Forests minister Doug Donaldson's announced 2-year logging deferrals of old-growth forest are almost entirely in areas that have little or no productive old growth on them—or were already protected.
BACK IN JUNE OF THIS YEAR, three BC forest scientists released an independent report quantifying the remaining scattered areas of forest containing “large” and “very large” old trees in this province. These are the “old-growth” forests that contain the highest levels of productivity and biodiversity—the forests that many thousands of British Columbians have fought hard to save from logging for decades. Karen Price, Rachael Holt and Dave Daust used forests ministry data to determine that only 35,000 hectares of “very large” old trees remained in BC, and only 380,000 hectares of “large” old trees. Those two areas amount to 415,000 hectares.
Their report, BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity, was issued in the hope that their findings would help inform, or influence, a strategic review of old-growth forests that was being conducted by Al Gorley and Gary Merkel. Gorley and Merkel were appointed by the BC government.
On September 11, forests minister Doug Donaldson released the Gorley-Merkel report and, at the same time, announced 2-year logging deferrals on 352,739 hectares spread over 9 areas in the province. The minister’s press release referred to these areas as “old-growth.” The 9 areas were indicated as points on a map of BC, along with a brief description of the values that are at stake in each area. No other details about the areas were released. Crucially, no mapping of the areas was provided.
Minister Donaldson’s map of where 2-year logging deferrals would be applied
The “352,739 hectares” of old growth on which Donaldson was deferring “old forest logging” for two years would amount to 85 percent of the spatial extent of remaining old forests containing large and very large trees identified by Price, Holt and Dauss. That sounds like it could be an impressive movement in the direction of conservation of forests with large and very large old trees. Of course, as everybody knows, the devil is in the details, and Donaldson didn’t provide any details.
Instead, his announcement was made simultaneously with the release of the Gorley-Merkel report, as if Donaldson’s announcement somehow reflected their findings. I expected to be writing about the Gorley-Merkel report, but instead, after obtaining some of the details about the 9 areas, details that Donaldson left out, it seemed pointless to review the report. In light of the details I found, the Gorley-Merkel report appears to have been used by Donaldson as little more than sugar coating around a bitter pill. The bitter pill is that, at best, Donaldson is deferring logging for 2 years on 64,191 hectares, almost all of it in Clayoquot Sound. At best, Minister Donaldson’s deferrals amount to 15 percent of the area identified by Price et al. Here are the details:
1. Crystalline Creek, where Donaldson claims logging on 9595 hectares is being deferred. You’ve probably never heard of Crystalline Creek before. There’s been no logging road blockades, no media stories. That’s because there is little chance that it would ever be logged, let alone in the next two years. Except for one-tenth of one hectare (no, that’s not a typo), it lies entirely outside of BC’s Timber Harvesting Land Base (THLB) and a 2-year “deferral of logging” there is meaningless. The precisely estimated area—9595 hectares—is the total area of the small valley, which includes high, rocky ridges that are part of the Bugaboo Mountains. That precise number came from Canfor’s documentation of high value conservation areas within TFL 14, a requirement to obtain Forest Stewardship Council certification. Let’s subtract 9594.9 hectares from Donaldson’s total area where logging is to be deferred for 2 years.
For any readers unfamiliar with the term “Timber Harvesting Land Base,” this is, according to the Province, “Crown forest land within the timber supply area where timber harvesting is considered both acceptable and economically feasible, given objectives for all relevant forest values, existing timber quality, market values, and applicable technology.” It is reasonable to assume that if an area of forest is not currently inside the THLB, applying a 2-year deferral of logging to it is meaningless.
2. Stockdale Creek, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 11,515 hectares. Same particulars as Crystalline Creek, except in this case there is a 233.6-hectare overlap with the THLB. It is possible that logging of those 233.6 hectares could occur one day, but Canfor had no plan to do so within the next two years. But just to be safe, let’s subtract only 11,281 hectares from Donaldson’s deferral area.
3. Incomappleux Valley, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 40,194 hectares. The Incomappleux Valley is part of Valhalla Wilderness Society’s Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposal. Most of the magnificent Inland Rainforest along the Incomappleux River has been logged, but 1500 hectares of 1000- to 2000-year-old red cedar near the confluence of Boyd Creek and the Incomappleux River remain. Most of the remaining high-productivity old growth is within Interfor’s TFL 23. It was saved from being logged in 2005 by a 2-person blockade of a logging road. Days after the blockade was ended by a court injunction, a rockslide blocked the road and damaged a bridge, bringing a natural halt to logging. The Valhalla Wilderness Society confirmed there could be another 500 hectares of old-growth forest in the valley that is within the THLB and could be economical to log. Valhalla Wilderness Society estimates that within its 156,461-hectare park proposal (see link to PDF at end of story), which includes the Duncan River Valley to the east, there are 17,827 hectares that overlap the THLB. It is unknown what the “40,194 hectares” on which logging has been deferred for two years refers to, but that is over twice the area of the THLB within the entire park proposal, and much of that has already been logged. Subtract 38,195 hectares from Donaldson’s deferral area.
