An old-growth forest clearcut in Schmidt Creek on eastern Vancouver Island in May 2019. (Mark Worthing/Sierra Club BC)

An old-growth forest clearcut in Schmidt Creek on eastern Vancouver Island in May 2019. (Mark Worthing/Sierra Club BC)

COLUMN: Clearcutting B.C.’s last old-growth leaves all of us poorer, forever

Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC responds to columns by Tom Fletcher and David Elstone

Earlier this month, hundreds of British Columbians visited MLA offices across the province demanding protection of endangered old-growth forests and improved forest management, during a day of action organized by Sierra Club BC.

In response, David Elstone, the executive director of the Truck Loggers Association, accused our organization of not acknowledging the economic importance of old-growth logging and claimed that clearcutting what little remains is sustainable (B.C. has most sustainably managed forests in the world, June 6).

He was joined by Black Press Media columnist Tom Fletcher repeating outdated claims about the climate benefit of replacing old-growth forests with young trees. Fletcher ignores modern science showing that clearcutting ancient trees results in the rapid loss of huge amounts of carbon accumulated over hundreds of years (Urban environmental “emergency” routine wearing thin, June 9).

Sierra Club BC is concerned about the economic, social and ecological impact of clearcutting endangered old-growth forests. True sustainability is leaving similar values and conditions for future generations. But B.C.’s ancient giants have been reduced to a fraction of their former extent, replaced by young, uniform forests cut in short rotation forestry, never allowed to grow old again.

Elstone claims B.C.’s forest management is the most sustainable in the world. However, satellite images show that on Vancouver Island, we are losing what little forest remains intact three times faster than Brazil’s primary rainforest in the Amazon is being destroyed.

Massive amounts of carbon have been added to the atmosphere as a result and only a tiny fraction remains stored in wood products. One study estimates the loss of carbon when comparing old-growth forest to a 60-year-old stand at more than 300 tonnes of carbon per hectare (more than 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide).

The current old-growth logging rate on Vancouver Island alone is about 10,000 hectares a year or more than 30 soccer fields a day. The inescapable conclusion is that old-growth logging there alone contributes millions of tonnes annually to provincial carbon dioxide emissions.

Elstone highlights that in recent years, close to half of the volume cut on Vancouver Island came from old-growth.

Today, the Island’s productive old-growth (forests with relatively big trees, not bonsai-sized trees that government and industry like to include to inflate numbers) has been reduced to about 20 per cent of its former extent. Only six per cent of the original productive old-growth of the Island is protected.

Elstone is in denial about old-growth logging coming to an end, one way or the other. This should be a huge concern for everyone with a job in the woods.

We will not leave anything close to what we found for future generations. Plants and animal species that depend on old-growth will vanish. Climate impacts will worsen without the shield of intact ancient forests to reduce droughts, floods and fires. Degraded landscapes will impact the quality of drinking water and allow fewer options for a diverse economy that includes tourism and recreation.

Elstone claims 55 per cent of remaining old-growth forests on Vancouver Island is protected. This is highly misleading. As the total amount of old-growth trees declines because of logging, of course the percentage that is protected goes up. B.C. could destroy 99 per cent of all old-growth, set aside one per cent, and report 100 per cent is protected. Is this the approach to conservation that British Columbians want?

His sustainability argument is particularly troubling considering B.C.’s old-growth forests were looked after by Indigenous peoples for millennia. Indigenous communities made use of forests in hundreds of different ways without destroying their ecological integrity. Instead, B.C. is exporting about 3 million cubic metres of old-growth per year as raw logs, accepting massive environmental losses for minimal economic benefits.

The good news is it is not too late to save what remains of B.C.’s old-growth, restore second-growth forests and transition to truly sustainable forest management. We can still chose to save the web of life that depends on intact forests and move to carefully planned selective logging. This would deliver “negative emissions” and wood products at the same time, capturing more carbon in our forests than is lost as a result of harvesting.

Creating more jobs with less ecosystem damage per cubic metre of wood deserves our full support. The longer we wait, the harder this change will be. The first step is for industry and government to stop the denial reflected in Elstone and Fletcher’s opinion pieces.

Jens Wieting is the senior forest and climate campaigner with Sierra Club BC

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where one employee is still currently isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was first declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
54 positive COVID-19 cases associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

There’s been a two-person increase in positive cases since Tuesday (Dec. 1)

K-J Millar/The Northern View
8 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the Northern Health Authority

Since Nov. 27, there have been 191 new cases reported in NHA

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Two snowmobilers stranded overnight near Yanks Peak were rescued Wednesday, Dec. 2 by Central Cariboo Search Rescue with mutual aid from Prince George Search and Rescue and South Cariboo Search. (Central Cariboo Search and Rescue photo)
Central Cariboo Search and Rescue rescues two snowmobilers from Cariboo Mountains

Prince George Search and Rescue, South Cariboo Search and Rescue did mutual aid

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week t

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

An RCMP officer confers with military rescuers outside their Cormorant helicopter near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
Good Samaritan helped Kootenay police nab, rescue suspect which drew armed forces response

Midway RCMP said a Good Samaritan helped track the suspect, then brought the arresting officer dry socks

Most Read