Protect the last remaining old-growth forests
We are at a critical moment in the protection of Canada’s old-growth forests. Logging of old-growth or primary forests in British Columbia’s coastal temperate rainforests is putting Canada’s ability to mitigate the climate emergency and build resilience in our ecosystems at grave risk. Old-growth forests are integral to adapting to climate change and maintaining biodiversity. Old-growth trees, often called “our living ancestors” also hold significant social, cultural and spiritual value – they are part of an interconnected ecosystem that we must respect and protect.
From 2008-2018, an average of 15,200 hectares (an area the size of Vancouver) of old-growth trees were logged in coastal forests annually. On September 11, 2020, the BC Government released the Old-Growth Strategic Review report, which outlined 14 recommendations to modernize how BC’s old-growth forests are managed. One of those recommendations was to temporarily halt logging in the most endangered old-growth forest ecosystems within six months. The BC government has failed to defer logging in much of the at-risk areas that were flagged in the Review, including areas in the Fairy Creek, Caycuse watersheds, and Nahmint Valley of Vancouver Island.
In response to the imminent risk of clearcutting, Indigenous elders, settlers, and people of all ages are stepping up as “Defenders of Old-Growth.” They have set up blockades to prevent logging company Teal-Jones from clearcutting in the Fairy Creek watershed (Pacheedaht territory) and Caycuse watershed (Ditidaht territory). Teal-Jones has obtained a BC Supreme court injunction banning these blockades of logging activities. Many are journeying up to the site of the blockades peacefully to gather in solidarity with those risking arrest, act as legal observers, carry out ceremony, and pray.
The Fairy Creek watershed lies in unceded Pacheedaht territory. In an April 2021 statement, the chief and council of Pacheedaht First Nation asked people to respect that it is up to Pacheedaht people to determine how the nation’s forestry resources will be used. Pacheedaht First Nation is currently engaging in a community-led stewardship planning process to guide future logging activity in the territory. However, Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones has been an outspoken ally of the blockades. Elder Jones has invited all people to come up to the old-growth forests to protect and care for the trees (see video). He says, “I will continue standing for the land until I am dead. I feel like an old-growth tree is worth the same as my life.” The Caycuse watershed, where blockades and arrests are also taking place, lies in the territory of the Ditidaht First Nation.
On June 4, the Huu-ay-aht, Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations signed the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration, which states that the governance and stewardship responsibilities in the traditional territories of the three Nations must be acknowledged and respected, in accordance with the traditional laws and constitutionally protected Aboriginal Title, Aboriginal Rights and Treaty Rights. The nations also submitted a request to Premier Horgan to defer logging in the Fairy Creek watershed for a two-year period while stewardship planning in underway. This request was accepted by the Premier.
Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones and other advocates do not believe the deferral is comprehensive enough and will only reinforce the status quo of old-growth logging in the region.
Forests are the ultimate example of interconnectedness. As a community, the trees, plants, animals, insects, fungi, and lichen work together to improve each other’s chance of survival. When one part of the ecosystem is put at-risk the whole system is impacted. Clearcutting threatens biodiversity by destroying critical habitat and food sources. There are several species endangered or at-risk in BC’s old-growth forests, including the northern spotted owl, southern mountain caribou, and the northern goshawk.
It is widely understood that trees help store carbon dioxide and afforestation (planting trees) is becoming a key climate policy for reaching net-zero emissions. Large old-growth trees can sequester and store carbon, acting as carbon sinks. A 2013 report from the Sierra Club estimated that the old-growth forest in the Vancouver Island South Coast area stored the equivalent of more than 800 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (more than 13 times B.C.’s annual carbon emissions at that time).
However, when they are cut down, they emit carbon.
Overall, Canada’s managed forests (forest lands managed for timber production) have not been a net carbon sink since 2001. This means that they emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb. In 2018, Canada’s managed forests and forest products emitted 243 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e).
Old-growth trees are considered a non-renewable resource as it can take centuries (300-500 years) for the forests to return to their previous status as carbon sinks. Furthermore, old-growth trees are more resilient to wildfires and absorb water from annual snow melt. They make our ecosystems more resilient to the increased extreme weather events associated with climate change.
- A New Future for Old Forests – A Strategic Review of How British Columbia Manages for Old Forests Within its Ancient Ecosystems
- Before and After Old-Growth Maps, Ancient Forest Alliance
- Carbon at risk: B.C.’s Unprotected Old-Growth Rainforest, Sierra Club (2013)
- Follow BC Yukon KAIROS and Rolling Justice Bus
- Follow updates from Fairy Creek Blockade, Ancient Forest Alliance, and BC Yukon KAIROS
- Support and amplify the message of Indigenous land defenders such as @braidedwarriors and @auntie.katigeorgejim
- If you live in the area, consider responding to Elder Bill Jones invitation to gather with Elders, youth, and land protectors in solidarity and ceremony.
- Call or email Premier John Horgan and urge the BC government to immediately halt logging in all at-risk old-growth forests. Call 250-387-1715 and leave a voicemail or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. See template messaging and talking points from Ancient Forest Alliance.