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  • Out of control: A growing area of high-hazard clearcuts and plantations is fuelling BC's raging forest infernos


    David Broadland
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    Our investigation found the ministry of forests with its collective head in the sand and the logging industry feeding on the huge public expenditure of money used to fight the fires.

     

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    The Doctor Creek fire, the largest in the province in 2020. This BC Wildfire Service photo shows all three fuels BCs forest fires are burning: Mature forest, plantations and clearcuts.

     

    WHY ARE THERE SO MANY LARGE, OUT-OF-CONTROL FIRES burning in BC’s Interior this summer? It’s partly the result of extreme hot weather made worse by climate change, but testimony provided to an Oregon court in 2019 revealed that clearcut logging, followed by replanting, creates fuel conditions that make fires easier to ignite and harder to control. These effects persist for decades. Since the area being logged each year in the Interior has more than doubled since the 1970s, southern BC has become a Molotov cocktail of clearcuts and young plantations ready to explode into flames with the first lightning strikes of summer.

    The Oregon testimony arose because a land conservation organization, Oregon Wild, sued the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for failing to disclose the extent to which logging on public land near an Oregon community would raise forest fire hazard. The Oregon case included written testimony from a BLM fuels specialist, provided under oath, that stated that logging and plantations increase forest fire hazard. Those two fuel conditions make a fire easier to ignite and harder to control.

    Here’s the relevant testimony by the BLM fuels specialist (we quote from the court judgment record): “The change from a ‘mature’ to an ‘early successional’ stand structural stage would change the associated stand-level hazard from low to moderate/high. The stands would go from a timber model to a slash fuel model with higher predicted flame length, fire duration, and intensity and decreased ability to control a fire, with the greatest risk of a fire start during the first 5 years following harvest. Over the next 10 to 40 years, stands would transition through stages associated with high stand-level fire hazard rating and go from a slash fuel to a brush fuel type, which are more volatile and susceptible to high fire-caused mortality rates. These potential fires would have high flame lengths, rates of spread, and intensity and would be difficult to initially attack and control. Overall fire hazard would increase for 5 to 20 years following planting, then drop from high to moderate after the next treatment.”

     

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    Logging slash in an Interior clearcut (Photo by Sean O’Rourke/Conservation North)

     

    Fire hazard, as referred to in the testimony, isn’t quite what I thought it was, so I should outline the meaning of that term for you. A “fire hazard rating” is an assessment of the fuel comprised of living and dead vegetation in an area—a mature forest or a clearcut or a plantation, for example. The assessment estimates the ease with which a fire can be ignited, and, once ignited, the fire’s resistance to human control. If a fire ignites in a high hazard area, or encounters such an area, it can spread more easily than in mature forest.

    Fire hazard is independent of weather-related factors like moisture content, humidity, temperature or wind speed—all of which are influenced by climate change. Instead, hazard is all about fuels: the volume, type, condition, arrangement, and location that determines the degree of ease of ignition and the resistance to control. The distinction between climate effects and fuel effects is necessary to make for one important reason. Although the forests ministry can’t directly control climate change, it does have full control of how much of BC’s publicly owned forests are converted from a low fire hazard rating to a medium/high hazard rating each year. Since the early 1970s the ministry has ramped up the production of clearcuts and plantations—and, as a consequence, the fire hazard.

     

    The growing prevalence of clearcuts and plantations 

    The ministry of forests’ record of the extent of logging on publicly owned land shows there has been a large increase over the last 50 years. In the first five years of the 1970s, an average of 105,000 hectares of Crown land was being cut each year. In the 5-year period ending with 2018, that had risen to 240,000 hectares each year, a 230 percent increase.

     

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    Data crunching by David Leversee, based on the ministry of forests RESULTS Openings and Consolidated Cutblocks.

     

    Over the past 40 years, about 8.5 million hectares of BC’s publicly owned forest have been logged. Based on the BLM fuel specialist’s testimony that the fire hazard associated with a plantation would be higher than the mature forest it replaced for up to 40 years, we can project that as much as 8.5 million hectares of BC now have an elevated level of fire hazard as a consequence of logging and replanting. That means 8.5 million hectares where fires will ignite more easily than mature forest, and 8.5 million hectares where fire will be harder to control. That number doesn’t include logging on private land.

    It’s that growing prevalence of clearcuts and plantations that’s worrisome. Lightning strikes in those areas will be more likely to ignite and the resultant fires will be more difficult to control than in mature forest. Lightning is the most common cause of forest fires in BC. Obviously, then, if there’s more land where fires are easier to ignite, more fires will occur. If fires are initially more difficult to control, they are more likely to grow. And once a fire grows large enough to start encountering multiple areas of higher-hazard fuels—like clearcuts and plantations—the fire becomes more and more difficult to control. If the area of the province that’s subject to this higher fire hazard is growing—and it is—then larger fires will become more numerous. That’s exactly what we are seeing this summer.

    One method of judging the prevalence of clearcuts and plantations is to view satellite imagery of Crown land. I highly recommend this to anyone skeptical about the extent to which publicly owned forests have been converted to higher fire hazard clearcuts and plantations across BC. Below is a satellite image of part of the area involved in the Flat Lake Fire:

     

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    Satellite images show a lot of deceptively green areas. Unless you have been trained to interpret aerial imagery, it can be difficult to know what you are looking at. Many of the green areas in the image above are high-hazard plantations, many of which have now been burned.

    A better picture of the prevalence of clearcuts and plantations involved in the fires can be obtained by superimposing the ministry of forests fire perimeters onto the ministry’s record of logging in these areas. Weve done that in the images below of four perimeters of 2021s largest fires, shown as black lines. Past logging is indicated by the red-shaded areas. Each fires point of ignition is indicated by a bright red dot. The white areas are remaining primary forest or rangeland. Protected areas, like provincial parks, are shaded green. In each case you will notice that the area of past logging overwhelms the landscape. 

