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Conservationists press B.C. government on old-growth logging ahead of COP26 climate summit

Click to play video: 'Environmentalists and forest industry debate carbon benefits of B.C.’s coastal old-growth rainforests' Environmentalists and forest industry debate carbon benefits of B.C.’s coastal old-growth rainforests
The Sierra Club says B.C.'s temperate coastal rainforests trap more carbon emissions than any other kind of forest, and that's why they should be left standing. As Paul Johnson reports, the forest industry has another interpretation – Oct 22, 2021

Conservationists are ratcheting up pressure on the B.C. government over old-growth logging ahead of the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The Siera Club B.C. recently delivered a petition to the provincial government signed by more than 250,000 people calling for the province to curb old-growth logging, arguing ancient forests are a key buffer against climate change.

Read more: Letter signed by 200 leaders seeks protection for B.C.’s old growth forests

“This is a reminder that the world is watching what is happening in B.C., people are aware that these are among the most endangered old-growth forests on the planet, they store record high amounts of carbon per hectare, they’re home to species that don’t exist anywhere else,” Sierra Club organizer Jens Wieting told Global News.

British Columbia’s coastal forests are temperate rainforests, which are capable of generating more biomass than any other type of forest in the world.

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Conservationists like Wieting argue that makes them unique in their ability to capture and store carbon as the world seeks to find ways to ward off the worst effects of climate change.

“Big trees have more leaves, more needles, they can do more photosynthesis than small, newly planted trees which means they can sequester more,” he said.

Read more: B.C. old-growth logging protests having political impact, says UBC expert

“But more importantly they have accumulated so much carbon. So this is the best possible combination, huge carbon amounts accumulated over time, ongoing sequestration — that’s like money in the bank with a decent interest rate, we have to preserve that.”

Advocates for the province’s forestry industry aren’t convinced.

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Stewart Muir with industry advocacy group Resource Works argued the science remains unsettled on whether old-growth or new-growth trees actually do a better job of capturing carbon.

“If you’re saying preserve all the old-growth forest because that’s the way to keep gasses out of the air, well what about having young forests that grow and all they do is sequester carbon from the atmosphere,” Muir said.

Read more: Clearcutting B.C. forests contributing more to climate change than fossil fuels: report

Academic studies have come down on both sides of the argument.

Muir went on to argue that the province has gone above and beyond in its protection of old-growth forests, with a large number of coastal habitats already preserved.

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“Already there’s 42,000 old growth management areas where old growth trees are protected, that’s a lot,” he said.

“Three quarters of forests on the coast are already protected forever, that’s pretty good. Not every jurisdiction in the world can say that.”

Environmentalist dispute that argument, however. While the B.C. government estimates 13 million remaining hectares of old-growth forest, a 2020 report from ecologists argues just three per cent of that, about 380,000 hectares, actually supports large trees.

World leaders are set to gather in Glasgow for the COP26 conference from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.

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