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Posted: December 6, 2020

It’s time for new thinking about old growth

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

Is our new supposedly environmentally correct NDP government as serious as they claim about saving what’s left of our once magnificent and seemingly endless old growth forests?

I would like to believe they are, but when I look at the government’s recently issued Old Growth Strategic Review – “A new future for old forests “ as the spin doctors put it – and Premier John Horgan’s mandate-letter issued to new Forests Minister Katrine Conroy, I reluctantly have to believe it’s the same old “log and talk” mantra that’s existed in B.C. for the past 100 years.

In the four-page letter to Minister Conroy, Premier Horgan covers a lot of ground but only a sliver of that ground has anything to do with protecting trees. Indeed, the words “tree” and “timber” don’t appear until page three and the old growth recommendations are near the bottom of a very long list. And quite honestly, I don’t know if it even matters because of the opaque way the report is written makes a reader wonder if the government is offering any true legislative protection for our rare ancient forests. What else can you think when the report says old growth logging will be “deferred” in nine areas of the province instead of being ended to save what little we have left?

The government tips its hand on Page 28 when it says, “for over 100 years, the timber industry has been a central part of the provincial economy” and  goes on to say the obvious, “the industry depends heavily on cutting trees in old primary forests,” a veiled warning that industry will continue to call the shots in B.C. forest management  and “talk and log” will remain the government’s official policy in our rapidly shrinking old growth forests until the only old growth stands left in the province will be in Stanley Park and a few other parks scattered around B.C.

Unfortunately, it has always been thus.

As far back as the early 1920s, the biggest lumber baron in B.C.’s history was warning the public what to expect if the industry didn’t change its ways. “It is generally known amongst the few well informed that the forest is being over-cut at a devastating rate,” said H.R. MacMillan, head of MacMillan Bloedel and Powell River Co., for years the biggest lumber company in B.C. until it was sold to an American corporation in 2006.

MacMillan was so powerful in his day that the government made him the province’s Chief Forester, an abject admission that the logging companies were running the show, not the government.

Years later, former logging baron and MLA Gordon Gibson, “Bull of the Woods” as he was known, uttered his infamous phrase in the B.C. Legislature “money talks” meaning logging permits were often issued to friends of the government that were out to make the biggest profit they could out of the woods and do nothing else.

In his 1984 book ‘Heritage Lost,’ by Donald MacKay, the author states, “Saving and renewing our forest heritage must certainly involve a change of philosophy from mining the forest to treating it like a renewable heritage.” Has much changed since MacKay wrote these words?

Not if you believe Ken Wu, the former Director of the Ancient Forest Alliance. “It’s largely talk and log in a lot of cases, with loopholes big enough to drive thousands of logging trucks through.”

Despite this, several forest policy critics in B.C. say the report written by professional foresters Al Gorley and Garry Merkel offers some hope that B.C.’s industry-biased forest policies could change to a friendlier ecological model if the government heeds at least some of the report’s recommendations.

In an article in The Narwhal, Merkel says If the government acts soon on the report’s recommendations, “we will get incrementally better over time.”

Even former Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says change has got to come. “Obviously, it’s not good for the industry to cut it all down, if there’s no plan for transition. And we know that unchecked logging in old growth threatens crucial biodiversity values.”

So will the almighty dollar and the jobs it provides continue to rule B.C.’s green treasure or will a more balanced policy evolve that recognizes the critical role the forest plays in providing an environment that supports almost every life form on the planet and thousands of jobs.?

In B.C., the public owns 94% of the forest land that the companies are privileged to log. In other words, as owners of the public forest lands, we could change the destructive logging policies of the past.

But are we willing to do it? That’s the question.

Lead image: Old growth logging on Vancouver Island. Gerry Warner photo

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who loves B.C.’s old growth forests, what there are left of them.

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