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  • Warning: Old-growth deferral areas are not what you might think they are

    David Broadland

    A high-level ministry of forests official implied that logging will be allowed in recently announced old-growth deferral areas.


    JUST BEFORE FORESTS MINISTER KATRINE CONROY announced 2-year deferrals on logging of old growth in 2.6 million hectares of BC forest, a virtual “technical” press briefing was held. The presenters were high-level officials of the ministry of forests. The ministry didn’t want reporters to actually report on what was said at that event, and the regular contingent of pundits and reporters who attended appear to have obediently complied with the “not for attribution” proviso. With respect, I decline to be obedient—or fooled again.

    One of the questions asked by a reporter—and the response from Assistant Deputy Minister David Muter—was so informative that I feel compelled to report what I heard (and recorded). Below is the reporter’s question followed by Muter’s response.

    Reporter: “In the past, old-growth deferral areas still allowed for logging of second growth, cutting new forestry roads, that type of thing. People saw some major activity in and around some major trees. Is that still allowed here? Is it still allowed to have activity in deferral areas, logging in and around the rare and ancient trees?”

    Assistant Deputy Minister David Muter: “I think you are asking about the deferral areas done in September 2020, and those deferral orders prevented the harvest of old growth within the identified areas. That was just under approximately 200,000 hectares of old growth identified and the order prevented the harvest of old growth in those stands. There were some specific exemptions in the minister’s order for cultural harvest to support Indigenous nations and I think there was some specific aspects that allowed the removal of hazardous trees. But these orders prevented the harvest of old growth within identified areas.”

    Muter then paused, long enough for the facilitator to think he had finished. Perhaps realizing that he hadn’t actually answered the reporter’s question, Muter went on: “The recommendations from the panel are to prevent the harvest of old growth in these identified areas of 2.6 million hectares and that’s going to be the focus of our discussions with Indigenous nations based on that recommendation.”

    In the end, Muter didn’t answer the reporter’s question directly, which was: Is logging of “second growth” trees and development of logging roads in the deferral areas going to be allowed? Muter’s response was that “harvest” of old-growth in those areas would be deferred.

    I emailed Muter asking that he clarify whether logging would be allowed in the deferral areas. He didn’t respond by my deadline. Instead, a public affairs officer sent a 136-word email that avoided addressing the question.

    My read of Muter’s response to the reporter’s very specific question is that logging will be allowed in these deferral areas. Within a deferral area, unless a tree is “old growth,” it would appear it can be logged. Muter made it clear that this is the case for the “200,000 hectares” where logging of old growth was deferred last year.

    Following Conroy’s public announcement about the deferral areas, I contacted forest scientist Rachel Holt, who was one of five people on the old-growth review panel that had recommended the 2-year logging deferrals on 2.6 million hectares. Holt had not been in attendance at the press briefing.

    I read her the reporter’s question and Muter’s response. Did the issue of whether logging would be allowed in the deferral areas even come up in the months-long discussion with the ministry? It had not, she said, but she didn’t believe that it was the intention of the ministry to allow logging of younger trees around the old-growth trees. Yet that had clearly been the intention of the ministry in its 2020 deferral areas, and it didn’t make that clear at the time, either.

    Holt, along with forest scientist Karen Price and forester Dave Dauss, authored the seminal BC’s Old Growth Forests: A Last Stand for Biodiversity. That report, published in mid-2020, warned of the high risk of biodiversity loss BC faces as a result of over exploitation of old-growth forests. I asked Holt if leaving old trees standing but logging everything between them would provide protection for biodiversity. “No,” she said.

    To give you a picture of what loggable deferrals might look like on the ground, consider the image below. I photographed this group of 250- to 400-year-old Douglas firs in TFL 47 on Quadra Island. The largest tree in this small grove measured 22.5 feet in circumference at breast height. Every single small tree between them, save one, had been removed.



    This is how old growth forest is managed for biodiversity on Quadra Island, which is a Special Management Zone under the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (Photo by David Broadland)


    Old-growth forests are almost always a mix of different tree species of different ages. The younger trees are not plantation regrowth, or “second growth.” They are an essential component of an old-growth forest, which is a dynamic process that can go on for thousands of years. On Quadra Island, like elsewhere, the plants and animals that live in these forests are not found in plantations created by humans following clearcutting: The Northern Goshawk, the Marbelled Murrelet, the Northern Red-legged Frog, the Northern Pygmy Owl, the Wandering Salamander, and so on. They all need a complete old-growth forest to survive, not just the big, old trees.