     

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    The August 6 perimeter of the 60,000-hectare Flat Lake Fire (black line) superimposed on top of the BC ministry of forests RESULTS Openings record of logging (red-shaded area). The green-shaded area is Flat Lake Provincial Park.

     

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    August 8 perimeter of the Sparks Lake Fire. On its west side, the fire burned to the edge of the massive 2017 Elephant Hill Fire, which burned through the logging indicated on the left side of the image above.

     

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    August 8 perimeter of the Tremont Creek Fire southeast of Cache Creek.

     

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    The August 8 perimeter of the White Rock Fire. The ministry of forests record of logging in the RESULTS Openings database misses some of the logging that has occurred. The area within the fire perimeter near Okanagan Lake (right side) has actually been heavily logged.

     

    The ministry’s records show that several of BC’s largest fires this summer were ignited in a clearcut or plantation and then quickly grew out of control. The White Rock Lake Fire ignited in an area of logging that was replanted in 2007. The Flat Lake Fire started when lighting struck a clearcut that was logged in 2015. The Sparks Lake Fire began beside a large area logged in the mid-1980s. The Octopus Creek Fire was ignited by lightning in an area logged in 2005 and planted in 2006. The Young Lake Fire was started by lightning in a clearcut logged in 2006 and replanted twice, in 2012 and 2015. And so on. Every one of the big fires in the southern Interior, no matter how they started, consumed thousands of hectares of clearcuts and plantations. The widespread conversion of BC forests from areas of low fire hazard to medium-high hazard by the logging industry is clearly playing a decisive role in the size of forest fires.

    Patrick Byrne, district manager of the 100-Mile-House Natural Resource District, declined to answer questions about the role clearcuts and plantations are playing in the Flat Lake Fire, but Byrne did note that “the fires burn quite nicely through plantations.”

    The aggressive behaviour of fires fuelled by clearcut logging slash and plantations puts firefighters in greater danger. BC Wildfire Service fire incident reports filed from the field often note extreme fire behaviour related to the fuel loading in clearcuts. A report from a fire in 2018 warned: “The slash blocks have more fuel loading than the standard slash fuel type, expect higher intensity. This higher intensity can cause fire whirls to develop, this would cause rapid fire growth and increased spotting potential.” Spotting refers to embers travelling downwind and starting new fires. Many incident reports from different fires make similar observations about the impact of the fuel in clearcuts on fire behaviour. 

     

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    A fire whirl in a clearcut fire (Photo by BC Wildfire Service)

     

    The impact of clearcut logging on fires will last a very long time

    Fire hazard rating is, by definition, independent of the moisture content in fuel. Yet the dryness of a clearcut, plantation or area of mature forest has a large influence on the speed with which fire can spread. Clearcutting exposes the land to the full strength of the sun, evaporating ground moisture and lowering humidity, important factors driving increased fire size and severity.

    Clearcuts also allow drying winds and higher temperatures to more easily penetrate the edges of adjacent forest. BC forester Herb Hammond contends that “clearcuts are clear culprits for heating up and drying out not only the immediate area where they occur, but also the surrounding landscape. They change local and regional weather patterns, and turn former heterogeneous, ecologically resilient stands and landscapes into homogeneous, ecologically vulnerable stands and landscapes. Their vulnerability is well documented in both the rise of insect epidemics, which clearcuts are allegedly meant to suppress, along with wildfire risk.”

     

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    BC Forester Herb Hammond

     

    The drier conditions caused by the widespread use of clearcut logging in BC will persist far longer than the BLM fuel specialist’s predicted “10 to 40 years” of higher fire hazard, as Hammond explains:

    “Forests, particularly as they grow older, conserve water in large part due to complex, multi-layer canopies, and overall composition and structure that are all geared to slowing the movement of water through the forest, while filtering and storing water at the same time. Clearcuts, on the other hand, expose the land to rapid water loss. After a clearcut in montane Interior forests, 150 to 200 years of natural stand development are necessary to get back to something close to the level of water conservation provided by intact, natural old forests. If one takes into account the development of decayed fallen trees that are needed to store and filter water, that could be doubled to 300 to 400 years. Most of these vital fallen tree structures get destroyed in high-production, mechanized clearcutting.”

    The dryness of clearcuts and young plantations is evident to anyone who has walked through one on a hot summer day and then stepped into the shade of adjacent mature forest. The difference in temperature and humidity is startling. That difference can even be measured by satellite imaging using microwaves. The top image below shows clearcuts near the Brenda Creek Fire in the Peachland area on July 16. The image below that shows the relative moisture content on the ground that same day. The dark blue areas contain the most moisture and the red areas are the driest. Yes, those red-yellow-orange areas are all clearcuts.

     

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     (Graphics courtesy of David Leversee)

     

    There are several other aspects of how clearcut logging is practiced in BC that have had an impact on fire size. For example, in the Interior, the practice of “managed” forests has evolved to mean managed coniferous forests. Deciduous stands are eradicated, often using glyphosate sprayed from helicopters, so that more commercially valuable coniferous stands can be planted instead. This, too, has made Interior forests more vulnerable to large fires.

    James Steidle, forest activist, has campaigned against this practice in the Prince George forest district. Steidle observes: “The conifer-dominated forest type we are actively encouraging is highly flammable, while the broadleaf aspen forest type we are actively eliminating is incredibly fire resistant. With a few caveats, the conclusion is undeniable. According to a 2001 study by Steve Cummings et al, pine forests are 8.4 times more likely to burn compared to aspen forests, based on historical data.”

    With fewer stands of fire-resistant deciduous trees to slow down or stop fires, larger fires are inevitable.

    Another dubious ministry policy has been “salvage logging” of healthy non-pine forest stands alongside lodgepole pine killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle. Several of the largest fires in the Interior during the last six years have included thousands of hectares of salvage logging. The ministry of forests allowed companies that were awarded salvage logging licences to take not only dead pine, but healthy living trees as well. The ministry’s own records show that only 15 percent of the logging that occurred in BC since 2010 has been dead pine.

