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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.