Over the past few years, I have corresponded and met with countless people in our community to hear their concerns about Forestry – including the importance of protecting old growth forests, addressing climate change and concerns about forestry practices and the overall management of our forests.
Today I am pleased to share two recent and important announcements with you. This includes substantial progress on our efforts to protect more old growth forests in B.C. and legislative changes that will modernize forestry practices and put First Nations and communities at the center of local forestry planning and decision making.
Next Steps on Protecting Old Growth
In June we announced an independent Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel to support our next steps in our science-based approach to transforming old growth management. They are tasked with providing maps, analysis and detailed information on the status of old growth forest ecosystems in B.C.
This work is critical to improving public information on old growth (Recommendation 5 from the Old Growth Strategic Review) and in helping inform government-to-government decisions with First Nations on future deferral areas.
This week, our government announced its plan to work with First Nations on deferrals for 2.6 million hectares of BC’s most ancient, rare, and at-risk old growth forests, as identified by the panel.
Details of these forest stands have been shared with First Nations rights and title holders so they can advise how to proceed on the deferral areas within their respective territories. The Province is requesting that First Nations indicate within the next 30 days whether or not they support the deferrals, require further engagement to incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge, or would prefer to discuss deferrals through existing treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.
While we are working with First Nations, we will immediately stop selling BC Timber Sales licenses in the deferral areas. We are also providing capacity funding of up to $12.69 million to support this process.
Some may ask why we are issuing temporary deferrals, instead of permanent protection, and the answer is simple – We are following the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review.
Two-year deferrals in our rarest and most ancient forests will help ensure we protect biodiversity while carrying out our new vision for forest care in British Columbia. This will allow time to work in partnership with First Nations to develop a new approach for old growth forest management. Through this work these forests will either be added to B.C.’s 3.5 million hectares of old growth forests already protected, or included within new forest management plans that prioritize ecosystem protection.
In order to identify priority areas for deferral panel members based their work on the direction provided in the Old Growth Strategic Review and have recommended that the focus should be on big-treed old growth, ancient old growth and rare old growth.
We recognize there will be impacts to workers and communities from the decision to implement harvesting deferrals on rare, ancient, and large stands of old growth.
Preliminary analysis shows that up to 4,500 jobs could be impacted if all 2.6 million hectares were deferred immediately. However this is a preliminary estimate and we anticipate actual impacts will be lower once actual deferrals are determined
We will support workers and communities through a comprehensive package of supports, including:
- Forest Employment Program: Creates short-term employment to help forest contractors explore new work.
- Skills Training for Job Pathways: Connects affected workers, communities and First Nation communities with skills training and educational opportunities for new careers.
- Community Rapid Response Team: This team will provide in-community support and will co-ordinate with ministries and organizations to ensure supports are in place for individuals and communities.
- Rural Business and Community Recovery Initiative: Recovery advisers will be in place to help create jobs, support rural businesses and communities, and support strategic decision-making.
- Bridging to Retirement: Forestry workers 55 and older may receive supports to help transition to retirement.
We will also establish an internal government office to bridge and leverage cross-ministry connections for strategic collaboration and work with communities on potential other support programs. Learn more about support programs: www.gov.bc.ca/forestfuture
Modernizing Forestry Policies to address Climate Change and increase local participation
Old forestry policies – put in place two decades ago – have really limited our ability to fight climate change, protect old growth forests, and share the benefits with Indigenous and local communities. And while we have made progress – such as the measures being implemented from the Old Growth Strategic Review – it’s clear that a larger shift is needed to make meaningful change.
Two weeks ago we introduced Bill 23 which will amend the Forest and Range Practices Act to make B.C.’s approach to forests more focused on sustainability, return more benefits to people and local communities, and position B.C. to take full advantage of future economic opportunities through long-term planning.
Here are some highlights of the changes:
I want to thank everyone who has reached out to my office regarding Old Growth and forestry. I know this is an issue that many in our community care deeply about.
For those interested, below I have included answers to the most frequently asked questions I receive through my office.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is old growth defined in B.C.?
In British Columbia, the term “old growth” is officially defined by the age of trees in a forest using specific thresholds. On the Coast old growth is defined by trees that are over 250 years and 140 years old in the Interior.
We recognize that there are differing opinions of how Old Growth is defined and this is something we are committed to addressing while we continue to build a new Old Growth Strategy in B.C.
How much old growth forest is there in B.C. and what is being protected?
In order to identify priority areas for deferral panel members based their work on the direction provided in the Old Growth Strategic Review and have recommended that the focus should be on big-treed old growth, ancient old growth and rare old growth. The panel’s analysis shows that of the 56.2 million hectares of forest in B.C., 11.1 million hectares is old growth. This consists of:
- Big-treed old growth, 6.2 million hectares: Big-treed old growth is naturally rare. And, since it has been heavily targeted by harvesting, big-treed old growth is now very rare compared to its historic distribution, putting it at extremely high near-term risk. The technical panel has recommended 1.7 million hectares of this be deferred.