     

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    Hammond is scathing about the salvage program and its consequences: “For a stand to be eligible for salvage stumpage rates, all that was needed was for the stand to have a lodgepole pine component of 3 percent or more. This led to a massive windfall for logging companies, which clearcut thousands of hectares of diverse, mixed species natural forests, many of them old growth, under the guise of ‘pine beetle salvage.’ These were the precise stands on which ecological recovery would have been centred through natural succession. Instead, the bulk of these areas have been converted to young lodgepole pine forests, as that species was the easiest to naturally regenerate and meet ‘reforestation’ requirements by the timber companies. So, the forest industrial complex have simply set up the forest landscape for both more frequent severe fire, and an even larger beetle outbreak—if the trees escape climate disruption.”

    Hammond predicts the relentless removal of primary forest in the Interior will eliminate essential ecological functions of old forest, and that will lead to more pine beetle epidemics, more “salvage logging,” more giant clearcuts and—inevitably—to more large fires: “Mixed species old-growth forests were once randomly scattered throughout the forest landscapes of much of the Interior. These forests were the home to carnivorous beetles who eat herbivorous beetles—like the Mountain Pine Beetle—and also the home for many cavity nesting birds that prey on herbivorous beetles. So, as long as these forests were found throughout the landscape, they served as important agents to keep bark beetle populations in balance. Along with all of the other benefits of old-growth forests and diverse natural landscapes, these benefits have been eradicated by timber-biased ‘forestry’ that increasingly has no place in BC or anywhere in the world.”

    Hammond believes the industry and their ministry partners have created a bleak future for BC forests: “The omnipresent danger of fire and ongoing drought, coupled with inhospitable soil and atmospheric moisture and temperature, call into question whether trees in clearcuts will ever grow to merchantable size in many clearcut areas. Indeed, we are already seeing plantation die off, including death by fire. Particularly in the Interior, we may soon begin to see ecosystem shifts, where former forests become degraded shrub ecosystems.”

    The growth in fire size is having broad impacts, including physical damage to communities and infrastructure, long periods of pervasive, health-damaging smoke, disruption to local economies, loss of large areas of wildlife habitat and loss of protected areas. The fires, partly a symptom of climate change, will worsen it: burned forests and plantations can’t continue to sequester carbon and the fires are releasing immense quantities of carbon to the atmosphere. Those emissions have doubled every 9 years since 1990, an exponential increase.

     

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    Carbon emissions from forest fires are on track to double every 9 years since 1990. The current 9-year period runs until 2026, but 2021s fires will likely be all thats needed.

     

    The ministry has its head in the sand

    With the forest fire problem growing in size at an alarming rate, you would think the BC ministry of forests would have put significant resources and effort into understanding how the higher fire hazard of clearcuts and plantations is fuelling the growth in fire size. But the ministry appears to be avoiding the issue.

    FOCUS filed an FOI for any technical or scientific reports produced for the ministry between 2010 and 2020 that considered the relationship between logging and forest fire frequency, size, behaviour or intensity. Throughout that period, it was clear that the area being burned in BC during long, hot summers was growing rapidly. Had the ministry investigated? 

    Our FOI request produced a single study (see link at end of story) conducted by the ministry during that period that examined how fire behaviour was affected by man-made changes to forests. The records released show that in 2019, the ministry started the “Fuel Treatment Efficacy Project” to examine how different fuel-reduction treatments, like thinning or broadcast burning, had impacted subsequent forest fire behaviour and fire suppression tactics.

    The $50,000 internal study considered 17 forest fires, only one of which was in an area that had been “100 percent logged.” The researchers gave that fire “low priority” for further study. The main finding of study, as indicated in the 7-page report, was that there was “a paucity of examples” where forest fire had interacted with fuel treatments.

    Given the high stakes, it’s difficult to understand why the ministry of forests hasn’t examined the impact of logging and plantations on worsening fire behaviour in BC. Fighting those fires is increasingly costly, as I will describe below. Yet, judging by its response to our FOI, the ministry hasn’t lifted a twig to understand what’s happening.

    This failure is worrisome, and may stem from the transition of the ministry over the past 30 years from functioning as a regulator of the logging industry to being its primary enabler. It is perhaps unreasonable to expect that an organization that works every day to maximize logging would, at the same time, spend money and effort on digging up evidence that clearcuts and plantations are feeding large forest fires.

    Besides, the ministry knows that logging slash raises fire hazard. That’s why it requires logging companies to burn hundreds of thousands of slash piles every year in an attempt to lower the fire hazard that fuel poses.

    BC forester John Waters knows, too. In a 5000-word treatise advising his fellow Woodlot Licence tenure holders what they needed to do to reduce fire hazard after their logging, Waters summed it all up: “Decades of wildfire research and examination of large wildfires shows that wildfire spreads most rapidly in areas where there is an abundance of dry, fine fuel or old unburnt piled slash accumulations.”

    The ministry is very careful to never explicitly admit the obvious. If lack of fire hazard abatement results in injury, death or property loss, the Province and its industry partners could be held legally responsible for damages. The closest the ministry comes to acknowledging the higher fire hazard caused by logging is contained in its Guide to Fuel Hazard Assessment and Abatement in British Columbia, last updated in 2012.

    The Guide states: “In some timber harvesting circumstances, it will be impracticable to reduce fuel loads sufficiently so that potential fire behaviour is not increased relative to pre-harvest conditions.” Given the growing size of forest fires and the huge associated economic and environmental costs, we might ask why it would ever be “impracticable” to reduce fuel loads. Surely it should now be clear to the ministry that if reducing fire hazard would be “impracticable,” then logging should never occur in the first place.

    The Guide, of course, has nothing at all to say about reducing the fire hazard posed by plantations, which have, according to the BLM fuels specialist, the highest fire hazard. No worries. The ministry is already solving that problem. According to the ministry’s own records of the area logged and area replanted between 2000 and 2017, 1.2 million more hectares were logged than were planted. Just how bad this problem actually is depends on which ministry record of how much logging has occurred is used: the one made publicly available (below in black), or the one based on the ministry’s best data (red).