    In the—let’s call it the old-growth deferral area—on Quadra Island, the ground was littered with logging slash and several unburned piles remained. The land between the trees had been heavily disturbed and machinery had been driven through a small creek; the creek passed through a culvert under a branch of the main road. The road was heavily ballasted with rock which had been obtained by blasting bedrock in the deferral area. Roads like this are unlikely to ever support trees, let alone biodiversity.

    I photographed this area on June 22, just as the “heat dome” was building over the Pacific Northwest. The temperature in the deferral area was almost unbearable, yet intact forest nearby remained cool.



    Managing for old-forest retention and biodiversity in a Special Management Zone means clearcutting around old trees and leaving slash piles, permanent roads and damaged hydrological function (Photo by David Broadland)


    Why were these old trees left by the logging company, TimberWest? This area of Quadra Island was given rare “Special Management Zone” status under the 2004 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. The main objective of SMZ 19 was to “sustain forest ecosystem structure and forest attributes associated with mature and old forests.” Driving that was recognition of the need to preserve “structural forest attributes and elements with important biodiversity functions.” The trees were left to protect against loss of biodiversity, in particular the species listed above.

    Most of the requirements established for SMZ 19 have been ignored by the company and ministry, and the community has lost track of what was supposed to happen.

    Given Muter’s response to the reporter’s question, this appears to be what the ministry of forests has in mind for the 2.6 million hectares of forest that has been mapped as “deferral areas.”

    I asked forester Herb Hammond what effect logging between old trees would have on those forests. Hammond is a well-known advocate for creating a new, ecologically-based relationship between humans and forests.

    Hammond replied, “Logging in old-growth forests destroys old-growth attributes, like multi-layered canopies, irregular canopy gaps, lichen populations throughout the canopy and on the ground, decayed fallen trees. All of these components of an old-growth forest play vital roles, from interception, storage, and filtration of water to provision of unique habitats for specialized species that only live in old-growth forests, like carnivorous beetles necessary to keep herbivorous beetles in check in the surrounding landscape. Simply put, logging in an old-growth deferral area eliminates old-growth protection in that area and just moves us closer to the travesty of losing the benefits of old-growth forests that are vital to maintaining forest integrity, both in the old forests and in the young forests beyond. Logging and old-growth forests is an oxymoron and the height of human-centred thinking.”

    Rachel Holt says: “I feel really positive with where we’re at.” But she also says, “the proof is in the pudding.”

    It is going to take a large, dedicated community of forest watchers to monitor the making of the pudding. The ministry itself is under immense pressure from the logging industry to permit removal of as much of the remaining old-growth forests in the timber harvesting land base as is physically possible. It’s up to the rest of us to guard the larger public interest—protection of our life support systems.

    Read more of David Broadland’ s stories about BC’ s logging industry at evergreenalliance.ca.

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    Thank you, David, for being disobedient.  I am not one of those Canadians who thinks 'this time the government is telling the truth'.

    The BC government is playing with words to try to disguise its destruction of forests. We have to call them out on it.  As Herb Hammond pointed out, we must protect the entire forest ecosystem, not just the old trees in it.

    Let's call them out on their deceptive word play and demand that the BC government protect and conserve forests, millions of hectares of forests, and that includes everything under the ground, on the surface, in the water, and in the air.


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    Thank you for this excellent article.  Thank you for asking the right question.  BC deferrals must protect the Old Growth FORESTS, not just the trees.  Logging road building must stop in these areas as well.  

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    The logging on Quadra Island depicted in your photos and as described by Assistant Deputy Minister David Muter are replicas of the scenario where the forest industry demonstrated, on the landscape, how they “protect” old growth by logging all the trees surrounding Big Lonely Doug but “left” or “protected” this lone giant. Hence their way of protecting old growth shown in spades! 

    What an absolute sham. When the ministry deliberately uses misleading language such as “We will defer logging of old growth in designated areas”—which allows them to log all trees not meeting the “old growth” criteria is blatantly misleading and unethical; whereas use of the language “We will defer all logging in Old Growth areas” is what the majority of people of BC want and should get—their interests well stated.

    Some philosophical comments on the forest industry’s approach to managing BC’s forests vs how they can and should be managed:

    Aldo Leopold said: “The key-log which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” 

    Harvesting all but the oldest trees in an old-growth stand is an “otherwise” action.

