The Canadian Standards Association's "sustainable forest management" certification of old-growth logging is dishonest greenwashing and needs to be removed.
PERHAPS NO ORGANIZATION IS BEHAVING MORE DISGRACEFULLY in promoting the logging of the last vestiges of old-growth forest in our country than is the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). The CSA has developed standard Z809-16, which is used to certify forestry firms as practicing “sustainable forest management,” in spite of their logging old-growth forest. Last week, Ecojustice, on behalf of six individuals and supported by two organizations, submitted a request to the federal Competition Bureau to investigate this certification, claiming it is false and misleading, effectively a dishonest marketing ploy. And they’re right, once old-growth forests are gone, they are gone forever. CSA’s certification is like claiming that the wiping out of the cod fishery off the Maritimes was sustainable.
Opposition to the logging of these ancient matriarchs is widespread in the Interior and on the Coast. For over a year in the Fairy Creek Valley on Vancouver Island, protesters have been blockading roads, chaining themselves to trees and sitting in the canopy to stop Teal Cedar Ltd from felling majestic old-growth trees. The blockade continues in spite of arrests—and occasional brutality—by the RCMP. The protests are not the actions of a few hippies, but instead are part of a broad public-based movement. Even on far-away Pender Island where I live, for example, there are about 70 people who are contributing money and supplies, going frequently to Fairy Creek and planning creative methods to save the old matriarchs. Furthermore, public surveys clearly show that British Columbians want the few remaining old-growth trees to survive. Horgan should pay attention.
The Ecojustice complaint comes on the heels of my submission of January 18, 2021, when, together with 13 individuals/organizations, I formally requested the CSA to remove the word “sustainable” from its standard and to revoke the certification from those companies who log old-growth trees. Many of those who joined me also made independent submissions. On June 29, 2021, the CSA rejected all our submissions stating that our comments “are outside the scope and intent of the CSA Z809 SFM Standard.” We are striving to appeal this decision.
The old-growth forest in the Fairy Creek Rainforest took thousands of years to develop. How can logging of this forest and then converting it to a planation be “sustainable”? (Photo by TJ Watt)
Recently, I visited Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew, one of the most beautiful places in western Canada with enormous cedars and Douglas firs towering overhead. Shafts of golden light angled down to the dusky forest floor. The shadowy forest was rich with sword ferns, moss-covered logs and witch’s hair dangling from branches. There was a spirituality; a deep closeness with nature. I was in awe of the vast knowledge these matriarchs have accumulated during a long, long lifetime. Why would we murder these national treasures?
The main reason is that no politician wants to antagonize the communities who depend on the lumber industry. Thanks to vast forestlands, forestry was once one of the largest industries in the province. But since about 1990 the situation has turned bleak and in response to declining profits and market share, BC forestry companies have cut large, old trees, claiming they must do so to remain financially viable. At the same time, they receive CSA certification. After all, being endorsed as “sustainable” can only boost their environmental image and help sales.
Communities who have seen forestry jobs diminish should understand that preservation of old-growth trees will help the industry recover. Environmentalists want the forest industry to be healthy, and a significant part of BC’s economy, but they want this to happen responsibly. These goals are achievable because the remaining productive old-growth ecosystems only constitute a tiny fraction of the forestland in the province. There are masses of younger trees to supply wood to sawmills and the wood-working industry. Yes, sawmills will need to be re-fitted, but that’s doable. Furthermore, old-growth trees have more value left standing, rather than being chopped into small pieces to be used as shingles and other products.
Dan Hager, the president of the local Chamber of Commerce has watched tourism take off since Port Renfrew labelled itself as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada. “Simple logic,” he said, “it’s more economical to preserve grand old trees than cut them down.” Since then, the BC Chambers of Commerce, the largest business-advocacy organization in the province, agreed, passing a motion to protect old-growth forests.
Quantitative evidence comes from a recent study conducted by ESSA Technologies in which revenue from logging old growth was compared to that from retaining old growth. The latter included benefits from carbon storage/sequestration, recreation, tourism, salmon habitat, non-timber forest products like floral greenery and mushrooms, and research/education opportunities. The study concluded that society is better off when old-growth forests are protected rather than logged.
Thus, forestry-dependent communities should welcome those wanting to protect old growth, and not consider them as enemies who want to destroy forestry jobs. Like Port Renfrew, communities will benefit from retaining old growth, and those benefits will be truly sustainable over the long term.
But the forestry industry in its mad pursuit of profits does not listen. Furthermore, it yields immense power so that Premier Horgan and his NDP party refuse to take any meaningful action, in spite of campaign promises to the contrary. His (in)actions are being labelled as “Horganized Crime.” Another label is ecocide.
The CSA, which usually deals with consumer product safety and quality control, and claims to be an independent body, has become a disgrace. As longtime conservationist Vicky Husband remarked in Ecojustice’s press release for the complaint to the Competition Bureau, “What serious standards organization would certify the logging of the remaining 3 per cent of our most valuable, big-tree forests as “sustainable”. To which Anthony Britneff, another complainant, adds, “Only one backed and supported by the Forest Products Association of Canada”.
The CSA and the forestry industry are worrisome signs that society is heading for a cliff, shepherded along by neoliberalism and the immense power and size of international corporations.
Permanently destroying ancient trees cannot be certified as sustainable. It’s time for the CSA to speak proper English … and for a ban on old-growth logging.
Hans Tammemagi is an award-winning journalist and photographer living on Pender Island.