    Just to be clear, I am not advocating for leaving clearcuts unplanted. I am pointing out that our forests are not in good hands. They are being ransacked, and so is the public purse.

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    The money whirl: Who benefits economically from forest fires?

    The ministry seems to have in place all of the policies needed to make fires worse and few that would mitigate the risk. One result is that fighting forest fires is costing BC taxpayers a lot more. In the 5 years starting with 2010, fire management cost BC $1.02 billion. In the following five years it more than doubled to $2.12 billion.

    Indeed, fighting forest fires has become a big business in BC, and much of the economic rewards from that business flow back to the logging industry itself. Of the $2.1 billion spent on fire management by the ministry of forests between 2015 and 2019, just under 70 percent was paid to private companies for services provided in the increasingly difficult battle to contain forest fires. Through an FOI request for records, FOCUS obtained details of payments totalling $1,471,832,630 (see link at end of story for complete list). Fires in 2017 and 2018 accounted for over 70 percent of that cost.

    Who benefitted? On the ground, fighting big forest fires requires constructing fire breaks and other measures that involve logging company personnel and equipment. So, paradoxically, a company that logged an area that was later involved in a fire could end up being contracted by the ministry to help fight the fire. Tolko Industries, which has created what are among BC’s largest clearcuts, was paid $4.6 million for work it did during the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons. During the five years covered by the records, there were 150 small companies with the word “Logging” in their company name that received, on average, $200,000 each for fire fighting operations during fire season. Seventy-two company names on the list included “Trucking” and 35 contained “Excavating.” Eighty-two companies provided helicopter services and the top 10 helicopter companies alone were paid $148 million.

    The private business at the very top of the money whirl was Conair, a BC-based company that provides fixed-wing air services for fighting forest fires. Over a five-year period Conair was paid $96,466,895.60.

    Next on the list were Perimeter Solutions Canada Ltd ($54,703,223.38) and Air Spray (1967) Ltd ($43,670,860.94). Perimeter and Air Spray supply fire retardant and retardant delivery to fires by aircraft. The $100 million spent on those services points to another level of damage that may be occurring as a result of the over-exploitation of BC’s forests. Fire retardants are known to be harmful to aquatic life, especially to stream-type chinook salmon smolts. Many chinook salmon populations in BC are now considered threatened. The growing use of fire retardants to fight BC’s forest fires is just one more threat to the species’ survival.

    Even transferring money to the over 8600 entities on the fire-fighting money list was expensive for BC taxpayers. For example, use of a Bank of Montreal Mastercard account cost hapless taxpayers $20,607,365.60.

    Since many of the companies that are receiving payments for fighting fires are the same companies that create the higher fire hazard of clearcuts and plantations in the first place, there is, to say the least, an appearance of a conflict of interest. 

     

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    An air tanker drops a load of fire retardant on a clearcut fire in 2017 (Photo by BC Wildfire Service)

     

    Forget Brazil. BC's per capita rate of forest removal is worse than Bolivia's.

    The response to the growing size and cost of fires from those with an economic stake in continuing logging as usual in BC forests all have one thing in common: No one ever suggests reducing the ongoing production of clearcuts and plantations, the inevitable consequences of logging. Quite the opposite, in fact. Industry and government both know that as time goes on and less and less primary forest is available to be cut, to keep volumes up at mills will require even greater areas of clearcuts and plantations to be created. That’s the ministry’s plan, and that promises an even more catastrophic future for BC.

    If you’ve come this far in my story, you must be looking for a solution to the mess the mindustry has created. If so, ask yourself these questions: Could the rate at which primary forest is converted to clearcuts and plantations be reduced? Or is the current rate of forest exploitation needed just to meet BC’s own basic need for products derived from forests?

    Ministry of forests’ data shows that 80 percent of the value of BC forest products comes from exports, and most of those go to China, the USA and Japan. So BC is cutting far beyond meeting its own needs for wood products. The extreme nature of that over-cut becomes apparent when BC’s rate of forest-cover loss is compared with other states that are, like BC, heavily forested.

    Consider Bolivia. It’s the 8th most heavily forested country in the world. It has an area of 1.099 million square kilometres, just slightly larger than BC’s 944,735. When you do the arithmetic, Bolivia’s forest-cover loss from all causes between 2001 and 2019 amounted to .545 hectares per capita. BC lost 1.66 hectares per capita, more than three times Bolivia’s loss.

     

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    Yet when we compare per capita income between BC and Bolivia, there’s no question about which country has the greater need to exploit its forests. In 2010, the mid-point of the 20-year period we’re considering, Bolivia’s per capita income was around $1900 per person. BC’s was $41,327. So Bolivia had a vastly greater economic need to exploit its forest resource than BC did. Yet BC’s per capita rate of forest loss was three times as high as Bolivia’s.

    Keep in mind, too, that BC’s high per capita GDP had little to do with the forest industry, which in 2010 accounted for only 2.5 percent of BC’s GDP, according to the BC government. By 2019, that had fallen to 1.8 percent.

    By the way, if you take the forest-cover loss attributable to the beetle epidemic and forest fires out of BC’s total and compare that to loss from all causes in other countries, BC still has the worst record, as shown below:

     

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    Back in the late 1980s, we used to say “BC is the Brazil of the north,” to express our disapproval for what the government and logging industry were doing to BC forests. That’s no longer even remotely appropriate. Now the global forest destruction putdown ought to be, “Bolivia is the British Columbia of the south.” And Brazil? On a per capita basis, Brazilians are forest angels by comparison.

    It’s evident that the extreme rate of forest removal in BC that’s fuelling large forest fires has, in turn, been fuelled by the high level of exports. That has been supported by a forests ministry that long ago stopped regulating the industry and now whole-heartedly facilitates extreme logging. Successive BC governments have chosen to go along with this, thinking that somehow this must all be good for the economy, and if it’s good for the economy, that’s all that matters to most politicians. Now that choice is having severe consequences. Unless BC breaks away from converting low-hazard primary forests into higher-hazard clearcuts and plantations to service export markets, our province seems fated to burn increasingly out of control.

