The provincial government, by ignoring science, has fostered social unrest.
By Loys Maingon and John Neilson
GOVERNMENTS THAT IGNORE SCIENCE imperil the public interest, as we have seen nationally with COVID. BC Supreme Court Justice Thompson found that for the past six months, RCMP activities at Fairy Creek, supported by BC’s government, defied the public interest. Where was science at Fairy Creek, and, as it fostered social unrest, did BC’s government listen to science?
The stand-off in the rapidly-disappearing old-growth forests of southern British Columbia has resulted in over twelve months of public protest, five months of unwarranted RCMP violence, the arrest of over 1100 citizens, as well as the destruction of populations of endangered species. Yet the BC government has shown no leadership in resolving the crisis. We argue that the BC government showed utter disregard for the role of science, and in doing so, it ignored the crucial socially-unifying role of science that could have resolved contentious issues.
Science is our collective common ground. You cannot argue against the facts. Science is neither a government plot nor an individually-held set of beliefs. Science is an objective set of established facts in which diverse communities can find common ground. It is a good government’s obligation to find common ground for all citizens. As noted recently by John Kerry: “Science delivers the clarity of knowledge.”
Justice Douglas Thompson’s ruling has ended an injunction that brought the law, and science, into disrepute. The abhorrent spectacle of public unrest and police violence that British Columbians have witnessed over the past year at Fairy Creek as well as the associated taxpayers’ costs of an extended police presence, were totally avoidable, had the government of BC respected its own forestry and environmental guidelines, and collected minimal scientific information before authorizing logging operations.
In May of this year Dr. Royann Petrell documented the presence of a hitherto undocumented population of an at-risk species, Western Screech owl (Megascops kennicottii) in the Caycuse to Port Renfrew region. That new knowledge alone should have triggered a pause and review of logging plans. As scientists, it signalled to us the need to review all available information on other species at risk that could be affected.
A Western Screech owl. This blue-listed species was found nesting in the vicinity of Teal Cedar logging operations. (Photo by Dominic Sherony via Wikipedia)
A search for information about species-at-risk in the Fairy Creek area revealed that no biological survey had actually been carried out prior to the issuance of logging permits. There was no knowledge of what species might be extirpated or destroyed by clearcutting. The government, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) and the industry were proceeding without any “clarity of knowledge.” Regrettably, that seems to be routine practice. In BC, logging proceeds without clear knowledge of its impacts on biodiversity, as determined in the recent BC Forest Practices Board’s Nahmint decision.
We formed a group of professional scientists and naturalists to carry out a rapid, systematic survey of the Fairy Creek watershed in mid-May. As we were denied access by the RCMP we informed the minister of FLNRO of our concerns and sought ministerial permits to obtain objective information. A dismissive response was only had after an Ombudsman complaint. Nevertheless, access was facilitated by Chiefs Bill Jones and Victor Peter, and we were able to carry out two short surveys. The results can be found on the INaturalist website “Fairy Creek Research” where we document the presence of 325 species.
In spite of limited access, we readily identified 16 previously undocumented listed species-at-risk, ranging from Little Brown Bats ( Myotis lucifugus) to the rare blue-listed oldgrowth specklebelly lichen ( Pseudocyphellaria rainierensis ). This is a species of lichens for which BC has committed to the federal government “to secure long-term protection for the known populations and habitats.…” A young artist/naturalist, Tasha Lavdovsky, found this unique population in June on both living trees and trees felled by Teal Cedar in contravention of FLNRO guidelines for this vulnerable species. We informed Teal Cedar, FLNRO staff and the minister via the BC Forest Practices Board. Teal Cedar responded, acknowledging its receipt of the “important information,” but no plan was offered by either Teal or the provincial government on how they intended to protect the rare species. Incredibly, Teal Cedar has now resumed its logging operations in the immediate vicinity of the rare lichens, and reports from the field indicate that more host trees have been destroyed.
Natasha Lavdovsky looking at oldgrowth specklebelly growing side by side with Lobaria linita (the greener lichen), on a tree marked with falling boundary tape, indicating the edge of a future clearcut beside a creek/riparian reserve (photo by Natasha Lavdovsky)
It is doubtful that many British Columbians would approve of the needless destruction of endangered species. Yet, it happens all the time and is facilitated by a government that has failed to meet its 2017 promise that it would enact species-at-risk legislation. This same government also campaigned in 2020 on the promise that it would implement every recommendation of the Merkel/Gorley report on old growth, A New Future for Old Forests, submitted in April 2020. Since early August 2021, the cabinet has been in possession of the report of the “Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel.” Yet this government continues to display a collective amnesia concerning its past public promises to improve its forestry practices and commitments to protect biodiversity.
By its own inactions, BC’s government has denied itself and all British Columbians the benefits of clarity of knowledge. A government that proceeds without clarity of knowledge can only lay the foundation for social chaos and conflict. This summer’s events at Fairy Creek are a confirmation of that. The end of the injunction provides an important opportunity for all parties to work together to reach mutually-agreeable conclusions. We call on this government to act on science to find common ground for all British Columbians.
Loys Maingon (MA, PhD, MSc, RPBio) is research director of the Strathcona Wilderness Institute and BC Director of the Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists.
John Neilson (BSc., MNRM, PhD) is the past co-chair (2016-2019) for Marine Fishes, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and past scientist emeritus (2013-2016) with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.