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Posted: November 21, 2021

Floods devastating B.C. are no accident

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

“Great floods have flown from simple sources.”

That’s how William Shakespeare described floods in ‘All’s Well that Ends Well,’ and as usual the bard knew how to explain many of the great problems plaguing mankind.

As thousands in this sodden province try to figure out why such a torrential calamity happened last weekend, the Bard of Avon implies that the explanation may be lying in plain sight in front of us although few British Columbians acknowledge it yet.

Just think a moment or two. You may say climate change, atmospheric pollution and industrial growth are some of the answers, but these are only partly to blame. Think a little more and if you’re still puzzled look skyward and consider this. What do you see when you look up in this province? Why, mountains of course. What are those beautiful mountains covered with? Trees of course. But far fewer trees than there were 20, 50 or a 100 years ago, especially in terms of old growth forests.

Ahh . . . the proverbial light flicks on.

Over the last century, we’ve logged almost all the natural old growth forest in the province that once cloaked “Beautiful BC” from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean.

Forest ecologists and even government regulators now concede that only about five per cent of B.C.’s original old growth remains. And with your own eyes you look up, and what do you see? A veritable tangle of logging roads and stumps from horizon to horizon interspersed with thousands of ragged clear-cut patches. This leaves precious little forest to stop a massive surge of muddy water from engulfing highways, bridges and rail lines and the flood-ravaged towns of Merritt, Abbotsford, Princeton, Agassiz and many others.

A so-called “atmospheric river” may well have triggered the storm as weather forecasters say. But this is B.C. We get major downpours all the time, especially in winter. But we never saw damage like this before. So, what’s changed?

Most of our old growth timber has been logged off and now Noah is calling the shots. What did we learn in grade school? The forest acts as a great natural sponge holding the water back. Remove the forest for a century, especially the old growth, and be prepared to swim.

The good people of Grand Forks figured this out. Situated where the Kettle and Granby rivers meet, they too were enveloped by a massive flood in 2018. Same scenario. Nobody in the community had seen such a mammoth flood before. But in the flood’s aftermath, Grand Forks citizens started thinking and came to the conclusion that years of clear-cut logging in the valleys surrounding the town may have been a major factor in the flooding.

As a result, they launched a class action suit alleging the Forest Ministry allowed “unsustainable” logging practices to occur resulting in higher runoff and stream flows, according to a Sept. 15 CBC story.

Meanwhile the Narwhal Magazine said this week, “Houston, we have a problem,” in a stark reference to the B.C. flooding. “More than 17,000 people displaced, at least three dead (at time of publication), roads caved in, homes and farms destroyed and the drowning of thousands of animals. B.C.’s latest climate disaster hit this week, with floods and mudslides sending the province into yet another state of emergency just months after the heat dome and wildfires.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself and I have a few more things to say.

Listen up Mr. and Mrs. British Columbia. You’re in danger of losing your patrimony, and have in fact, lost most of it already. Since the first money-crazed European colonizers showed up on B.C. terra-firma 200 years ago they saw the great woodlands of New Caledonia, as the province was called then, as one great money pit to be cut, sawed and turned into two-by-fours newsprint or toilet paper as they saw fit.

Fast forward a couple of centuries and you have the B.C. of today, depleted of its greatest natural resource – its magnificent forests – plundered by a compliant Forest Ministry that essentially allowed – even encouraged – the greedy forest companies to log until there was almost no more commercial grade timber left to log. And now all we have left are floods of Biblical proportions and all the politicians, forest unions and public can say is “woe is me.” And the worst is yet to come.

And who caused this catastrophe? Just look in the mirror. Every damned one of us.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who has been writing on forestry issues for almost 50 years and is frustrated that so few in this province care about our forests.

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