    This summer, when not monitoring the BC Wildfire Services dashboard and otherwise trying to keep cool, David has been watching the drying forest in his coastal backyard with growing alarm.

     

    FOI record: Fuel Treatment Efficacy Project Summary: Fuel Treatment Efficacy Project Summary FNR-2020-05652.pdf

    FOI record: Fire management costs external to ministry of forests: Fire management costs external to ministry of forests FNR-2021-10573.pdf

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    Congratulations David Broadland on a magnificent piece of investigative journalism exposing as false more of the forest industry's and ministry's self-serving mantras.  Thank you

    Recently a team of scientists, practitioners and academics wrote a White Paper on wildfire and climate change (see attachment). 

    When I searched the document for the words logging, allowable annual cut, clearcuts and plantations, I found none. 

    This leads me to question whether collectively the signatories to the White Paper are avoiding embarrassment to the forest ministry and the forest industry that feed some of them. 

    Any acknowledgement of the role played by highly flammable clearcuts (of live trees) and young plantations in exacerbating ignition, area and rate of spread, and intensity of recent wildfires would likely lead to: 

    • questions of legal liability of the forest industry and government for extensive damage to properties and livelihoods; and to
    • recommendations that: (1) clearcut logging of primary forests cease and (2) the allowable annual cut be greatly reduced. 

    Would these two recommendations not be prudent and in the public interest given the climate emergency, the biodiversity crisis and the greatly threatened health and safety faced by the residents of rural communities for centuries to come?

     

    White Paper_wildfires and climate change.pdf.pdf

    Edited by Anthony Britneff
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    Thank you. Great piece of journalism and of great educational value.

    I despair of any hope for positive change, but refuse to submit, ie go down fighting...and crying for the needless loss of all that truly matters.

    i respectfully acknowledge that i live and operate on unceded traditional Territories of the Sinixt Nation.

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    I can't thank you enough for your excellent reporting. Please don't ever become "successful" and mainstream... you would betray the mission of excellent journalism....

     

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    Very good article.  Takes a lot of time and effort to research and get this kind of a story out.

    There are two other aspects of clear cutting that don't seem to get any attention:

     

    1.  Has anyone noticed that clear cuts hold onto snow cover in some instances to the end of May.  I assume that longer snow cover retards growth for new trees.

    2. Beetle killed trees  do not retain any water, nor do they release any moisture into the air.  What effect does this have on our weather system.  There must be billions of trees that no longer retain and release moisture due to clear cutting and beetle kill. By not retaining moisture we are now experiencing flash floods in the spring time and God knows what else.

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    At last - some solid figures, maps, graphs and astute explanation showing people the truth about the relentless logging in B.C. that has long been out of control both politically and by those hired by the public as overseers. Alberta next door, has set itself up in the same fashion as B.C. - massive clearcutting, disregard for watersheds and wildlife habitats and a change in forest type, eliminating deciduous forests and maximizing even-aged conifer forests in geometric blocks. Only aerial observation shows that our eastern slopes and northern boreal forests have been reduced to industrial complexes that are every bit as fire and beetle prone as B.C.’s forests. As in B.C., information on forest conversion, forest economics including all non-timber values, amounts of export and cost of fire fighting vs timber value, cost of subsidies supporting mills, roads, bridges, etc. are all well out of reach of the average curious person. FOI yields almost no information on Alberta’s forests. This is an obviously dangerous situation. Hopefully David Broadland is going to open many eyes and lead to more investigative intelligence.

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    This is a great article, is there any hope for the future here or should regular everyday people just get the heck out of this province?  The wildfires, the housing problems, the endless corruption.  

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    16 hours ago, Guest Cee said:

    . . .  is there any hope for the future here . . .?  

    "Carbon emissions may continue to rise, the polar ice caps may continue to melt, crop yields may continue to decline, the world’s forests may continue to burn, coastal cities may continue to sink under rising seas and droughts may continue to wipe out fertile farmlands, but the messiahs of hope assure us that all will be right in the end. Only it won’t.” — Chris Hedges  

    Source:  https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2019/09/18/Climate-Crisis-Wipe-Out/

    Our job is to make sure these messiahs of false hope do not win elections. Politicians/leaders need to understand that we the people do not tolerate lies, duplicity and betrayal, especially when we are faced with the exigencies of global heating: water degradation, loss of animals and plants,  and a climate dangerous to our health, safety and survival.  Once politicians/leaders get the message at the polls, then we have some hope of containing the damage yet to come. 

     
    Edited by Anthony Britneff
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    Can we press our government to admit BC's experimental land management of clear cut logging, slash piles and fake forest or tree farms are adding to loss of life, property, tax dollars and burning our essential forests?

    Our government privatizes all the profits and socializes all the risks and clean up!

    Imagine licensees double dipping, first profiting logging our crownlands with obscene corner -cutting in the best way to start wildfires and then getting the big dollars in their off season to fight those wildfires, there must be a better way to manage our forests and budget our tax dollars, we need to do better than " management by disaster "234063099_3140203019438166_7902307065479

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    47 minutes ago, Guest cee said:

    who do we vote for instead?  we also need dramatic and drastic change at the municipal level and federal really--it needs to also come from grassroots

    You might very well ask who to vote for, Cee; I couldn't possibly comment other than to say vote for the party that appears to have the political will to deal with the root causes of the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis in B.C. (forestry, LNG, fracking, and the gross subsidies to all three)

    As for hope, seek some encouragement from the words of Suzanne Simard taken from her recent speech at a rally outside the provincial legislature on August 9, 2021:

    "Be on the right side of history. Don't give up . . . There is a big confluence happening right now.  There is an energy in this world.  There is change about to happen.  We have no choice.  Let's be at the forefront of it." 