- Rare old growth, 0.8 million hectares: If an ecosystem has been heavily harvested and very little old growth remains, these remnant areas are, by definition, rare. The panel has recommended 0.5 million hectares of this be deferred.
- Ancient old growth, 0.6 million hectares: Ancient forest is globally rare and particularly irreplaceable because of the time it takes to grow an ancient forest. The panel has recommended that 0.4 million hectares of this be deferred.
It is estimated that, historically, there were approximately 25 million hectares of old forest in B.C. Of this, 11.1 million hectares of old growth remain, approximately one-third of which, 3.5 million hectares, is already protected. B.C. is working toward a comprehensive old-growth strategy based on the 14 recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review.
Summary tables of the panel’s analysis on these forest types in B.C. is available here: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/Summary_Tables_Old_Growth.pdf
Is it true that timber licenses for old growth have increased 43% this year?
This is false. This analysis double-counted some areas and failed to account for a data clean-up where historical records added for auditing reasons were included in the 2020 numbers – even though those permits had been completed years earlier.
Old growth harvesting has decreased for four consecutive years. In 2020, the area of old growth harvesting was 28% less than in 2016 under the BC Liberals.
Why don’t you support a full moratorium on old growth?
We are committed to implementing all 14 recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review. It’s important to note that the Old Growth Strategic Review did not recommend a moratorium on old growth harvesting. The recommendations do focus on protecting more old growth while putting Indigenous peoples, who are the title holders, at the center of land management decisions in their territories.
What have you done since the report was released? Are you taking any immediate actions?
We committed to implementing all 14 recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review – which contains both immediate actions, and long-term actions.
The number 1 condition for change states “Engage the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations to review this report and any subsequent policy or strategy development and implementation”
Listed as the top priority under immediate response it states “Until a new strategy is implemented, defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss”
As a first step, government engaged with the First Nations Leadership Council to discuss the report and begin work on the approach for recommendation No. 1: “engaging the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations to review the report and work with the Province on any subsequent policy or strategy development and implementation.” Since the report’s release, government has met with several Indigenous Nations and organizations to work together on recommendations and will continue to reach out to more Nations.
Through these initial discussions we were able to immediately deferrals of 200,000 hectares in nine of the rarest, at-risk ecosystems. These areas and deferrals were done in consultation with 9 First Nations. We are now currently in discussions with other Nations on 2.6 million hectares of old growth forests.
These deferrals help stop harvesting in at risk areas while we develop a more long-term plan. The Old Growth report calls for Indigenous involvement and leadership at every step and we are committed to meaningful engagement with all nations as we develop a new way of managing our forests.
In June we announced a new independent Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel to support next steps in our science-based approach to transforming old growth management. This five member panel includes Garry Merkel, who was a member of the two-person independent panel that reviewed B.C.’s old growth strategy.
This Panel has been building on the initial technical work by government and others to provide maps, analysis and detailed information on the status of old growth forest ecosystems in B.C. This work is critical to improving public information on old growth, consistent with Recommendation 5 from the Old Growth Strategic Review and will help inform government-to-government decisions with First Nations on future deferral areas. Decisions on specific deferrals will continue to be made at a government-to-government level with First Nations rights and title holders.
The technical panel has now provided recommendations and advice on priority areas for development of deferrals that will aid in government-to-government engagement. This work addresses a priority recommendation of the independent strategic review panel on old growth – Recommendation 6 – to defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss, until a new strategy is implemented.
To view the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel terms of reference, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/Old_Growth_Adv_%20Tech_Panel_TermsOfReference.pdf
In response to Recommendation 6: “Until a new strategy is implemented, defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss,” harvest has been deferred in 11 areas of old growth throughout B.C. The most recent deferrals include those in the Fairy Creek watershed and central Walbran area, initiated at the request of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations. Work is ongoing to identify additional deferral areas throughout the province.
Recommendations 1 and 6, as outlined above, are underway as are Recommendation 5 regarding public information and Recommendation 7, which addresses compliance with existing requirements.
Key timelines for addressing the recommendations of the old growth independent panel report can be found online:
This work is leading to a new old growth strategy for British Columbia that is part of a paradigm shift for forest management in British Columbia.
I’ve heard that the 200,000 hectares of previously announced deferrals is not an accurate figure, or they are in areas that are not at risk of being logged?
These areas were selected because they represent some of the rarest, at-risk ecosystems. Some were at more immediate risk than others, but all were vulnerable to logging at some point. These are also areas that were identified by local First Nations.
