For Immediate Release
July 17, 2020
BC Government’s announces protection for 54 of BC’s biggest trees.
Conservationists consider it a first small step forward, with a long way to go
The BC government announced today that it would be protecting 54 of the biggest trees in the province, with surrounding 1 hectare forested buffer zones (see the BC government’s media release: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2019FLNR0189-001452)
The 54 previously unprotected trees are distributed among 13 species, listed on the BC Big Tree Registry (see https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/BG_Big_tree_list.pdf). The province also announced that the big tree protection policy is still being expanded, as is a much larger, more comprehensive old-growth forest management policy (whereby stakeholder and community input will be solicited via a two person panel chaired by foresters Al Gorley and Gary Merkel starting sometime this fall).
“We welcome the protection of the 54 largest trees in the province, the biggest of BC’s big trees. Just as we have laws to protect 100 year old heritage buildings, it makes sense to protect our biggest and oldest 500 or 1000 year old heritage trees. This is a first small step forward – with a long way to go to urgently save what remains of our old-growth forest ecosystems on a much vaster scale,” stated Ken Wu, executive director of the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance (who was previously the executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Wilderness Committee’s Victoria chapter), who has worked to protect BC’s big trees and old-growth forests for almost three decades now.
“This announcement protects the most charismatic fraction of BC’s endangered old-growth forests, sort of like protecting the 54 largest elephants. It’s a good thing. At the same time thousands of others remain endangered, as are their ecosystems, the most important of all. So it’s a start, albeit a very small start. The fact that the BC government says that they plan more protection for big trees and also potentially old-growth ecosystem protections gives us some hope – but let’s see where they go with this,” stated Wu.
Old-growth forest protection must occur at all spatial scales – to protect the biggest trees (with buffer zones), grandest groves, whole valleys and watersheds (and “landscape units” or clusters of valleys), and whole regions and ecosystems. Today’s government announcement tackles a fraction of the first spatial scale, the biggest of the big trees. “This is sort of like saving a small part of the cherry on the cake - albeit a cake that has already been 80% eaten”, stated Wu.
A comprehensive, effective big tree protection policy would require several key components to be effective – mandatory buffer zones of several hectares around each big tree, protection of the grandest groves, reasonable threshold sizes of trees (based on regions and natural disturbance types or ecosystems) that are low enough to encompass several thousand of the largest trees (the current diameter thresholds are too high), and with no logging loopholes (eg. exemptions that allow for logging if the trees block access to cutblocks, are deemed “safety hazards” under tenuous circumstances – which is a non-issue if there are mandatory buffer zones as fallers will not be near them, or are deemed “unnecessary” due to the presence of other big trees within nearby protected areas). This current announcement, based on 54 trees, is not a systematic, comprehensive big tree protection policy, nor is it an ecosystem protection policy.
“It should be noted that this is not an expansive big tree protection policy – which they’ve noted is still coming – nor is it a surrogate for science-based, landscape-level protection of old-growth ecosystems, which is our primary goal. But the BC NDP government is for the first time sending some signals that they may go further – let’s hope substantially,” state Wu. “We encourage them to enact a science-based ecosystem-scale old-growth protection plan, and to not fumble their ensuing policies by being tone-deaf, stubborn old dinosaurs, sticking with the destructive, unsustainable status quo of liquidating the last old-growth forests during their first governing electoral term since 2001, and then having to face the negative political consequences.”
The BC government has announcement that they will be amending the BC Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) in the spring of 2020, which may include amendments that can protect old-growth forest ecosystems on a large scale.
To protect old-growth forests, science-based targets for all ecosystem types that distinguish between forest productivity gradients (eg. stunted bog forests versus big trees) and that ensures the adequate representation, long-term viability based on conservation biology and landscape ecology, and resiliency in the face of climate change of forest ecosystems are needed. The emphasis on timber extraction over biodiversity protection in existing forestry legislation must be removed, while loopholes in old-growth protection must be closed, like failing to distinguish between stunted bog and scrub forests versus monumental stands with big trees in designating Old-Growth Forest Management Areas (OGMA) or allowing OGMA boundaries to be “shifted” around to trade formerly protected big trees to be logged while instead saving smaller trees, or logging old-growth stands while saving second-growth stands which will “eventually” become old-growth.
Regulations and incentives are needed to foster a value-added, second-growth forest industry. Perhaps most importantly, support including conservation financing from the province and federal government are needed to help First Nations communities undertake sustainable business enterprises while developing new land-use plans that protect old-growth forests.
Old-growth forest are important for sustaining endangered species, tourism, the climate, clean water, wild salmon, and many First Nations cultures.
Already about 79% of Vancouver Island’s productive old-growth forests have been logged (about 21%, or under 500,000 hectares, remain), including well over 90% of the valley bottoms where the largest trees grow, while only about 8% of the original, productive old-growth forests are protected in parks and Old-Growth Management Areas. The BC government often cites vastly inflated statistics on the amount of remaining and protected old-growth forests by including vast areas of low-productivity, stunted bog and subalpine forests with small “bonsai” trees in the figures, while conveniently ignoring the amount of old-growth forests that once stood across the entire land base – an act of sophistry and public relations spin that will hopefully end if old-growth protection policies move forward.
The BC Green Party has been resolute in calling for the full protection of BC’s endangered old-growth forests via a science-based plan, while supporting a value-added, second-growth forest industry.