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Draft policy could be a game-changer for B.C. old-growth protection, conservationist says

Click to play video: 'B.C. forest plan draft hailed by conservationists'
B.C. forest plan draft hailed by conservationists
WATCH: It's being described as a "game changer" in efforts to protect B.C.'s old growth forests. As Paul Johnson reports, conservationists are welcoming a draft plan from the provincial government that would not only consider the economic but also the ecological value of our forests. – Nov 23, 2023

Conservationists say they have high hopes a proposed shift in B.C. policy could result in revolutionary change for forest protection.

The province is currently conducting consultations on its draft Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework, which it describes as “a new and strategic direction for a more holistic approach” to stewarding land and water resources for future generations.

Click to play video: 'Environmental group claims ‘data errors’ putting old growth at risk'
Environmental group claims ‘data errors’ putting old growth at risk

The policy builds on a three-way deal between the province, federal government and the Indigenous-led First Nations Leadership Council announced earlier this month to protect 30 per cent of B.C. lands and waters by 2030.

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“Despite a very boring name, it may actually be one of the most consequential conservation policies in Canadian histories if it lands correctly,” Ken Wu, executive director of the endangered ecosystem alliance, said of the proposed framework.

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“The areas that are typically neglected or minimized in the protected area system, the big trees, may actually end up getting protected as a result of this policy.”

Wu argues the province’s forest policies have traditionally put the highest value on the economic value of timber, with areas selected for conservation chosen from land with less productive growth.

Click to play video: 'Coalition accuses NDP of breaking old growth forests promise'
Coalition accuses NDP of breaking old growth forests promise

That’s typically left the massive trees most people think of when they hear the term “old-growth” out of the equation, he said, something that could change under a more holistic approach that targets all types of ecosystems for conservation.

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“This policy may ensure we get those areas finally saved and the industry can log second growth, and they can do it sustainably,” he said. “There are other options than logging the last of the forest giants.”

The framework would also create a provincial Office of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health tasked with improving data collection on ecosystem health and “championing policies and approaches and ensuring accountability” on biodiversity in forestry policy.

Several other leading conservation groups in the province have also praised the proposed framework, but they aren’t the only ones at the table.

Click to play video: 'B.C. announces new plan to protect old growth forests'
B.C. announces new plan to protect old growth forests

The industry group B.C. Council of Forest Industries told Global News Thursday that it was still reviewing the plan.

“Its potential direct impacts on our sector are not clear yet, and will depend on what the final policy looks like,” the council said in a statement.

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Wu said First Nations will also play a critical role, as the stewards empowered to lead conservation initiatives on their territories.

The province is currently consulting with First Nations, multiple natural resource sectors and industry and local governments over the policy.

It is also accepting feedback from the public by email until Jan. 15, 2024.

Wu said he expects the policy to be finalized by next spring.

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