The B.C. government is expanding logging deferrals within the province’s at-risk old-growth forests.
During a Nov. 2 press conference, authorities announced harvesting deferrals across 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old-growth forest. The temporary deferrals, recommended in the 2020 Old Growth Strategic Review, aim to protect biodiversity while First Nations, the province and other partners develop sustainable forest management plans.
Maps of the targeted deferral areas have been shared with Indigenous leaders within their respective territories. The province asks that affected First Nations indicate within the next 30 days if they “support the deferrals, require further engagement to incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge, or would prefer to discuss deferrals through existing treaties.”
Additionally, the province is ceasing the advertising and selling of BC Timber Sales in the affected areas.
For the thousands of British Columbians employed in the forestry industry, the provincial government is enhancing pre-existing support programs to aid workers with the transition.
Old growth Technical Advisory Panel releases findings
To map the deferral areas, the province used recommendations from an independent Technical Advisory Panel (TAP).
TAP findings separate British Columbia’s old-growth into three categories: big-treed, ancient and rare. The remaining unprotected ancient and rare old growth forests, approximately 0.4 million hectares and 0.5 million hectares respectively, are recommended for deferral.
While TAP states that big-treed old growth is “now very rare compared to its historic distribution, putting it at extremely high near-term risk,” the panel advised that 1.7 million hectares of the remaining unprotected 4.1 million hectares be deferred. Under TAP recommendations, approximately 40 per cent of provincial big-treed old growth remains available for harvest.
However, the TAP emphasizes that “deferral is not equivalent
to protection; deferral maintains at-risk old forests in the short-term.”
Other immediate measures mentioned in the Old Growth Strategic Review timeline include improved public data and compliance with previous standards.
Industry and opposition leaders react
The deferrals follow the biggest case of civil disobedience in Canadian history, and the B.C. NDP is already facing criticism from industry representatives and opposition.
According to Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries, the deferrals could “result in the closure of between 14 and 20 sawmills,” threatening approximately 18,000 jobs.
“It is unfortunate that the panel has advanced their recommendations without due consideration for the impacts on the people and communities who depend on the forest, including a small portion of old growth, for their livelihoods,” said Yurkovich.
Despite emphasizing Indigenous involvement during the announcement, the B.C. Green Party highlights a lack of long-term planning.
“Deferrals are important, but they must be paired with significant funding, and informed by a long-term vision for the paradigm shift that is necessary if we are going to truly manage forests for ecosystem health in B.C.,” said Sonia Furstenau, leader of the B.C. Green Party.