants and animals that live in rainforests — such as the red-legged frog and marbled murrelets — are not just losing habitat, but also suffering the impacts of climate change such as extended droughts, extreme rainfall and stronger storms that push ecosystems beyond their limits. Species that depend on old-growth forests cannot survive when the majority of the Island is increasingly covered by young, even-aged forests that are clearcut in short-rotation forestry.

We need biodiversity, carbon storage, a diverse economy including tourism and recreation, and environmental services such as clean water and clean air. The loss of primary forests threatens these values.

Two hundred twenty-three experts have studied what is happening in B.C. and the science is clear. Business as usual will result in ecological, cultural and economic disaster. British Columbia has inspired the world with conservation solutions in the Great Bear Rainforest.

The provincial government must follow through on its promise and take action for endangered old-growth rainforest across the rest of the province. Let’s create a different story for the frog. Today, before it’s too late.

Jens Wieting is senior forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club B.C. For more information visit rainforestisland.ca

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