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  • Minister Donaldson's bitter pill

    David Broadland

    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 Donaldsons 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 Societys Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposalVWS Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park Proposal.Incomappleux.pdf

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    I really appreciate your work on forestry concerns in BC, especially this counterpoint to Donaldson's heroic deferrals.  I have spent years gathering forestry data for Vancouver Island and I just want to correct your figures on point #4. The difference between total area and FOCS "old-growth" is not necessarily "already logged" - it's mostly just very poor quality old forest and non-forest areas. In fact, less than 50,000 hectares of CS has been logged since the 1950's, mostly around Kennedy Lake and Cypre River (hence, the pristine feel of the area). That said, my analysis shows that Clayoquot Sound has less than 23,000 ha of good-to-medium productivity forests that aren't already protected or under other management reserves (primarily riparian). This also excludes Meares Island which the government considers a "hard reserve" for planning purposes (8,360 ha total, <3,900 ha old-growth). This less than 9% of their claimed total of 260,578 ha. THLB is not publicly available data, but including this information would only make this number lower.

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    Minister Donaldson's response to the Gorley-Merkel old growth report is blatant, willful deceit.  This deliberate deception of the public necessitates Donaldson's resignation before he leaves government.  

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    Thanks so much, David for enduring the tedious and heartbreaking task of wading through all these truly Kafkaesque machinations of "official" government/industry data that purport to quantify what remains of the provinces once-magnificent primaeval forest. What remains of the primaeval forest of the so-called "Great Bear Rainforest" -which, of course, is also subject to the flimsiest, deceitful guarrantees of protection- seems to have been left out of these equations. (Personally, I hate the terminology "Great Bear Rainforest," which assumes an archaic stereotype of "wilderness" as devoid and exclusive of humans, and places bears at the apex of an hierarchy of biodiversity, thereby ignoring the continuous, ubiquitous and paramount influence of the conscientious human element in the evolution of its whelm.) There is an assumption that the somewhat intact ancient forests of the Central and North Coast have been "protected" but that is simply not the case. Industrial logging, -almost exclusively targetting ancient red cedar- has continued apace, (although it has been somewhat curtailed during the current pandemic.) I'd say any analysis of the state of primaeval forest cover in BC must be not assume these forests as having been anywhere near protected. Pathetic, grovelling and deceitful compromises were made during the negotiations that resulted in the "Great Bear Rainforest" deal that was struck between government, industry and a cabal of conventionally organized, due-process abiding, charitable status-guarding, bureaucratically structured, top-down managed, non-democratic ENGO's. Just like post Clayoquot Sound, when ENGO and industry emerged arm and arm to announce that "clearcutting had been banned" in BC, -when actually it was simply replaced by voracious "variable retention" logging, which left a single old-growth stem every 50 metres, or patches of "very poor quality old forest" (as described by David Leversee above, -who apparently measures the value of primaeval forest by its degree of merchantability) It is truly heartbreaking to see enormous, self-dumping, loaded-to-the-waterline bargeloads of 100% ancient red cedar continuously making their way out of here to Vancouver sawmills, -or worse, to the raw-log export barges, all brutally stripped away from the mountainsides in the usual industrial BC logging manner. Cheers, Ingmar Lee (near Bella Bella BC)

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    Deforester Donaldson Tries To Hoodwink BC Again. Fortunately, he's not running in the next election. Good riddance.
     Rebel for Life!
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    If we let the NDP get away with allowing the destruction of the last remaining old-growth forests, we will be called cowards by the next generations. We have a global and spiritual responsibility to legally protect what remains.


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    I like David's detailed summaries and analysis of the 9 Areas for "Deferment".

    Just like Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs) were supposed to be actually deferred for One Rotation (Until the Next Harvest in 70 - 90 Years).

    But OGMAs it appears these days are a moving target.  Designated Today, Logged Tomorrow, with New "Old Growth" area included on another piece of the landscape.

    In fact the new OGMA is filled with very young and young regenerating (planted after Clearcutting) trees that if given more than 60 Years, in the range of 100 - 300 years or longer, could become Old Growth after several centuries.

    Perhaps we need to take our Forests to an Independent Mechanic because the mechanics employed by the "owner" along with the owner are selling us a bridge to nowhere.