4. Clayoquot Sound, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 260,578 hectares. The Friends of Clayoquot Sound have been fighting for years to protect all the remaining areas of old growth in the Sound and, by their reckoning, those areas—Meares Island, Flores Island, the Sydney Valley, Ursus River Valley, Clayoquot River Valley and Hesquiat Point Creek—have 54,120 hectares of old-growth forest remaining. It’s nice that Donaldson wants to protect 260,578 hectares of old growth in the Sound, but it’s too late. Over 206,000 hectares of his deferred logging is on land that has already been logged. (Edit: see my comment below this story about a more accurate number for Clayoquot Sound provided by David Leversee.)
5. Skagit-Silverdaisy, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 5,745 hectares. Canadian Press’ Laura Kane reported in December 2019 that Donaldson had banned logging in the “doughnut hole” of the Skagit Valley in response to an appeal by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and US environmental groups. Kane quoted BC Environment Minister George Heyman: “Heyman said when the [High Ross Dam Treaty] was signed decades ago, the BC and Washington governments signalled clear intent that, once the issue of mineral tenures was resolved, the doughnut hole would be returned to park status. ‘Somewhere along the line…there was a lapse in corporate memory,’ [Heyman] said. ‘We’re restoring that today.’” Somewhere along the line, between December 2019 and September 2020, it seems, there was a second lapse in corporate memory about this forest. Subtract 5,745 hectares from Donaldson’s deferral area.
6. The Upper Southgate River, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 17,321 hectares. The area is within what Donaldson’s ministry describes as the Southgate Landscape Unit. A 2014 plan for Old Growth Management Areas in the unit notes the total area of the unit is 122,155 hectares, of which 5,380 are within the THLB, the area available for logging. In the entire Landscape Unit the plan identified 121 Old Growth Management Areas, and these covered an area of 3212 hectares. How much of that was in the THLB? Forty-six hectares. So while Donaldson promised to defer logging for 2 years on 17,321 hectares of old growth, there’s only 46 hectares that could be logged. Subtract 17,275 hectares from Donaldson’s deferral area.
7. McKelvie Creek, where Donaldson claims 2,231 hectares. McKelvie Creek flows into the Tahsis River in the middle of the Village of Tahsis on Vancouver Island. Tahsis has been seeking to stop logging in McKelvie Creek Valley because the village believes logging there could result in flooding in the village. A hydrological study by the engineering consultancy McElhanney has established the size of the watershed, which corresponds to the area on which Donaldson says he will defer logging for 2 years.
8. H’Kusam, where Donaldson claims 1050 hectares. No information on this area, other than it is likely within sight of Mount H’Kusam, has been found. For now we’ll leave Donaldson’s 1050 hectares in the total.
9. Seven Sisters, where Donaldson claims he is deferring logging on 4510 hectares. When the 39,206-hectare Seven Sisters Provincial Park and Protected Area were created, a 6,287-hectare bite out of the west side of the park was named the Coyote-Hells Bells General Resource Development Zone, where logging has been ongoing. I have no information on the extent of old growth in this area, so to be sure we will leave Minister Donaldson his full 4510 hectares.
As mentioned above, what’s left is 64,191 hectares of old-growth forest, at best.
There’s been lots of response to Donaldson’s announcement of logging deferrals, much of it simply reporting what he claimed in his press release. Vicky Husband, the den mother of old-growth forest activism in BC and an Order of Canada recipient in recognition of her 40-year-long effort to conserve such forests, didn’t mince her words when I pointed out some of the details Minister Donaldson left out. Husband responded, “The government’s response to the Gorley-Merkel old growth report is a shoddy piece of spin-doctoring in advance of an election. It is duplicitous in intent; short on facts; and intentionally misleading for the electorate giving the appearance of doing something when the reality is to keep the industry logging the little remaining productive old growth.”
I’ll leave it at that.
David Broadland lives amongst rare old-growth Douglas fir in the Coastal Douglas-fir Biogeoclimatic Zone on Quadra Island. He notes that Donaldson’s ministry’s maps of BC’s biogeoclimatic zones, published in the Gorley-Merkel report, don’t show any such forest type on the south end of Quadra Island, Read Island or Cortes Island.
The Gorley-Merkel old growth report: A New Future for Old Forests A new future for old forests.pdf
Valhalla Wilderness Society’s Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposalVWS Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park Proposal.Incomappleux.pdf