The B.C. government’s announcement that it will, in partnership with First Nations groups, defer harvest of 2.6 million hectares of old growth forest is generating mixed reactions, with some environmental groups pleased with the decision while others are raising warning flags.
In their press release reacting to the announcement the, BC Chamber of Commerce cited the BC Council of Forest Industries’ (COFI) analysis, which predicts far-reaching economic consequences.
COFI predicts that these new deferrals could shutter as many as 20 sawmills in the province, in addition to two pulp mills and an undetermined number of other manufacturing facilities — plus cost up to 18,000 jobs and $400 million in lost revenues.
“These businesses are located in every single region of the province, from the lower mainland, to the Island, in the north, and the interior,” said BC Chamber president Fiona Famulak. “What is especially concerning for the BC Chamber network is this decision is coming at a time when many businesses are still struggling to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.”
The BC Chamber wants to see the government work with First Nations as well as representatives from the forestry industry, labour and communities on further consultation before further deferrals are implemented.
In their announcement, the B.C. government said it will create strategies to offset job and economic impacts that could follow these deferrals, including short-term employment opportunities, skills training for funding for workers to help bridge to retirement.
The release also indicated the Province is looking to develop new supports in partnership with businesses and communities to assist rural communities to create new jobs through diversified economies, infrastructure projects and innovation in industry.
Meanwhile, environmental group Wildsight has said that these actions are “the first time in the province’s history” that the provincial government has taken steps to recognize the “desperate state of B.C.’s irreplaceable forests,” but they add this is just the first step, and more work still needs to be done.
“This is the first step in realizing the paradigm shift in BC forestry called for by the Old Growth Strategic Review that will manage our forests for ecosystem health not timber values,” said Eddie Petryshen, conservation specialist with Wildsight. “Working in full partnership with Indigenous Nations on old growth deferrals and long-term protections is a major step in the right direction.”
The government’s announcement, made by Forests Minister and West Kootenay MLA Katrine Conroy, comes after a study from the Old Growth Technical Review Panel, which found that around 70 per cent of old growth forests in the province are unprotected.
This panel recommended the highest priority of old growth stands for protection, resulting in the 2.6 million hectare number that was decided upon.
Wildsight says more work is needed to identify areas that contain high-value old growth that aren’t shown on these new maps, or that have already been targeted for logging. Petryshen said it’s good to see that new BC Timber Sales blocks that overlap with the most at-risk forests have been halted, that should be applied equally to all licensees throughout the province.
While stating the value of old growth forests in terms of protecting biodiversity and fragile ecosystems, Wildsight also acknowledged the need to protect workers and rural communities.
“It’s essential that the province provide necessary support to workers and rural communities,” Petryshen said. “New approaches will be vital as we make the difficult transition away from the unsustainable harvest of old growth and prioritize managing our forests for ecosystem health.”