For example, the BC Liberals had issued a license to cut in the Skagit “Donut Hole” inside Manning Park. We cancelled that. We also protected the remainder of vulnerable old growth in Clayoquot Sound.
Here is a full break down of the 200,000 hectares:
- Clayoquot Sound: 170,000 ha
- All remaining old growth in area.
- Coastal Western Hemlock zone, with western hemlock, western red cedar, yellow cedar, balsam, berries, ferns and moss.
- Silver Daisy/Skagit (“donut hole”): 5,800 ha
- Was unprotected within Manning Park. Largely intact transition forest between coastal and interior types. Sub-alpine fir, western and mountain hemlock, western red and yellow cedar and Douglas fir, home to wildlife including spotted owls.
- Crystalline Creek: 9,900 ha: Intact watershed, wetland near Spillimacheen River
- H’Kusam: 600 ha: Culturally modified trees and intact stands of old-growth cedar
- Incomappleux Valley: 5,000 ha: Inland rain forests estimated 800-1,500 years old
- McKelvie Creek: 1,800 ha: Intact valley of old-growth temperate rainforest
- Seven Sisters: 2,700 ha: A complete elevation sequence of ecosystems, blend of coastal, interior and northern features
- Stockdale Creek: 1,000 ha: Old and mature forests, high-value grizzly bear habitat
- Upper Southgate River: 10,000 ha: Coastal rainforest, rich habitat for multiple species of salmon
Why hasn’t the government met the old growth review’s recommended timeline?
The panel’s suggested timeline was developed before COVID 19 and was not intended as a deadline. The panel recognized the complexity of the issue, the need for engagement, and that the economic impacts of its recommendations need to be analyzed.
Over the past year, vital work has been done on old growth during a global pandemic. We’ve started high priority work in keeping with the report’s recommendations. But it will take engagement with the full involvement of Indigenous leaders, organizations, industry, and environmental groups to find consensus on the future of old growth forests in B.C.
What have you committed to protecting in Fairy Creek?
The Province is honouring the request of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations and deferring old-growth harvesting in the Fairy Creek watershed and central Walbran areas in their territories.
The deferrals follow a request made by the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, who issued the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration on June 7, 2021. The deferrals protect all old growth in the Fairy Creek watershed and the central Walbran area – spanning over 2,000 hectares – for two years while the First Nations title holders build resource-stewardship plans for their lands.
Under these deferrals, all old growth – approximately 2,034 hectares – in the Fairy Creek watershed and central Walbran area will be protected.
- The Fairy Creek watershed is 1,199 hectares in size and includes approximately 884 hectares of old forest.
- The central Walbran area (west of Lake Cowichan) is 1,489 hectares, of which approximately 1,150 hectares is old forest.
Maps of the deferral areas in the Fairy Creek watershed and central Walbran area are available here: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/FairyCreek_Walbran_map.pdf
What exactly does this deferral mean? Will road building continue?
In accordance with the request from the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations, tenure holders in the Fairy Creek watershed and the central Walbran area will be able to harvest timber in areas not identified as old growth.
New road construction activities will be suspended within identified old growth areas in the central Walbran and Fairy Creek watershed as part of the deferrals. For existing roads in these areas, government and the three Nations expect tenure holders to carry out necessary maintenance to make sure roads are safe and that there is an appropriate level of environmental protection.
Are you directing police to arrest people & block media at Fairy Creek? Why won’t you stop them?
In our democratic system, elected officials do not have the ability to direct police or the court system. In this case, the private company sought an injunction from a court and won. The Police have been ordered by the BC Supreme Court to ensure compliance with the court order, while recognizing lawful, peaceful protests and simultaneously ensuring the ability of industry to complete its court-approved work.
Enforcement action by the RCMP in response to the court decision is an operational matter for the RCMP and is entirely at arms length from government.
How can someone make a complaint against enforcement action at Fairy Creek:
For the public to have confidence that police are held accountable, there are processes in place where people can take their concerns or complaints. With regards to enforcement action in Fairy Creek, complainants have options for pursuing their concerns about the conduct of the RCMP: the RCMP “E” Division can be contacted directly, or complaints can be made to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC*) at www.complaintscommission.ca.
*The CRCC is the independent agency that ensures that complaints made by the public about the on-duty conduct of an RCMP member(s) are examined fairly and impartially. The CRCC is actively reviewing incoming complaints related to the Fairy Creek protests.
How can I learn more and follow the progress being made on this issue?
To learn more about the new vision for B.C.’s forests visit: www.gov.bc.ca/forestfuture
Details and updates on B.C.’s old-growth strategy can be found here: www.gov.bc.ca/oldgrowth
You can view updated maps, based on the technical panels work, here: Old Growth Maps – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)
Learn more about the modernization of B.C. forest policy: www.gov.bc.ca/modernforestpolicy