Preserving British Columbia’s old-growth forests is among the best ways for the province to fight climate change, according to a new report from the Sierra Club of B.C.
But advocates for the forestry industry say the environmental group is painting too simple of a picture.
The report, dubbed “Intact forests, safe communities,” argues that industrial logging increases the severity and frequency of a number of climate-related disasters, including flooding and wildfires.
It also argues that preserving pristine forests is among the most powerful tools in B.C.’s arsenal to offset carbon emissions.
“The great opportunity here is that while protecting against fires and floods, the same things we need to do in order to protect those forests are also going to be good for the climate as well,” said report author Peter Wood, who holds a PhD in forestry.
“By restoring these forests and making them more resilient, we’re also absorbing more carbon and helping to fight climate change at the same time.”
Last fall, British Columbia updated its old-growth strategy, protecting 300,000 hectares of old-growth forest and postponing logging in nine areas.
The Sierra Club argues B.C. should do more, by actively integrating the protection of old-growth forests into its overall climate change strategy.
Stewart Muir, executive director of Resource Works, argues the Sierra Club has it wrong, and that managed forests that are regularly logged are a better defence against climate change.
“The proposal of the Sierra Club to leave things as they are is actually harmful, negative climate policy because it will not allow the forests over time to be adapted,” he told Global News.
And he said B.C.’s foresters are best equipped to adapt the province’s forests for the challenges of a changing climate in the decades to come.
“When they look at a place that they’re looking to reforest, they’re looking at the type of trees that are needed, the mix, the long-term growth of those trees.”
Muir said forestry, as a renewable industry, should be encouraged, and argued that every tree cut down for construction or other tasks is capturing carbon.
Carl Sweet, who sells equipment to the forestry industry, argues that just a third of B.C.’s coastal forests are currently open to logging.
He said that’s a fair trade off for the tens of thousands of jobs the industry supports.
“We only harvest less than one per cent of our forest annually in British Columbia,” Sweet said.
“If you look at that very small per cent of forest that we harvest and you look at the social and economic benefits that it gives to our families and our communities across this province, I think there’s a lot of benefits to our forest industry and how sustainable and how proactive we’ve been in the last 125 years.”
But with the global supply of old-growth forests at an all-time low and the effects of climate change already being felt, Wood said the time to act is now.
“When you have an intact forest, you’re more likely to withstand a big storm that otherwise would send tons of water and debris into a creek,” he said.
“Some of these clear cuts (with left over slash piles), they just end up being like ticking time bombs, they’re dry, almost like kindling waiting to be on fire.”