British Columbia environmental groups are giving the province failing grades for its progress to protect at-risk old-growth forests, two years after the government promised to make good on more than a dozen report recommendations.
In their bi-annual report card, Ancient Forest Alliance, Sierra Club BC, Stand.earth and the Wilderness Committee graded the province ‘Fs’ for how well it has adhered to the three-year plan and its prioritization of ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. This was followed by a ‘D-‘ for its transparency and communication and a ‘D’ for what immediate action is being taken for at-risk forests.
“We’re still marching towards ecosystem and climate breakdown,” said Jens Wieting, senior forest and climate campaigner at Sierra Club BC. “The B.C. government has been dishonest about progress. We have not seen the paradigm shift. At-risk old-growth forests are still being clearcut.”
Grades for four of the five key issues fell since the last report card in March.
The Old-Growth Strategic Review panel released its report on Sept. 11, 2020, including 14 recommendations it said should be completed by 2023. These include immediate deferrals of logging in some of the most at-risk areas, support for communities to transition away from their reliance on logging old-growth, and better engagement with impacted First Nations communities.
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“The B.C. government, Premier (John) Horgan promised to implement all recommendations,” Wieting said. “It’s now two years. The recommendations were shared with a three-year framework. There’s only one year left but we have not seen the promised change. In fact, even some of the most at-risk old growth forests are still being logged.”
Global News has reached out to the Ministry of Forests for comment on the report card,
Last November, an independent Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel identified 2.6 million hectares of unprotected, at-risk old-growth that should be prioritized for deferrals – temporary suspension of logging – in B.C.
However, environmental groups say it was unclear which deferrals would stop permitted logging and ongoing monitoring shows clearcutting continues in areas recommended for deferral.
Last month, a Stand.earth’s report determined more than 55,000 hectares of at-risk old-growth land are at “imminent risk” of being logged, are currently being logged, or have already been cut.
In a statement on Aug. 30, B.C. Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said Stand.earth’s report “misses the forest for the trees,” and misled the public on the amount of logging that has been done.
Only 0.3 per cent of the proposed deferral areas have been harvested since November, according to Conroy, who added logging has been deferred on nearly 1.7 million hectares in partnership with First Nations.
However, Stand.earth’s report suggests 1,600 hectares of forest in those proposed deferral areas in four sample areas were logged between March of 2021 and 2022.
Despite the most recent dire report card, Wieting says it is not too late for the province to bring up its grades.
“But they’ve only one year,” he said. “So, the next premier has to make this a priority because this is an issue that we cannot delay on. More delays will mean that there will be no at-risk old-growth forests left. They must be protected to safeguard the web of life that depends on these forests and help us to reduce the worst impacts of climate change.”
-With files from Elizabeth McSheffrey