    Source: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=236199095036686&ref=watch_permalink  (Suzanne Simard speaks from 1:30 to 1:53 minutes on the video)

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    Guest Jim Smith, RPF (ret)

    Posted

    David, your article is well researched and presented.  The fire map overlays are truly enlightening.   

    As a retired forester with over 40 years of operational experience with industry, government and community forestry, I wholeheartedly agree with this article.  I have witnessed, as a fire fighter, the speed at which fire travels through a plantation.  One instance I'll never forget is hearing the "whoosh" of ten foot tall Douglas fir trees in a clear cut block explode and race uphill.  Its speed was astounding and very scary.   You don't want to be anywhere near it.  I know from first hand experience that our landscape covered with dense plantations is very dangerous when it comes to wildfire.  

    Of course, there are many other issues that make the agricultural model of clear cut/plantation forestry wrong, as this article and comments highlight.   However, I know from experience that there are much better ways to manage our public forests.  Partial cutting systems that truly respect all the values in our forests have been available for decades.   They work!  The simple reason they aren't used is that industry, government and forest professionals prioritize short-term profits over the public interest.  For years many "real" foresters like Suzanne Simard and Herb Hammond, as well as First Nations, have been crying for change.  It's time to seize upon this "burning" issue of forest mismanagement and make a paradigm shift.   Intense public pressure is needed NOW to implement a much better vision for our forests.    

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    There is so much I take issue with in this article - for example who ever said that the industry should be structured such that it only meets the needs of British Columbians?  If that were truly the case, we would have only 2 sawmills and well over 50,000 neighbors out of work in this province.  It's a ridiculous statement to make.  But the primary issue I have is the massive black hole right through the entire article - virtually no mention of the impact that the Mountain Pine Beetle attack is having on forest fire behaviors.  The primary reason BC will continue to face more and larger fires was already advised to the general public many years ago.  It is directly related to the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) killing 65% of the mature Pine across our entire province between 2003 and 2013 before the contiguous stands of Pine were eradicated by the beetle and populations returned then returned to endemic levels.  Forest scientists in the early part of the 2010's were already warning of "aggressive wildfire behaviour" that should last roughly 10-15 years after the MPB attack and we are living this experience now.  Without significant attention to this matter, this article only serves to mis-direct the reader based on the writers own anti industry agenda.

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    1 hour ago, Guest Jim Smith, RPF (ret) said:

    David, your article is well researched and presented.  The fire map overlays are truly enlightening.   

    As a retired forester with over 40 years of operational experience with industry, government and community forestry, I wholeheartedly agree with this article.  I have witnessed, as a fire fighter, the speed at which fire travels through a plantation.  One instance I'll never forget is hearing the "whoosh" of ten foot tall Douglas fir trees in a clear cut block explode and race uphill.  Its speed was astounding and very scary.   You don't want to be anywhere near it.  I know from first hand experience that our landscape covered with dense plantations is very dangerous when it comes to wildfire.  

    Of course, there are many other issues that make the agricultural model of clear cut/plantation forestry wrong, as this article and comments highlight.   However, I know from experience that there are much better ways to manage our public forests.  Partial cutting systems that truly respect all the values in our forests have been available for decades.   They work!  The simple reason they aren't used is that industry, government and forest professionals prioritize short-term profits over the public interest.  For years many "real" foresters like Suzanne Simard and Herb Hammond, as well as First Nations, have been crying for change.  It's time to seize upon this "burning" issue of forest mismanagement and make a paradigm shift.   Intense public pressure is needed NOW to implement a much better vision for our forests.    

    Jim, thanks for your comments. We need to hear from more foresters on this issue and I appreciate that you were willing to share your thoughts.

    I am continuing to update the fire perimeter-RESULTS mapping and will add new and updated maps.

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    On 2021-08-13 at 2:08 PM, Guest Sean Steede said:

    There is so much I take issue with in this article - for example who ever said that the industry should be structured such that it only meets the needs of British Columbians?  If that were truly the case, we would have only 2 sawmills and well over 50,000 neighbors out of work in this province.  It's a ridiculous statement to make.  But the primary issue I have is the massive black hole right through the entire article - virtually no mention of the impact that the Mountain Pine Beetle attack is having on forest fire behaviors.  The primary reason BC will continue to face more and larger fires was already advised to the general public many years ago.  It is directly related to the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) killing 65% of the mature Pine across our entire province between 2003 and 2013 before the contiguous stands of Pine were eradicated by the beetle and populations returned then returned to endemic levels.  Forest scientists in the early part of the 2010's were already warning of "aggressive wildfire behaviour" that should last roughly 10-15 years after the MPB attack and we are living this experience now.  Without significant attention to this matter, this article only serves to mis-direct the reader based on the writers own anti industry agenda.

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for sharing your concerns.

    I mention in the story that about 20 percent of what's cut in BC is used for BC's own needs. There are currently around 50,000 people directly employed by the entire industry. As you know, most of those jobs are on the manufacturing side of the industry, and those jobs occur in urban centres like Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kamloops, Prince George and smaller cities/towns. Reducing the cut to one-fifth would reduce employment by 40,000 jobs if no attempt was made to transition to value-added wood product manufacturing.

    Non-destructive use of the forest could produce far more jobs. As a carbon sink and a natural carbon sequestration system, BC's forests are more valuable to the public than they are as dead wood exports to China, the USA and Japan. Same applies to the potential for forests as a resource for recreation, education, research, medicine and spiritual well-being.

    As you know, the logging-milling industry shed 50,000 jobs between 2000 and 2019, largely due to mechanization and reduction in the availability of old-growth. That's in just 20 years.  You've already lost most of the jobs and you will lose all of them—including the potential for non-destructive forest-related employment—unless you change. It's past time to be relying on the we-can't-change-or-we-would-lose-jobs excuse.

     738405491_Totalemploymentintheforestindustry.thumb.jpg.fb84fa4be90be305cff22be447d489c4.jpg

     

    I believe there is adequate description in the story of the impact of logging that occurred as a consequence of the Mountain Pine Beetle. The story acknowledges that areas logged under the beetle salvage logging program, including the large areas of non-pine logging that occurred alongside it, are playing a significant role in some of the fires in that those large logged areas now have a higher fire hazard.

