Comox Valley Decries 'Extinction Level' Logging

The urgency to protect BC's dwindling old-growth is reflected in climate and biodiversity science

Gavin MacRae

Demonstrators carry cutouts of MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and Premier John Horgan

Thursday June 6, around 120 protesters marched through downtown Courtenay as part of a wider campaign calling on the BC government to protect the province’s remaining old growth forests.

The rally began at the Courtenay courthouse and moved through downtown to the office of MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard before culminating at the intersection of 6th St. and Duncan Avenue.

Leonard had been formally invited to meet and speak with the demonstrators, but declined, said one of the event organizers.

In a comic move intended to underscore political double-talk, event organizers held-up cardboard cutouts of the heads of Leonard, BC Premier John Horgan and BC Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson. On-the-record quotes from the politicians were read aloud while demonstrators turned their backs to the effigies.

Seven speakers gave short speeches at the demonstration, including: Will Cole-Hamilton, Courtenay city Councillor; Vickey Brown, Cumberland village Councillor; Nalan Goosen, leader of Youth Environmental Action; Galen Armstrong, a campaigner for Sierra Club BC; Esther Muirhead, a logging activist from Denman Island; Mark de Bruijn, nominee for the Green Party candidate for North Island – Powell River; and Loys Maignon, a chairman of the not-for-profit group Comox Valley Nature.

In his speech, Maignon linked unrestrained old-growth logging in BC to the climate and biodiversity crises. He described humanity at a fork in the road, with one path fighting back from the brink and the other leading “to oblivion.”

Global raw timber harvests have increased by 45 per cent, reaching 4 billion cubic metres in 2017

Maignon’s message was not hyperbole.

The largest assessment of global biodiversity ever undertaken was released in May by the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

The findings of the report show human exploitation of the natural world is driving a million species to extinction. Over a third of mammals, 40 per cent of amphibians and a third of corals are threatened.

“Direct exploitation of organisms” (harvesting, hunting, fishing, logging) is second only to land and sea use changes such as expanding agricultural lands in driving biodiversity declines, according to the report.

Since 1970, the assessment found that global raw timber harvests have increased by 45 per cent, reaching 4 billion cubic metres in 2017.

On Vancouver Island, this pace has seen about 80 per cent of productive old growth logged, said Jens Wieting, senior forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club BC. He calls the push to cut what remains “extinction level logging.”

With big trees becoming scarce, logging companies are felling “shrinking islands of intact habitat for species that depend on ancient trees, in a growing ocean of ecologically impoverished young forest not allowed to grow old again,” Wieting said.

These remaining old-growth forests have unique cultural value to Indigenous nations, as well as economic value to tourism and to citizens’ quality of life, he said.

Unlogged old-growth areas also tend to be on steeper grades, and logging comes with increased risk of landslides.

“We know based on the science used in the Great Bear rain forest that in the case of coastal old-growth, if you log more than 70 per cent of the different types of ecosystems, it will destroy the web of life,” Wieting said. “That’s when the wheels fall off the ecosystem, whether you look at birds or mosses, ferns, lichens – turns out all those critters big and small will disappear. The ecosystems that remain are patches of forest that are so small that they cannot maintain stable local climates. We are making climate change worse locally by destroying too much intact forest, which means that we will lose even more water in the landscape and have a higher risk of drought, and in other times a higher risk of flooding.”

Schmidt Creek, south of Port McNeill on northern Vancouver Island, is a “poster child” for this type of logging, Wieting said. Logging the steep slopes invites landslides which could discharge gravel into downstream orca “rubbing beaches.” The rubbing beaches are areas where the Northern Resident Community orcas rub their bodies against smooth pebbles in a social activity likened to a massage.

Despite a 2003 report commissioned by the BC Forest Service calling for cautious management of the Schmidt Creek watershed due to the rubbing beaches, Wieting said, “BC Timber Sales is logging hundreds of hectares in that area.”

Schmidt Creek cutblock. (photo by Torrance Coste)

A second example is near Port Renfrew, Canada’s “tall tree capital,” where BC Timber Sales plans to sell 109 hectares of old-growth, including two hectares that come within 50 metres of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, according to reporting by the Times Colonist.

“People are very concerned and pointing out that this is an economic issue,” Wieting said. “It will undermine long-term economic value for tourism and the quality of life, too, clearly. People are so angry because they really cherish those forests close to home.”

All the secondary forest gets logged over and over again, before old growth features grow back

The argument that old-growth logging is a “jobs versus the environment” issue doesn’t hold up, Weiting said. He pointed to recent announcements of sawmill closures at the same time the industry is taking every opportunity to increase profits and reduce jobs through increased mechanization.

“They’re also very interested in exporting some of the old-growth as raw logs instead of seeking to ensure that if we log the forest that we seek the maximum number of jobs per cubic metre [of timber],” he said.

Doug Donaldson, the Minister of Forests, is fudging the numbers on how much old-growth on Vancouver Island is protected, according to Wieting. By reporting 55 per cent of the remaining old-growth as protected, instead of basing the percentage relative to the original state of the forests prior to any logging, “in the near future they can report that we have 100 per cent protected old-growth – all they have to do is continue to destroy the unprotected old-growth.”

“The BC government seems to be entrenched in the old thinking that we have a limitless resource in old-growth. They refer to sustainable management of old-growth logging, despite the fact that this is a non-renewable resource, because they are not allowing young forests to grow old again. All the secondary forest gets logged over and over again, before old growth features grow back. They are stressed-out about finding fibre. They are in denial about the impact of climate change on environmental services, and that business as usual will make climate impacts worse…. Intact forests are our last defense to mitigate some of these climate impacts, and the government is not acting based on science. Instead, they continue to use short term profits as a decision making factor.”

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