Industrial logging or clear-cutting timber stands without equal input on the biodiversity impact of the areas being logged remains a concern for environment protection advocates. (Binny Paul photo)

Paradigm shift in timber harvesting long overdue: Ecologist speaks at UBCO

Rachel Holt says industry pushing back against logging limitations

A prominent ecologist is raising alarms current old-growth forest management strategies won’t impose the paradigm shift needed to preserve B.C.’s timber harvesting industry while protecting the area ecosystems where the logs are removed from.

Rachel Holt, with Veridian Ecological Consulting, said the idea that timber harvesting is a driving economic force that can avoid cultural and ecological value consequences is outdated thinking.

Holt is worried about the buy-in philosophy of the small group of forest companies controlling the land-use practices for a large majority of the forestry land base, further muddled by statistical assessment of old-growth forest inventory across the province that she calls meaningless.

“There is denial about the fact we have a problem on B.C.’s forestry land base which is pushed by industry, who are lobbying to try to make this issue go away,” Holt said.

“That is one of the barriers to effective policy,” she added that places a higher priority on the preservation of ecosystems in determining where logging takes place.

Holt made the comments as a panellist on a virtual presentation by Alumni UBC entitled, ‘Old Growth Forests: What is the Path Forward?’, held on Thursday (April 7).

Holt said while old growth is disappearing globally, with implications for biodiversity, forest resilience and carbon storage, uncertainty remains about how much actually exists in B.C., partly because assessments stratify ecosystems differently, sometimes obscuring relevant patterns.

While the province recently made announcements about old-growth logging deferrals, Holt said the actual impact of that is misleading because of combining different types of old-growth creates a large number not representative of the actual tree age classifications on the ground.

“One of the fallacies of this kind of thinking is taking credit for saving some of our forests you never intended to log in the first place,” she said.

She cited other factors that fall under the changed paradigm of thinking: that carbon preservation is not only an opportunity but a necessity as the impact of climate change unfolds; that creating two jobs per cubic metre harvest in B.C. falls far short of the 30-plus standard in Europe; that sending rough cut or harvested logs to a country like New Zealand to be manufactured and then returned to B.C. for sale needs to stop.

“Those logs need to be processed here in B.C…why is it more economical for forest companies to do that needs to be looked at and they have to stop doing it,” she said, citing export log policies are not allowing the value-added side of lumber production to reach its job-creating potential in B.C.

Cam Brown, a professional forester consultant, said 21 per cent of B.C.’s forests fall under the old-growth category, which is about 11 million hectares, and about 75 per cent of that is unlikely to ever be logged.

He said the old-growth is not relegated much to big tree growth, that most old-growth forest now falls under medium or small tree categories.

“We have gone from harvest equals growth from the ’40s to the ’90s, then a change in the ’90s to balance of timber and non-timber objectives, to now where we look more to integrated land use planning,” Brown said.

Assisting with that evolution, Brown said, was greater involvement and weight given to Indigenous input along with longer-term logging strategies relegated more to regional decision-making to place greater emphasis on eco-system prevention.

“It is not just old-growth values that are at play here, which is part of the evolution of sustainable forest management,” he said.

READ MORE: Westbank First Nation wins excellence in community forestry award

READ MORE: Logging practices increase risk of climate change disasters in B.C.: report

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