    The reflections on the landscape created by all resource professionals should always be ones that exemplify the principles outlined above, with all choices being and reflecting those of ultimate value—with that ultimate value being our complex natural resources existing in healthy, functioning ecosystems.

     Whatever one’s profession, they should always do their utmost to ensure that the landscape they manage reflects that of an ethical, caring and honourable person of high integrity. What is most important to a person is reflected in their decisions; what one does relative to those decisions is solely their choice. Those choices should always be the best choices that clearly reflect the ultimate values inherently present within BC’s natural resources.

    I doubt that many industrial foresters subscribe to this “land ethic,” a belief that is supported by the statements in this regard made by many industrial foresters and government employees and even ministers. Such statements can be described as “doublespeak”—a manner of speaking that apparently says one thing but actually means something much different.

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    One of the things I noticed when beginning a forestry career over 30 years ago is that forestry practises varied as did opinions of what constituted common sense verses legal decisions. I noticed that most big forestry companies has lots of lawyers and biometricians to know what minimum requirements were and what law didn't require them to do. This is ethics guided by profit. Rarely in board rooms do young foresters voice their opinions over shady minimalist practises which often look for short term gain. This tendency to acquiesce to making money is a consequence of poor government policy and leadership. In an absence of stronger rules,, lawyers will always win and the public will loose. This is BC's history in forestry which began long ago when men and women held their heads high and did the right thing because they could tell the difference in good and bad decisions. Money eventually bought these voices and our landscape reflects this today. What better way to see how poor forest policy has changed BC's landscape than to look at the forests and its biodiversity including wildlife. No one working in the forest industry will admit to being apart of this nor will they discuss how logging could be effecting the global climate and local temperature variations. Its as if ALL common sense is gone, The Emperors New Clothes - oblivious, naked and content to carry on. Andrew Weaver stated today on CBC that the climate crisis requires us to be empathetic of how modern forestry policy will effect the industry. If we both take our own sides then nothing will change. This begs the question,, where is our leadership to help the industry, as they must change or we are all doomed. Loggers throwing boulders through car windows is not a path we need and without strong government leadership this is where we are heading. Having a premier that only incites these actions is one whose term has come and gone.

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    I don't like that logging will be allowed in Deferred Areas. But it is par for the course where Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs) are as shifty and transient as sands in a Sahara wind storm. Here today, and gone tomorrow.

    OGMAs were supposed to last for one rotation, until the next harvest cycle, 80 - 100 years later.

    But as we know, they are being harvested much sooner and once harvested the replanted area is still considered as an OGMA, or they designate a different area as an OGMAs to replace the one that was clearcut!!

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    The NIMBYS will NEVER be satisfied no matter where the loggers work or what they are logging. However, they don't mind the great selection of finished wood products at their fingertips.

    There has to be a working forest somewhere so don't look, turn your head and go visit one of our numerous provincial parks to calm yourselves down.

    There's enough trees out there for everybody so just go away.

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    On 2021-11-06 at 8:34 AM, Guest Old time logger said:

    The NIMBYS will NEVER be satisfied no matter where the loggers work or what they are logging. However, they don't mind the great selection of finished wood products at their fingertips.

    First time I've heard "NIMBY" used in the context of the suicidal over-exploitation of BC forests. Not remotely applicable, in my mind.

    Look, very little of what's cut in BC is actually used in BC. The forests ministry puts this at 20 percent. Federal forest scientist Dr Werner Kurz, working for Natural Resources Canada, recently put that at 10 percent.

    As a logger, your life's work is mainly making it possible to export raw logs and pulp to China and 2x4s to the US housing market, not "finished wood products" for British Columbians.

    You may feel entitled to destroy our life support systems for corporate profits and so that you have a job, but that doesn't mean the rest of us are going to ignore the damage you are doing. Of course we are going to try to stop you from killing off life on Earth. If you are an "old time logger" in BC, you have done more damage to those life support systems than any other logger on the planet.


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    The 2.6 million hectares is also a misleading figure in that most of it could not possibly be slated for logging over the 2 year deferral period. The public needs to know how much old-growth slated for imminent logging is being taken off the chopping block, which will be a dramatically reduced figure, showing that perhaps more OG is being logged than deferred, as is the case in the deferrals at Fairy creek and Central Walbran where more most of the approved cutblocks were left outside of the deferral zone which itself contained mostly unapproved cutblocks and roads. 

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    14 hours ago, Guest Garbanzo said:

    The 2.6 million hectares is also a misleading figure in that most of it could not possibly be slated for logging over the 2 year deferral period.