    But the ministry and the industry have long used the beetle as a smoke screen to obscure the extent of logging of live trees that took place at the same time. As shown in the graph below, over 60 percent of the merchantable volume of trees killed in BC between 2000 and 2019 was a result of logging. 30 percent of the volume lost was from Mountain Pine Beetle kill. 10 percent was from fires.

     

    evergreenalliance_ca.thumb.jpg.10bc2e320519eac8f553039949876d53.jpg

     

    That's for the province as a whole. When you look at the numbers for the Timber Supply Areas currently being hit hardest by large fires, the impact of MPB logging was much smaller. The following figures cover the years 2010-2019 (the years of the MPB salvage logging program) and include MPB salvage logging, MPB sanitation logging and salvage of lodgepole pine killed by fire: In the Okanagan TSA, where the White Rock Fire is burning, 94 percent of the cut was unrelated to MPB or fire-killed pine. In the 7 TSAs in the Kootenay-Boundary Natural Resource District, about 98 percent of the cut was unrelated to MPB or fire-killed pine. Yet that area has many large fires this year, including Octopus Creek and Michaud Creek at about 30,000 hectares between them. Logging in the Lillooet and Merritt TSAs (several big fires) was 80 percent unrelated to MPB or fire-killed pine. Of this year's fire stricken areas, Kamloops TSA had the highest percentage of MPB-related logging. Still, 76 percent of logging there wasn't MPB-related or fire-killed pine. You can find all these numbers in another article I wrote here.

    You say that scientists warned that aggressive fire behaviour would follow the Mountain Pine Beetle. Did those scientists warn that aggressive wildfire behaviour would follow logging of live trees, too?

    I think it's past time to stop using the MPB epidemic as the mindustry's get-out-of-jail-free pass.

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    David, a great piece of investigative journalism on the real culprits responsible for the raging wildfires in BC.  And yes we know that climate impacts are serious, but we, as a society, and particularly our government, by their actions in mismanaging our forests and so much else, is increasing our CO2 emissions in the midst of this climate emergency as well as increasing large forest fires.  

    Your intensive research is a great source of information for all of us who care deeply about all forest values.  Not just short term profits.   Protection of critical environmental values and remaining old growth forests, and true forest management for all values including controlling wildfires is non existent in present forest management.  Government kowtowing to industry, who only care about timber and short term profits, is not good for BC's future forests or for the people of BC.  Present forest practices such as large clearcuts and monoculture plantations, as you have pointed out, create more extreme wildfire situations.   Time for drastic change now in public forest management before more properties, and villages are burned down, wildlife and fish habitat lost, and other opportunities such as tourism and recreation destroyed.   I was shocked to learn how much the forest/timber industry gains from fighting forest fires that by and large start in their clearcuts and increase exponentially in clearcuts and plantations, which industry has created.

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    On 2021-08-13 at 2:08 PM, Guest Sean Steede said:

    The primary reason BC will continue to face more and larger fires . . . is directly related to the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB)

    I was surprised that a senior industry manager, after reading this story, would have the temerity to repeat a false myth (quoted above) used ad nauseam by foresters, by spokespersons for the forest industry, and, inexcusably, by politicians and senior public servants, who sit on the very same data that David Broadland uses to disprove the myth in this story and in his response to Sean Steede's comment.  

    Hopefully, other senior industry and government personnel will read David Broadland's story and take away another chief point, which is that the rate of logging in B.C. Canada (deforestation of primary forests) on a hectare-per-capita basis  is extreme, greater than in  most countries in the world . . . way worse than in Brazil, Indonesia and Russia. 

    This excessive rate of clearcutting primary forests has grave consequences for all of us: bigger and more intense wildfires, worsening flood and drought events, extirpation and extinction of animals and plants, massive carbon pollution of the atmosphere, and dangerous issues for our health and safety. 

    evergreenalliance_ca.thumb.jpg.267f96ea39dce85b9bee2fa548c5c7fc.thumb.jpg.fb175fe09b538648b96874d0298dee97.jpg

    evergreenalliance_ca.thumb.jpg.0b87949d336a15fb191ea7340b2a1b47.jpg

    Edited by Anthony Britneff
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    Thank David for another excellent article.  I am a retired forester/forest entomologist and I agree with what you have written.  However I do think the info about insects could do with a bit of fine tuning.  I agree that most of the hazard is due to logging and the resulting plantations, etc.  However there is a lot of dead fuel in our forests due to the pine beetle that I am certain is significant. 

    Things have never been so bad and it is being led not by the Socreds or the Conservatives or the "Liberals" but by the NDP. Gordon Campbell is responsible for setting things up for this situation but John Horgan is not doing anything about it.  So very disappointing. Actually it is much worse than disappointing. 

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    So, puzzle me this, emissions are causing climate change caused by Joe Average driving from the Fraser Valley to work in Van; Joe Average is a horrible climate destroyer and he should be rounded up to live in high density housing (etc) and give up his car for the sake of climate change; meanwhile Prov of BC allows the whole place to go up in smoke?  So many good ideas that could be preventing this ongoing epidemic but let's keep pointing our finger at Joe Average in his car?  Climate change.  Also, why doesn't the Province care about the health impact on children of breathing in this garbage year after year?  There's another cost.  There has to be some type of humongous health impact coming our way in our children.  How do we all contact the Chief Forester to demand change?

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    Good comments Josh!  The Chief Forester really is a political appointee constrained by his/her political masters. Direct comment to the premier and minister of forests.

     

     

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    8 hours ago, Guest Don Heppner said:

     I agree that most of the hazard is due to logging and the resulting plantations, etc.  However there is a lot of dead fuel in our forests due to the pine beetle that I am certain is significant.

    Thanks for your comments Don. I hear what you are saying and I trust your judgment.

