Forestry Flim-Flam

Industry disinformation props up a badly outdated status quo

Op-ed by Hans Tammemagi

Like clockwork, corporations launch campaigns of denial and misinformation whenever anything is proposed that threatens their revenue stream.

Such tactics have been used, for example, by tobacco companies, the corporations that put lead in gasoline, the companies that made the spray cans and refrigerants that depleted the ozone layer, and today’s frenzied campaign by oil and coal companies to deny that carbon dioxide leads to global warming.

An excellent example is the automotive industry, which fought tooth and nail to stop the US Clean Air Act in the ‘70s. They claimed that meeting such “draconian” emission standards would be next to impossible, and, if they could be met, would be inordinately expensive, cause a massive loss of jobs, and put the automotive industry out of business. Of course, it was only another industry misinformation campaign. Soon after, the catalytic converter was invented – followed by electronic fuel injection, computerized engine control, onboard emission diagnostics and more. Instead of going under, the automotive industry flourished, and emissions per car have dropped to 10% of what they were before the Clean Air Act.1

BC’s forestry industry is no different. Since money and resources are plentiful, and truth and ethics are easily cast aside, it’s not surprising their misinformation campaign rolls right along. The “modern” forestry method is to log large old growth trees until they’re gone – this is a cornerstone of the industry.2 Other key methods include using clearcuts and planting, and rotating monoculture plantations every 50 to 80 years. This wipes out iconic old Mother Trees, creates ugly vistas (not tourist friendly), causes landslides and floods, silting of salmon streams and, worst of all, drastically reduces biodiversity, the very cornerstone of nature and our own wellbeing. Profit comes first and the industry will do anything to ensure it keeps rolling in. Unfortunately, the provincial NDP government plays right along.

Salsbury Lake

Salsbury Lake | Credit ©Joe Foy

The misinformation campaign of BC’s forestry industry is built around two main falsehoods.

The first is particularly effective, albeit misleading and wrong. The industry claims that stopping the logging of old-growth trees, as has been recommended by several prominent studies and was promised in the NDP government’s election campaign, would cause massive job losses.

The government has turned its pre-election position upside down and now protects the logging of old-growth timber. This is likely because, as the BC Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development recently explained, 4,500 jobs could be lost if the deferrals in logging old-growth trees became permanent (the Tyee, Nov. 10, 2021). Like the automotive industry’s response to the Clean Air Act, this is total rubbish.

Halting the logging of old growth timber would provide a powerful incentive to find innovative new approaches.

The NDP is shirking its responsibility. Old growth only forms a small fraction of BC’s forests. There are plenty of younger trees, which can form the basis for a viable and vibrant forestry industry. Since the 1990s the industry has been in decline and needs a major rethink, and the government should lead this charge.

For example, there should be a shift to locally-managed forests, which create 50% more jobs per unit of wood than the industry average (BC Community Forest Association, 2017). In addition, communities take good care of the forests because it is their bailiwick and the community cares. Industry needs to re-tool the timber mills so they can handle smaller logs. This is critically important and could make an enormous improvement. At the same time, government incentives should be offered to make value-added timber products, as they do in Scandinavia. The forestry industry should also embrace ecoforestry, a method of logging that protects the biodiversity and resilience of the forest. The government should stop the exporting of raw logs, an action that is making Canada an international laughing stock.

People are clever, and just like the catalytic converter was invented, so new methods of harvesting and working with existing trees will emerge. Halting the logging of old growth timber would provide a powerful incentive to find such innovative new approaches.

The second piece of misinformation is so blatantly wrong it’s hard to believe it was ever conceived. The government claims that the timber supply provided though the current allowable annual cut process is sustainable, and the industry calls their logging methods “sustainable.” The forestry industry even gets certified as conducting “sustainable” timber harvesting (CSA, Standard Z809:16, 2016).

Chopping down irreplaceable old-growth matriarchs has been certified as being “sustainable.” The logging of BC’s old-growth forests – including around Fairy Creek, the site of Canada’s longest-running logging blockade – has been certified as being “sustainable.” This is Newspeak straight out of Orwell’s 1984.

Little wonder the Competition Bureau has been formally requested to investigate the Canadian Standards Association’s “Sustainable Forest Management” standard. A signatory of the complaint says this certification is meaningless, designed to fool consumers into thinking they’re doing the right thing by buying these products.” (Toronto Star, Sept. 27, 2021) That the CSA’s certification process for forestry was initiated by, and is controlled by, the forest industry, speaks volumes about the industry’s power, deep pockets, and influence.

Instead of gullibly falling for blatant misinformation, the provincial government should develop forestry policies that add jobs, increase revenues, grow tax income, and result in healthier forests and safer communities.


A former environmental consultant/scientist and adjunct professor, Hans Tammemagi has penned ten books and hundreds of articles.


 

  1. Tammemagi, Hans, Air: Our Planet’s Ailing Atmosphere, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 2009
  2. From personal communications, which I have documented. Chris Harvey, of the Teal-Jones Group (BC’s largest privately-owned coastal forestry company), which is certified under CSA Z809:16, claimed her company logs old-growth timber to survive economically. “Old growth is an absolutely essential part for us to harvest. We can’t be economically viable if we log 100% second growth. And this is true for other companies as well.” Harvey is a registered professional forester and a member of the Technical Committee for CSA Standard Z809:16.

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