Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Logging laggard threatens Great Bear Rainforest conservation

June 29, 2011

A group of environmental organizations claim increased logging activity in the southern part of B.C.‘s Great Bear Rainforest threatens the success of a conservation model supported by governments, First Nations, environmentalists and major forestry companies.

Aerial photographs, commissioned by a trio of environmental groups called the Rainforest Solutions Project, show wide swaths of barren clear-cuts, land tenure the group says belongs to TimberWest Forest Corp., the only remaining laggard in a unique conservation plan established there in 2009.

“With TimberWest, what I saw was a very extended patchwork of clear-cuts, one after another,” said Jens Wieting, who was on the flight over the region and campaigns for Sierra Club BC.

“It was very shocking to see. This is not the case in other parts of the Great Bear Rainforest. You see logging, but the operations are smaller.”

Sometimes called “lighter-touch logging,” Ecosystem-Based Management, or EBM Forestry, forms the basis of an agreement between governments, First Nations, environmental organizations and other logging companies operating in the Great Bear Rainforest. It is not an outright ban on logging, but a protective measure for old-growth rainforest and its ecosystem.

EBM Forestry is an approach that is designed to protect cultural and ecological values, by determining what must be left in the forest before deciding where and how much to log,” reads the Rainforest Solutions website. The Rainforest Solutions Project consists of ForestEthics, Greenpeace and Sierra Club BC, three environmental organizations that fought for the EBM Forestry agreement signed in March 2009.

In conservancies, parks and tourism areas — which make up about a third of the Great Bear Rainforest — logging is forbidden. The EBM Forestry agreement broadened that area to include an additional 700 thousand hectares of protected forest, achieving protection for 50 per cent of the total old-growth forest.

TimberWest’s logging activity in this region is not illegal, but jeopardizes the success of the EBM Forestry agreement, said Wieting.

“It’s not a violation, in terms of legal activity,” he said. “But it’s in an area that has already seen most of its old growth forest converted to second growth forest and it’s going to be important that they do something immediately and voluntarily.”

The Great Bear Rainforest spans more than 6 million hectares, twice the area of Vancouver Island. Numerous unregulated salmon spawning rivers crisscross this stretch of B.C.‘s north and central coast. The region is home to the world’s only Kermode bears, a rare white-coloured subspecies of the black bear, also known as the “Spirit Bear.”

“The Great Bear Rainforest is so unique because it is the only remaining temperate rainforest of this size on the planet. You just don’t have another one,” said Wieting.

The southern portion of the forest, where aerial photographs show increased clear-cut logging activity, is the least protected region with only 12 per cent of its forest off-limits to logging.

“We were always concerned about TimberWest because they are operating in the south of the Great Bear Rainforest, which is the hardest hit and with the lowest level of protection,” said Wieting.

Calls made by The Tyee to TimberWest were not returned by deadline, but in a Globe and Mail interview company spokeswoman Sue Handel said TimberWest is disappointed to be singled out by the group of environmentalists. She said the group only recently initiated talks to bring the logging company on board.

But Wieting isn’t convinced those talks have been enough.

“[TimberWest] said they will look into taking voluntary steps in the future and they want to be engaged in the conversation,” said Wieting.

“But it was very little and very late compared to the performance of other operators. They have a very long way to go and we hope that they will commit to take some immediate steps.”

Increased logging activity in the southern region could be detrimental to future conservation measures, said Wieting.

The March 2009 agreement established the 50 per cent minimum for natural old-growth forest, but scientists recommend upping the level to 70 per cent.

“There was always a general agreement between the B.C. government, First Nations, logging companies — except TimberWest — and the environmental groups to go to 70 per cent,” said Wieting.

An independent report commissioned ahead of the agreement states “70% of the range of natural variation of habitats and ecosystems needs to be represented and conserved regionally.”

Wieting said he expects the B.C. government will conduct an assessment of the protective measures, the first of such reports since the program began in 2009, but is concerned the assessment and stricter protection measures wont come soon enough.

The risk, said Wieting, is that TimberWest may be clear-cutting forest that would otherwise be limited in future EBM Forestry agreements.