    I didn’t include satellite images from before and after a fire to show what happens on the ground, but these provide valuable insight into what is burning and what is surviving in these large fires. For example, I have assembled before and after images of an area of the 192,000-hectare 2017 Elephant Hill Fire. Just south of Hihium Lake the fire burned quite intensely. The RESULTS-Openings record for that area show that almost everything had been logged before the fire struck. After the fire, almost everything cut in the last 25 years and then replanted, is completely gone or badly damaged. The few patches of primary forest that remained before the fire survived relatively well. 30-year-old plantations appear to have survived quite well, too.

    What’s needed, I think, is for the ministry to conduct, in public, an analysis of what is being burned in these big fires and what is surviving. It needs to show us the results as well as the data it used to get those results. They can do that from satellite imagery, so it wouldn't be expensive. If the ministry doesn't do it, and soon, I know of some people who will.

    Below are some images from the Elephant Hill Fire. Each is of exactly the same area. The top one is from 2011, just as the MPB salvage program was ramping up. It shows how much primary forest remained then (dark green). The middle image is from about 2019, two years after the fire. The bottom image is from RESULTS-Openings mapping and the red-shaded areas show what had been logged before the fire struck. The areas that are not red-shaded show what had not yet been logged. Most of those areas survived reasonably well. Click on an image to enlarge it.

    1602362142_1.2011imagessouthofHihiumLakeweb.thumb.jpg.bc0ac1a07f808f30a0d0ebe0f7ca69d8.jpg

    574898419_2.2018imagessouthofHihiumLakesatellitenooverlay.thumb.jpg.e85520b549bd046c58587a4924fd87a5.jpg

    1474889926_3.2018imagessouthofHihiumLakeRESULTSontopographic.thumb.jpg.4a5457305ef114f9cc1bdc7a0ef6bb27.jpg

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    Thanks David for the additional information.  I agree with you.  I have been sharing your article; people need to know about this.  The government needs to stop doing this; it needs to change the way our forests are being managed (mismanaged).   

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    On 2021-08-13 at 2:08 PM, Guest Sean Steede said:

    There is so much I take issue with in this article - for example who ever said that the industry should be structured such that it only meets the needs of British Columbians?  If that were truly the case, we would have only 2 sawmills and well over 50,000 neighbors out of work in this province.  It's a ridiculous statement to make.  

    I don't think anyone said that.  But since you imply it, let's explore the idea.  Given that:

    1. Wildfires in B.C. have surged so dramatically that they, together with logging, have overtaken fossil fuels as the province’s major source of climate-destabilizing CO2. You won’t find this in the provincial government’s carbon accounting because it has deftly chosen to ignore carbon emissions from logging and wildfire;   
    2. The rate and extent of clearcut logging in B.C. has a large carbon footprint and serious consequences such as: more severe and frequent flood and drought events, destruction of shallow soils, depletion of groundwater, destruction of fish and wildlife habitats, contamination of drinking water, continued extermination and extirpation of animals and plants, and bigger more intense wildfires that are dangerous to the health, safety and survival of British Columbians;  
    3. The high level of forest product exports (80% of all logging in B.C.) mainly to three countries (USA, China and Japan), all of which have higher standards for the protection and conservation of primary forests than B.C. has, means that they are conserving their ecosystems at the expense of the degradation (and loss) of our ecosystems; and,
    4. The forest sector contributes only 2 per cent to the provincial GDP and 2 percent to the labour force.  

    Accordingly, is it not in the public interest to ban clearcutting, substantially lower the allowable annual cut, reduce exports of raw logs and forest products, and cut back the labour force in the forest sector? 

    If we as a society in B.C. can cut 400,000 jobs in two months of 2020 to deal with a global pandemic, is it that ridiculous to transition, say, 40,000 forestry jobs into non-destructive forest enterprises and other economic sectors in order to mitigate a global climate emergency having such costly consequences for B.C.'s environment and residents?

    Edited by Anthony Britneff
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    Why doesn't Ministry of Tourism pressure the Ministry of Forests?  This is ridiculous.  No one is going to want to come to BC.  Nightmare.  Is there any indication forestry might change their ways?

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    The Mt. Hayes Fire very near to Ladysmith started in a clearcut just northwest of town on August 19. According to BC Wildfire Services tracking, its perimeter so far is almost entirely within clearcuts and plantations. A short distance to the west is a gas plant (white tank in image below) and a short distance to the east is Ladysmith. Hopefully BCWS will be able to get the fire out quickly.

    200441134_MountHayes2021-8-19.2.thumb.jpg.8318317d31fb01d57caa93c8c7f8daf5.jpg

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    A disgraceful failure of governments in British Columbia, past and present. For a dollar today, all that is considered is votes and the economy which the above report  reveals does not include the true costs of reducing our forests to industrial wastelands as " In the 5 years starting with 2010, fire management cost BC $1.02 billion. In the following five years it more than doubled to $2.12 billion."

    To add insult to injury, the NDP is using the RCMP as bully boys to enforce the rules that government legislates without a mandate from voters. Acting on the advise of experts in the field, the independent Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel provided their recommendations and the NDP responded, promising to protect old-growth forests and then they increased old-growth logging approvals over the past year. 

    So if British Columbians are actually paying attention to resource management and are truly offended by doublespeak and outright lying, they can vote for the Green Party which has a crystal clear policy on old growth forests. I truly believe one could select any reasonable person off the street that would provide better governance than so called professional politicians we have been saddled with for decades, especially considering the qualifications to become a party leader that is responsible for controlling billions of tax dollars could not land a job in the mail room of any federally regulated financial institution.    

     

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  • The NDP's old-growth logging deferrals

    The map below shows FLNRORD's mapping of the 9 areas where logging deferrals were announced in September 2020. It also shows the intended deferral in the Central Walbran Valley, which has not been publicly announced. The mapping below shows that very little actual old-growth forest was included in the 9 deferrals that were announced. The Clayoquot deferrals includes a large part of Strathcona Park, as well as several parks in the Sound area, none of which were in any danger of being logged. Read more about this issue here.



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