To reduce B.C.’s climate disaster risk, shake up the logging industry: report

A new report calls for a shakeup of the industrial logging industry to reduce B.C.'s climate risks.

Credit: Courtesy of Sierra Club BC

Shoomart estuary and salmon park are part of 20,000 hectares of land in Nootka Sound, on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, claimed by the Nuchatlaht Nation

A new study, commissioned by Sierra Club BC, calls for immediate protection of at-risk old-growth forests and more Indigenous involvement in forestry-related decisions

Like the rest of the world, B.C. is running out of time to head off the fires, droughts, floods and other natural disasters that the climate crisis will bring our way. The provincial government just got served notice that reforming a key industry can help control the damage.

When it comes to the severity and frequency of climate risk for communities throughout the province, industrial logging has a major impact, according to a new report commissioned by Sierra Club BC. Of the 15 risks identified in the Province’s Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia, most are influenced by logging, the report states.

“The science is clear that clearcutting increases the frequency and intensity of forest fires. We also know it increases both the risk of flooding and periods of drought, as well as erosion and slope instability, which increase the likelihood of landslides,” author Peter Wood said in a release. “In contrast, old intact forests act as a moderating influence on the landscape, supporting ecosystem function and resilience, and lowering risk to surrounding communities,” explained Wood, who has a PhD in forestry. 

By not considering how logging worsens climate risks, the Province could undermine its response to global heating, the report argues. It calls on the government to make protecting intact forests and reforming forestry part of the BC Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy, which is now in development. “The best way to accomplish this is by implementing all of the recommendations from the 2020 Old Growth Strategic Review,” the report adds. 

Credit: Courtesy of Sierra Club BC

This infographic shows the potential wildfire risks that clearcut logging and tree plantations pose to B.C. communities

Besides acting on those recommendations, which include immediately deferring all logging in old forests where ecosystems are at risk of irreversible biodiversity loss, the report advises that governments apply Indigenous knowledge to forest-related decisions.

To that end, it recommends that the Province “engage with Indigenous decision-makers in a government-to-government process, and revise all legislation with a DRIPA lens.”

The provincial government, which introduced the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in 2019, is now embroiled in the first DRIPA-related legal case. In 2017, the Nuchatlaht Nation laid claim to about 20,000 hectares of land on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, but the Crown maintains that the nation of fewer than 170 lost those rights by abandoning it. “The case was launched after treaty talks broke down with the province and Western Forest Products, which holds provincially issued forest tenures in the area, continued logging the cedar forests,” Judith Lavoie of The Narwhal reports.

“The climate crisis impacts us all, but it particularly has devastating repercussions for vulnerable and marginalized people, including First Nations across the province, many who have limited capacity and resources to respond to climate disasters and whose territories are high-risk areas that corporations and governments seek to develop,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, in a statement.

Before his NDP government was re-elected last fall, Premier John Horgan committed to implementing all 14 recommendations from the Old Growth Strategic Review Panel. So far, that hasn’t happened, and there’s still no timeline for making the changes.