    Thanks for you comment Garbanzo. Your skepticism seems warranted.

    The ministry of forests says that between 2014 and 2018, an average of 55,556 hectares per year of old-growth forest was harvested. Using that figure, we would expect that another 111,000 hectares would be logged over the next 2 years without any deferrals in place.

    111,000 hectares is 4 percent of the 2.6 million hectares that has been deferred. Would anyone actually notice if 4 percent of those 2.6 million hectares are logged over the next two years? We don't even have precise mapping that's publicly available that would show what needs to be watched over.

    There's also, according to the report that set up the deferral areas, 2.4 million hectares of unprotected at-risk old growth that was not given any kind of deferral. If such forest exists, at 55,556 hectares per year, that alone would take 43 years to log.

    In looking at BCTS's public account of upcoming auctions, it is apparent that it still has, as of today, lots of old-growth on its auction schedules.

    The "red-faced outrage" expressed by the logging industry and its propaganda machinery appear to me to be more like "alligator outrage."

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    On 2021-11-06 at 8:34 AM, Guest Old time logger said:

    The NIMBYS will NEVER be satisfied no matter where the loggers work or what they are logging. 


    Talking about never being satisfied, the forest industry has logged something like 97% of the old growth.  But that is not enough, they want it all. It is disgusting!

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    Torrance Coste hosted a webinar the other night and stated that many of the pre-approved BCTS old growth cutblocks are contained within the deferral areas.  Government has stated those areas will still be cut.  Also, forests such as those at Caycuse are included in the deferral areas.  This forest was already clear cut in May 2021.  It's heartbreaking and unforgiveable that our government should be so disingenuous about this non-renewable resource on unceded First Nations lands.  


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    Guest That was Liberal gov't era


    Mr Broadland, much appreciation for encouraging ongoing vigilance, but how about talking about now?     You're citing a 2004 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan for that so-called deferral area on Quadra Island.   That was during the Liberal government's tenure, after they trashed all previous Forest Practises rules, as is most of what you're referring to here.   Even in your graph about 2019, the current government was still finding its feet, and that was all before Garry Merkel and Al Gorley's Old Growth Strategic Review Strategic Review strategic-review-20200430.pdf (gov.bc.ca) in which the current plans are seriously rooted.     

    Now, in accordance with that Strategic Review, leaving a few older trees standing is obviously not the plan:   "This new approach will be based on the recommendations provided in the Old Growth Strategic Review and will recognize that a shift to prioritize ecosystem health is necessary if the forests are to continue to provide essential benefits, such as clean air, clean water, carbon storage, conservation of biodiversity and timber." Government taking action on old-growth deferrals | BC Gov News

    And lastly -- though I can't find where I read it on one of the Ministry's pages -- it will no longer be the logging corporations who make the land use plans.   The Ministry will do those, and then to get permits the companies have to provide detailed plans for how they'll implement them. And nor will they police themselves (as they've been doing since the BC Liberals changed everything. 

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    12 hours ago, Guest That was Liberal gov't era said:

    Mr Broadland, much appreciation for encouraging ongoing vigilance, but how about talking about now?     You're citing a 2004 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan for that so-called deferral area on Quadra Island.   That was during the Liberal government's tenure, after they trashed all previous Forest Practises rules, as is most of what you're referring to here.

    Thanks for the comment. With respect, you seem to have missed what the ADM said to the reporter: logging is allowed in old-growth deferral areas.

    The 2004 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan was an initiative of the late 1990s NDP government; these things take years of planning before they come into effect. The provision in that plan that set up Special Management Zones (SMZs) was highly progressive at the political level, but what matters to the forest is what occurs at the operational level. In places like the Nahmint Valley and Quadra Island, provisions of SMZs have been mainly ignored by district offices, or interpreted in such a way as to give the bizarre outcome shown in the photo above.

    The cutting amongst the grove of large, old Douglas firs pictured above was approved in late October 2017. The NDP were in power at that moment.

    The provisions of SMZs are still largely being ignored by forest resource district offices—under the political leadership of the NDP—as was pointed out by the Forest Practices Board in its condemnation earlier this year of what has occurred in the Nahmint Valley SMZ, including under the NDP (see attachment).

    You won't get much pushback from anyone outside of the mindustry that the period between 2000 and early 2017 was an unmitigated disaster for BC forests. But the disaster continues and changing political leadership hasn't been enough to make real change.

    Forest Practices Board investigation into Nahmint Valley SMZ.pdf

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