Getting to the root of B.C.’s battle over old growth forests

The War in the Woods turns into the War of the Words.

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Credit: iStock

The War in the Woods turns into the War of the Words

With lumber having a massive boom in B.C. these days, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit the province’s debate around its oldest forests. If the international boycott that successfully ended (most) old-growth logging in the Carmanah Valley back in 1993 was called the War in the Woods, the tit-for-tat PR campaign that happened in October might go down as the War of the Words.

October 8

Open Letter: 200+ Dignitaries Call for Immediate Protection of British Columbia’s Large Old Growth Forests

Context: The war of words kicks off with an open letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan taken out as a two-page spread in the Globe and Mail. Two hundred influential scientists, artists, musicians and activists implore Horgan to “protect the irreplaceable”—namely, B.C.’s old growth forests. The campaign is organized and paid for by Canopy Planet, an influential Vancouver-based agency that has worked with more than 700 companies worldwide to eliminate products sourced from ancient forests from their supply chain.

Takeaway: Released on the day before William Shatner blasted into space, the Open Letter appeals to Horgan’s Trekkie instinct to “let the ancient forests live long and prosper.” The letter calls for a ban on “ancient” forests, but not necessarily all old-growth forests, which still accounts for a substantial timber cut.

October 21

Press Release: Revamped Forest Policy Puts Environment, People First

Context: The NDP government announces Bill 23, an overhaul of the Forest and Range Practices Act to comply with previous legislation adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Across the province, 140 existing forest stewardship plans that currently regulate forest activities are to be replaced by forest landscape plans to “create new opportunities for shared decision-making between government and First Nations.”

Takeaway: Bill 23 would “put the government back in the driver’s seat” when it comes to setting policy and regulations, according to Minister of Forests Katrine Conroy. This statement is a veiled reference to the decade-long unwinding of the Forest Practices Code, which was introduced by the former NDP government in response to the original War in the Woods/Carmanah protests in 1993.

October 21

Research Paper: Status of BC’s Old Forests: The Situation in 2021

Context: Released on the very same day that the NDP announces its overhaul of the Forest and Range Act, B.C.’s Council of Forest Industries releases Status of BC’s Old Forests: The Situation in 2021. Three professional foresters use sophisticated layer-mapping techniques developed by the Ministry of Forests to challenge the validity of data found in the government-commissioned A New Future for Old Forests published in June 2020.

Takeaway: The COFI-commissioned report contains a minor bombshell. “While all old forests contribute to biodiversity, there has been much public discussion about the amount of old forests growing on sites capable of producing big trees—with previous reports falsely suggesting this amount to be 3 percent. The study found over 3.3 million hectares of old forests, or about 30 percent, are growing on high productivity sites capable of producing big trees.”

October 26

Op-Ed: The Greenwashing of BC Forestry Must Stop (National Observer)

Context: You think “old growth” is open to interpretation? Try “sustainable forestry.” Ecojustice Canada lawyer Devon Page’s op-ed piece in the National Observer persuasively argues that the industry-oriented field of professional forestry is strongly tilted toward resource extraction and not wilderness preservation or climate change. Page introduces the idea that those “seal of approval” Forest Stewardship Council and Canadian Standards Association logos are nothing more than greenwashing.

Takeaway: Page makes some well-reasoned arguments but he could have saved his essay for, say, The Province, since 99 percent of the National Observer’s left-leaning readership will already agree.

October 28

Report/Press Release: Missing the Forest: How Carbon Loopholes for Logging Hinder Canada’s Climate Leadership

Context: Released in advance of the COP 26 Climate Summit in Glasgow by four environmental NGOs, (including the National Resources Defense Council), this research paper introduces the concept of a “forest carbon economy.” The report highlights how the federal government has failed to accurately account for not just the environmental impact of cutting down trees, but also of their value in carbon sequestration.

Takeaway: One of the report’s government recommendations is to “prioritize forest protection and restoration under Indigenous leadership.” Chalk one up for Premier Horgan; time will tell if other provinces and the feds follow suit.

October 29

Open Letter: 275 Forestry and Labour Leaders Call for a Path Forward on Old-Growth that Supports Healthy Forests, Good Jobs and Strong Communities

Context: As Halloween brings October to a close, the battle of words between forest defenders and forest workers is as divided as “trick or treat.” This open letter appears in the weekend editions of Postmedia’s papers. Written as a rebuttal to the “Shatner letter” published three weeks earlier, this major salvo from the Council of Forest Industries isn’t signed by any rock stars or former prime ministers, but it is supported by truck loggers, helicopter companies, union locals and First Nations joint ventures.

Takeaway: It calls for a “fact-based, balanced, and inclusive” approach to forestry. The COFI letter claims that 10,000 businesses—most of them locally owned—employ over 50,000 workers who contribute over $4 billion in tax revenue annually.