In the Schmidt Creek watershed on northeastern Vancouver Island, just a few kilometres from globally renowned orca-rubbing beaches, huge swaths of old-growth rainforest are slated for imminent clear-cutting.
Farther south, in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni, the ninth-largest Douglas-fir tree in the country has just been cut down. And a few hundred kilometres to the east, a forest almost surrounded by Manning and Skagit provincial parks is being clear-cut despite being within B.C.’s highest priority grizzly-bear recovery zone.
Which profit-driven logging corporation is behind all of this?
None of them. This is the work of the government of British Columbia.
More specifically, it’s the work of B.C. Timber Sales, a government agency within the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. BCTS controls about 20 per cent of the cut on Crown lands — planning cut blocks and then auctioning them off to logging contractors.
In theory, public control over a sector as important as forestry is a great thing. It means public priorities, such as the protection of rare old-growth forests, can be prioritized because these areas are being managed by elected officials representing the public instead of corporations representing their shareholders.
Unfortunately, this isn’t playing out on the ground, and the minister in charge of forests, Doug Donaldson, is plundering important forests with as much disregard as any corporate CEO.
This summer, we visited Schmidt Creek, a watershed in Kwakwaka’wakw territories on northeastern Vancouver Island. The valley drains into Johnstone Strait, near the unique orca-rubbing beaches in the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve. Whale experts are worried about the impacts of clear-cutting the steep, erosion-prone slopes in this sensitive ecosystem. Donaldson has stated publicly that the benefits of this planned logging balance out the risks.
BCTS’ operations are further along in the Nahmint Valley in Hupacasath territory near Port Alberni, where clear-cutting of old-growth rainforests, including record-sized trees, began in May.
In the Cascade Mountains in Stó:lo and Nlaka’pamux territory, BCTS is also quickly destroying forests surrounded by Manning and Skagit provincial parks, in an area known as the “Donut Hole.” Long coveted as a potential addition to B.C.’s protected area system, this precious wildland is being picked apart with clear-cuts within slow-growing high-elevation forests where logging scars will persist for centuries. This is being done despite its importance for key species that depend on it for habitat and migration.
To add insult to injury, the Caycuse Flats bridge in Manning Park has recently been rebuilt to help get logs out of the Donut Hole. Elsewhere in Manning Park and in other parks across B.C., infrastructure and facilities are in desperate need of maintenance because the government doesn’t “have the funds” for repairs and upgrades. That money can immediately be found to fix a bridge in a park to help log forest just outside of it speaks volumes about this government’s priorities.
In the past year, the Wilderness Committee, along with our allies at the Ancient Forest Alliance and Sierra Club B.C., have met twice with Donaldson. We’ve advocated for the protection of old-growth rainforests and a just transition to sustainable second-growth forestry that prioritizes Indigenous rights and local jobs.
Our organizations have given the minister recommendations to accomplish this in an organized, science-based way. The simplest of these is to direct BTCS to cease issuing cut blocks in old-growth forests.
No one is saying the rapid shift to second-growth logging across the province is going to be easy or without complications. But BCTS is within Donaldson’s ministry. This is the logical place for him to start.
In its election platform, the NDP promised an “evidence-based scientific approach” to old-growth management, with the ecosystem-based management of the Great Bear Rainforest used as a model. Now that they’re in power, Premier John Horgan and Donaldson are not only allowing corporations to continue liquidating rare and important forests, they’re one of the worst offenders. Their agency is leading the way to the bottom of the barrel, logging endangered species habitat, old-growth and some of our province’s top protected-area candidates — all on the public’s dime.
After decades of the government ignoring the crisis in these forests, the public is eager for leaders who will show courage and tackle this problem.
It’s time for Donaldson and Horgan to decide if they want to be remembered as courageous leaders or as status-quo politicians who signed off on the liquidation of these precious ecosystems.
Torrance Coste is Vancouver Island campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.