Revelstoke activists and foresters criticize logging deferrals, citing lack of local involvement

Following the announcement of 2.6 million hectares of old growth deferral, Revelstoke-area environmental activists, foresters, and Indigenous leaders are criticizing the provincial government for overlooking local consultation, leading to economic hardship.

File photo: Demonstrators at the second Old Growth Revylution blockade this summer. Photo contributed by Old Growth Revylution.

Local environmental activists, foresters, and Indigenous leaders are raising concerns about the recently announced old growth deferrals, citing a lack of local consultation that could lead to economic hardship.

On Nov. 2, the provincial government announced the deferral of logging for over 2.6 million hectares of old growth. The news came following a summer of protests, and the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.

While the Old Growth Revylution (OGR) blockade 120 kilometres north of Revelstoke remains peaceful, not all volunteers are celebrating the deferral announcement. 

“We’re not just talking about the trees,” says Sarah Newton, a volunteer with OGR. “We are concerned about impacts on communities, and we want them [provincial authorities] to be very clear in how they’re going to protect the livelihoods of forestry sector workers.”

File photo: A skidder at work on the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation tenure. Photo: Bryce Borlick

Unfortunately, the forestry sector is already bracing for impact.

According to Mike Copperthwaite, general manager of the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation (RCFC), the city-owned company lost approximately 32 per cent of it’s timber harvesting landbase. However, he is “confident the impact will be worse, roughly in the 50 to 60 per cent range.”

“I understand the government is calling this a two-year deferral, but for [the] RCFC the impact is immediate. It will be a struggle for us to operate over the next few years, and possibly [the] RCFC may not be viable into the future,” warns Copperthwaite.

Unclear data mapping results in confusion and concern amongst foresters

Despite differing opinions surrounding old growth logging, foresters and environmental activists share frustrations surrounding unclear communication from the provincial government.

As explained by Copperthwaite, the provincial government used units of measurement not commonly used within the forestry industry, instead of labelling the deferral areas by logging blocks, the province uses hectares.

A close-up screenshot of the Priority Deferral Map released by the province. Areas marked with red, pink or dark blue are recommended for deferral. Photo: Government of B.C.

“For instance, if you have an area that you intend to log of 20 hectares, and there is one hectare [of deferred area] in it, is it just the one hectare that we can’t log? Or is it the whole block?” Copperthwaite elaborated, recounting questions left unanswered by the provincial announcement.

“For someone trying to manage the land base, it makes it difficult when we don’t know the rules,” he adds.

The timing of the deferrals are an additional hit to the forestry sector, explains Copperthwaite. It takes approximately one year to plan and assess one cutblock, with most assessments requiring snow-free conditions. Therefore, planning new cutblocks for 2022 is nearly impossible.

According to Copperthwaite, 90 per cent of the RCFC’s proposed blocks for 2022 are impacted by deferrals.

The timing reflects a lack of consultation with local foresters. This violates the recommendations outlined in the Technical Advisory Panel, says Newton. She highlights compensations for forestry workers, which were mentioned by the provincial government but not specifically clarified.

“One of the recommendations is a just transition for these forestry workers, and we want to hold them [provincial authorities] to that,” she elaborates. “We will not accept this idea that environmentalist groups are bringing down these resource communities when in fact, it’s [the] faulty government policy for the last three decades.”

Although they use deferral mapping for different reasons, Newton says OGR is waiting for improved mapping of the area to reevaluate their blockade. From there, they will be “monitoring and moving” based on which areas of the interior temperate rainforest are deferred. For now, the status Argonaut Creek remains uncertain.

File photo: A photo taken by Wildsight members in June of logging in the Bigmouth area about 120 kilometres north of Revelstoke off of Highway 23. Photo: Bailey Repp/Wildsight

Rebuilding the communication breakdown

As foresters and activists anxiously await more details from the province, Indigenous leaders are speaking out about the unrealistic timeline.

For the deferral process, the provincial government claims to be relying heavily on input from Indigenous communities. However, statements emerging describe the 30-day deadline as “asking Nations to hurry up and respond.”

“Although some Nations may have the resources, capacity and government-to-government (G2G) tables that support joint decision making and may be ready to move quickly, many Nations don’t and will not be ready to make those decisions,” said the BC First Nations Forestry Council in a Nov. 3 statement.

“Thirty days to respond is trying to rush Nations into making decisions that, once again, in no way supports an informed and meaningful consultation process.”

As environmental activists, Indigenous groups, and foresters criticize the rollout of the logging deferrals, it poses the question: who was this announcement for?

With over 30 years in the forestry sector, Copperthwaite says he rarely sees deferred land become available for harvesting. Now, he is facing difficult decisions about the future of the RCFC.

Like thousands of British Columbians employed in the forestry sector, Copperthwaite is anxiously waiting for updates. His tone is somber, but firm.

“If there’s a paradigm shift in how we manage forests in B.C., the people that are affected need to be taken care of.”

Update: Mike Copperwhaite would like to clarify the following regarding provincial deferral mapping: 
“The data they [the provincial government] supplied is in a format that uses pixels and each square pixel is one hectare in size.  So when you try to analyze the data and zoom in to identify the timber type polygon it overlaps, is very coarse and doesn’t line up very well.”
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Bailey Gingras-Hamilton is a recent graduate of the Mount Royal University Journalism program, where she developed an interest in current events and social issues. As a chronically curious individual, she enjoys exploring new places, cuisines, and cultures.