    Oh yah, we did have an independent Mechanic look at our Forests, in fact two, and their report was co opted by the "owner".

    I also like David Leversee's comments about Clayoquot Sound. 

    There is an interesting remnant of earlier logging on the West Side of Meares Island.

    If you look carefully, there is a hillside of younger forests that came in after that hillside was logged from the beach to as high up as they could reach in the 1940s.

    This logging operation was set to log most of Meares Island but literally came to a crashing halt as the logging company owner died in a floatplane crash along side of the beach they were pulling the logs down to.


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    Mapper par excellence David Leversee has done additional work at determining how much of Clayoquot Sound's total area of 279,414 hectares is actually being deferred for two years. He believes that there is only 22,403 hectares of "Good/Medium" old forest that remains unreserved or unprotected.

    Using David's more accurate number, the actual amount of old forest with large or very large trees on which logging is being deferred for two years is as follows:

    Crystalline Creek: 0.1 hectare

    Stockdale Creek: 233.6 hectares

    Incomappleux Valley: 2000 hectares

    Clayoquot Sound: 22,403 hectares

    Skagit-Silverdaisy: 0.0 hectares

    Upper Southgate: 46 hectares

    McKelvie Creek: 2231 hectares

    H'Kusam: 1050 hectares (pending further information)

    Seven Sisters: 4510 hectares (pending further information)

    Total: 32,474 hectares

    This is 9 percent of the area Donaldson claims is being deferred. It's 7.8 percent of the area identified by Price, Holt and Daust as needing immediate protection. Here's a visual comparison of what's needed (Price, Holt & Daust), what Donaldson said he would do, and what he's actually going to do:


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    John Horgan and the NDP government are not all bad, they care about people. I appreciate their social program initiatives, never enough but better than most sadly. Yet in Horgan's support of the working class, he ruthlessly supports corporate raw resource extractions using armed thugs provided by the Feds to enforce these environmental crimes. With British Columbia not having declared a Climate Emergency, nothing holds Horgan back about letting those few jobholders/loggers/drivers rape and pillage what we all need to survive. Yes, survive. Protesters are often seen as naive romantics, but are truly the ones that see the big picture. Thank you, David, you are supporting the passionate forest defenders everywhere and up at Fairy Creek with these great facts! 


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    Short of a court order, I can't see anything that would compel our government to hold a forum where both sides of this polarized discussion can prove the source of their facts in an open public manner. Where even the general public can be heard.!!! The old growth review did just this but in the end even Donaldson himself said this week, here's the new reserves(325k ha) we need to support jobs - stay real!! Thats what we do!! support communities! BC has no plan B to wean our solves off of Wood fibre which could give us a few more years to avoid California's fate = Incineration.

    As such, since we've sung this mantra since 1900's and smart people told us sustainability is our name - we let them guide us, all benounced to us,, the numbers having been getting tweaked slowy , as a result of climate change, partially. Propping up the inventory   ---- Code for- doing what we want largely because there are no mechanisms of accountability in showing numbers or telling the truth,, That's what we do.



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    As always, Dave your analysis is excellent and on the mark, with one important exception. I doubt that Donaldson is the sole problem here, though he did frequently characterize himself as a Brown rather than Green NDP and someone who cared about forestry jobs rather than the forests. But that said, IMHO it is John Horgan - who has such a strong bias in favour of yesterdays forest industry - as well as his Chief of Staff Don Wright and FLNRO Deputy Minister John Allen who are the ones most responsible. John Allen - who was once someone I had time for - I believe is especially responsible for the ongoing massacre of the remaining Old Growth. But the fact is, he was hired  and is directed by Wright, and of course both of them do the Premier's bidding. And why? To keep the forestry unions, their workers, as well as the truck loggers and of course the forest companies happy. That is their only constituency. They have no meaningful concern for the health of the forests...

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    It's now four weeks later, and given the BC NDP's electioneering it's clear they still do not intend to do anything meaningful on the report they commissioned. "Screw sunstainability and evidence, we've got an election to win". The pivot to the middle may help them win the election, but the lack of vision won't help them govern. 

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