No harvesting will be allowed on nearly 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of old-growth in British Columbia as the province and First Nations throughout it develop a new approach to sustainable forest management.
“Our government’s new vision for forestry is one where we better care for our most ancient and rarest forests, First Nations are full partners in forest management, and communities and workers benefit from secure, innovative jobs for generations to come,” says Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests. “By deferring harvest of nearly 1.7 million hectares of old-growth, we are providing the time and space we need to work together to develop a new, more sustainable way to manage BC’s forests.”
The 1.7 million hectares figure is down from the BC government’s original intention to defer 2.6 million hectares. BC Council of Forest Industries stated the deferrals would have a devastating impact across the province, resulting in multiple sawmill closures, as well as pulp mills and value-added facilities.
The government’s plan is based on recommendations from a panel of advisors with ties to environmental organizations. Known as the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel, it has come under criticism from some sectors of the forest products industry.
A recent independent study commissioned by the Council of Forest Industries of forest inventory indicates BC has about 11.4 million hectares (28.2 million acres) of old forests, the majority of which—more than 75%—is already protected or is outside the timber harvesting land base.
In November 2021, the Province announced it would engage with First Nations to find agreement on deferring harvest of old-growth forests. As recommended by the Old Growth Strategic Review, logging deferrals are a temporary measure to prevent irreversible biodiversity loss while a new, long-term approach to old-growth management that prioritizes ecosystem health and community resiliency throughout BC is developed.
Government received responses from 188 out of the 204 First Nations in B.C. To date, 75 First Nations have agreed to defer harvest of at-risk old-growth in their territory. Seven First Nations have indicated they are opposed to any deferrals proceeding in their territory. More than 60 First Nations have requested more time to decide.
As a result of these engagements, deferrals have been implemented on approximately 1.05 million hectares of BC’s most at-risk old growth, which are ancient, remnant and priority large stands identified by the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel. This includes areas where sales have been paused by BC Timber Sales while engagements with First Nations are ongoing. In total, more than 80% of the priority at-risk old-growth identified by the advisory panel is currently not threatened by logging because they are already protected, covered by deferrals or uneconomic to harvest, according to the Panel.
In addition to biodiversity, many First Nations expressed interest in managing old-growth on their territory in support of broader, related values such as wildlife habitat, cultural practices, clean water, healthy salmon populations and species at risk. As a result of integrated land-use planning processes underway, deferrals have also been implemented on another 619,000 hectares of old-growth forests.
The new Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship will have a crucial role to play in supporting the implementation of 14 recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review in partnership with First Nations. Government is working towards a new Old Growth Strategy for BC to be completed in 2023.
Budget 2022 provides an additional $185 million over three years to provide coordinated and comprehensive supports for forestry workers, industry, communities and First Nations who may be affected by new restrictions on old-growth logging. This includes funding for short-term employment opportunities for contractors and their workers, rural economic diversification and infrastructure projects, bridging to retirement for older workers, education and skills training, and on-the-ground economic development and community support services.
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