Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Logging threatening Great Bear Rainforest

June 28, 2011

A patchwork of clearcuts, seen from the air, is a familiar sight on B.C.’s West Coast. But photos released Tuesday show recent cut blocks within the boundaries of the Great Bear Rainforest, a stretch of old-growth forests the B.C. government promised, with much fanfare, to protect in 2009.
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A trio of environmental organizations that helped establish the Great Bear Rainforest – ForestEthics, Greenpeace and Sierra Club BC – now say increased logging activity in the southern part of the region is jeopardizing the conservation model.

The stretch of central B.C. coast, home to 1,500-year-old giant trees and exotic species including the white Kermode bear, was targeted for preservation by environmental groups in the late 1990s. They organized boycotts of B.C. forest products until government and industry came to the table and struck a deal.

That deal, forged in 2000, formalized in 2006 and codified in 2009, was hailed as a landmark agreement between the forest industry and environmentalists.

It created a sanctuary for the rare snow-white subspecies of black bear living in one of the world’s oldest coastal rainforests, now known as B.C.’s Spirit Bear.

But the conservation deal never banned logging outright.

Instead, it protected nearly two million hectares and established a new type of ecosystem-based management to control logging in the remaining four million hectares.

After years of negotiations, the government determined that ecosystem-based management promised “low-impact logging regulations that will conserve 50 per cent of the natural range of old growth forests.” An independent science team had set the target at 70 per cent. The terms are set to be reviewed in 2014, but environmentalists want to see that conservation target raised now.

“It is particularly in the south that we need the conservation agreements fully in place today rather than tomorrow, to pull us back from the brink and onto a solid ecological footing,” Valerie Langer from ForestEthics said in a statement issued Tuesday. “The years are ticking by, and now it’s time to make the change real.”

The photos were taken during a reconnaissance flight over TimberWest operations by the three environmental groups. They say the patchwork of clearcuts, amid both old growth and second-growth forest, shows that the company’s logging is surging in areas critical to the ecological health of the region.

Officials from Timberwest were not immediately available for comment.

George Hoberg, a forestry professor at the University of B.C., warned in 2009 that the government’s logging standards for the Great Bear Rainforest would lead to further conflict.

“This level of old growth protection falls far short of the standards set by the independent science team. I find it hard to justify the use of the term ecosystem-based management when the representation of old growth forests is so far below the natural range of variation,” he wrote at the time.

“Many are celebrating that we’ve ‘saved the Great Bear Rainforest.’ I don’t see it that way. We’ve protected a third from industrial development … In the remaining two thirds, we’ve adopted a system of forest management that requires between 30 and 50 per cent of old growth forest be retained. That decision allows a tremendous amount of forest fragmentation in a remarkably undisturbed part of the world.”

In an interview this week, he said the government has yet to reconcile how to both preserve the region and work out sustainable logging practices.

“We still have a big gap between a vision of eco-sensitive logging in that region and a type of logging that corporations and first nations can make a profit doing.”