University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre report calls for a minimum of thirty per cent old-growth protection across B.C.
VICTORIA—A new report prepared by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre (ELC) for Sierra Club BC calls for thirty per cent base level protection of old-growth ecosystems and intact forests across the province as part of the provincial government’s amendments to provincial forestry regulations.The report entitled Applying Solutions from the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements to Vancouver Island, the South Coast, and Beyond recommends implementing the minimum level of protection that is used in the Great Bear Rainforest in all parts of B.C. The Great Bear Rainforest is the only major B.C. region with a land use framework that seeks to maintain ecological integrity as the basis for human well-being.
This is in stark comparison to weak current provincial forestry standards, which have led to an ecological emergency for many old-growth ecosystems across the remainder of the province. The report comes as the B.C. government is inviting input until July 15 to improve the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA).
“Increasing protection of old-growth and intact forest to a minimum of thirty per cent in every landscape across the province can be considered one of the most important steps the B.C. government should include in reformed forestry laws in 2020 to address the growing climate and biodiversity crisis,” said Keith Schille, the law student who wrote the ELC report.
“British Columbia’s forestry regulation is in dire need of reform, but we have one major region in the province with a conservation model based on modern science in the Great Bear Rainforest. B.C. should apply some of the learnings from this region in the rest of the province, alongside traditional ecological knowledge from Indigenous peoples,”said Erin Gray, one of the supervising lawyers on the ELC report.
“Many of B.C.’s old-growth forests are close to the brink. Time is running out and we need government leadership action that respects the limits of nature in the interest of future generations. This report describes a first step the province can take to address this emergency,” said Jens Wieting, Sierra Club BC’s senior forest and climate campaigner.
In addition to the base level protection, further conservation must be determined as part of the process of modernizing regional land use plans with Indigenous Nations on a government-to-government basis. These agreements should incorporate traditional ecological knowledge into all decision making processes.
Solutions that address Indigenous rights and interests are needed for both public and private lands, all of which are on the territories of Indigenous peoples. The B.C. government should partner with the federal government to enable Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and contribute to the international and national commitment to protect seventeen per cent of the land by 2020.
“From T’Sou-ke natural law, only together can we ensure a healthy environment for our children and our children not born yet,” said Chief Gordon Planes Hya-Quatcha of the T’Sou-ke First Nation, a member of the Indigenous Circle of Experts.
Sierra Club BC is calling for improved forest management to protect remaining intact rainforest, endangered ecosystems, Indigenous values and carbon stored in forests, combined with support for the forestry sector to phase out destructive logging practices. This will translate into more jobs and less ecosystem damage per cubic metre of wood.
Environmental Law Centre report, Applying Solutions from the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements to Vancouver Island, the South Coast: https://sierraclub.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/ELC-Applying-solutions-from-GBR-2019.pdf
Sierra Club BC aerial photos of clearcuts on Vancouver Island (July 2018): https://www.flickr.com/photos/94279740@N07/sets/72157698359993961
Chief of the T’Sou-ke First Nation
Senior Forest and Climate Campaigner, Sierra Club BC
Environmental Law Centre, University of Victoria
Environmental Law Centre, University of Victoria
Interviews can be arranged through Sierra Club BC
Backgrounder to the Environmental Law Centre report, July 2019
The University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre (ELC) report Applying Solutions from the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements to Vancouver Island, the South Coast, and Beyond summarizes the key principles applied in the Ecosystem-Based Management framework in the Great Bear Rainforest and recommends the minimum conservation level in this region as a starting point elsewhere in B.C. This would ensure a base level of protection and, where necessary, require the restoration of old-growth forests.
The key recommendation of the report is to set aside thirty per cent of old-growth by ecosystem and landscape unit (used for planning purposes) in areas that are ecologically similar to the Great Bear Rainforest (such as Vancouver Island, the South Coast and inland temperate rainforests). In those parts of the province where trees typically don’t grow as old as in temperate rainforests, the thirty per cent target should be applied to those forests that are least damaged from industrial logging and have the highest value for biodiversity.
The NDP’s 2017 election platform included a commitment to act for old-growth, promising to take “an evidence-based scientific approach and use the ecosystem-based management of the Great Bear Rainforest as a model.” The amendment process for B.C.’s forestry law gives the B.C. government a generational opportunity to apply a key element of the Great Bear Rainforest solution across the province.
The 6.4 million hectare Great Bear Rainforest is the only major region in B.C. that has science-based conservation thresholds for old-growth forests. About eighty-five per cent of the forest in the region is set aside in a combination of protected areas and stringent logging regulation.
The Ecosystem-Based Management framework aims to ensure seventy per cent of the natural amount of old-growth forest of every type of forest is set aside from logging across the region (a low risk threshold for ecological integrity). Additionally, the framework calls for a minimum of thirty per cent of the forest set aside at the landscape level (the high risk threshold for ecological integrity) to maintain connectivity.
On Vancouver Island, only about a fifth of the original productive old-growth rainforest remains unlogged. More than thirty per cent of what remained standing in 1993 has been destroyed in just the last twenty-five years (684,000 hectares or thirty-one per cent in 1993 and 469,000 hectares or twenty-one per cent in 2018).
In contrast, across the vast majority of the province, old-growth forests and intact forest landscapes undisturbed by industrial activity have been reduced dramatically. In high productivity forest ecosystems like valley bottom rainforests with very big trees, remaining old-growth is less than ten per cent of its original extent, and an even smaller amount is formally protected.
B.C.’s temperate rainforests represent the largest remaining tracts of a globally rare ecosystem covering just half a per cent of the planet’s landmass. Yet the current rate of old-growth logging on Vancouver Island alone is more than three square metres per second, or about thirty-four soccer fields per day.
On average, temperate rainforests store more carbon than tropical rainforests, helping to slow down global warming. When left intact, they are relatively resilient and less vulnerable to climate impacts such as fire and insect outbreaks compared to other forests.
Globally, the loss of primary forests—forests that are largely undisturbed by human activity—is a threat to species, carbon storage, clean air and clean water. In some countries, this is mainly due to deforestation. In other countries such as Canada, this is mainly through the cutting and replacement of rich ancient forests with even-aged young forest.
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