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Adding Up The Numbers On BC Old Growth Deferrals

An Editorial Opinion – Right From The Stump, April 8, 2022


The following quotes come from a six-month progress update on the Province’s implementation of old growth timber harvesting deferrals presented in a news release on April 1, 2022 B.C., First Nations move forward with unprecedented old growth deferrals

Unprecedented old growth deferrals
Deferrals have been implemented on nearly 1.7 million hectares…
In total, more than 80% of the priority at-risk old growth identified by the advisory panel is currently not threatened by logging…


Given the progress update includes supporting numbers, there is just too much temptation to not take a closer look what all this information means.


The Province’s old growth deferral initiative has been one of the most impactful shifts in forest policy in decades and has generated significant anxiety across much of British Columbia ‘s forest industry. There is plenty to unpack from this news release. Clearly, the intent of this progress update was to convey substantial performance on the old growth file – so let’s take a closer look.


FIRST NATIONS ENGAGEMENT

First Nations engagement is an essential piece of the old growth deferrals process. At the very start the deferral process, Minister of Forests Katrine Conroy learnt a harsh lesson on First Nations engagement (…as in what not to do) from attempting to impose a 30-day deadline for First Nations to confirm support for proposed deferrals. Having quickly realized the misstep, the Province has presumably adjusted to a more respectful consultative process with First Nations. The April 1 progress update provides engagement by the numbers:


Achieving a response rate of 92% is an impressive number, especially given how the old growth deferral process started off on the wrong foot. It is in the details of how First Nations responded which proves interesting.


First Nations responses indicating opposition have only totaled seven or 4%, which is a relatively small number and probably a huge relief to the BC government.


Seventy-five or 40% of First Nations have agreed to defer harvest – not a strong number, but then again, this is only six months into the process. From a sense of urgency, this response rate would be disappointing if you are part of the anti-harvesting faction. There is no indication of how much hectares that these 75 First Nations have agreed to defer, and furthermore, it is not known where they are located, how much of that deferred area was already protected, and essentially not going to be harvested due to economics. A discussion on how much hectares were deferred due to First Nations engagement will be revisited later in this post.


The most peculiar aspect of this part of the news release is the quote “More than 60 First Nations have requested more time to decide, including time to incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge.” By doing the math, “more than 60” is actually 106 or 56% of First Nations that responded with a request for needing more time. It is true that 106 is more than 60, but it’s not anywhere close. Such an apparent choice to be vague raises the spectre of suspicion. What is the motivation behind the vagueness of saying more than 60 when by the math, it is 106?


In my opinion when 56% of First Nations responded with requests for more time, it says a lot about this process. Reasons as to why can only be speculated. Is it the need to sort out potential conflicts with other First Nations with overlapping traditional territories? Is it because it might impact ongoing treaty negotiations? Is it a lack of capacity to assess the proposed deferrals? Is it because First Nations wish to understand the impacts to their communities as it may impact economic reconciliation or existing economic entities owned by the First Nations?


Six months into this deferral process, the Province likely presumed it would have had the immediate backing of most First Nations, but clearly, they do not so far.


OLD GROWTH DEFERRALS NUMBERS

The trick to understanding the spin on old growth deferral numbers is to keep track of each number’s status label. The following are the numbers as presented in the news release:

Minister Conroy had noted in her press conference that 81% of priority at-risk old growth of the 4.0 million hectares that the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel (“TAP”) identified is currently not threatened by logging:


  • 35% was already protected (parks or OGMAs)

  • 26% or 1.05 million hectares have been deferred based on TAP recommendations.

  • 20% or 780,000 hectares was noted as uneconomic to harvest otherwise considered outside the Timber Harvesting Land Base (“THLB”). While not guaranteed to be protected from harvesting if considered outside the THLB, it’s likelihood of being harvested is low due to various circumstances


To take this analysis a step further, there are some useful supplemental data points that come from past new releases and TAP’s Background and Technical Appendices.

With this additional information, the amount of progress the Province has made with regard to deferrals through consultations with First Nations can be more precisely assessed.

Breaking down the 2.6 million hectares TAP recommended for deferral due to having a very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss…


  • BCTS deferrals represent 570,000 hectares or 22% of the 2.6 million hectares of unprotected priority at-risk old growth. We do not know how much of the BCTS deferrals include THLB or not. Deferring BCTS was an easy move which was done immediately on day one.

  • 30% of the 2.6 million hectares or 780,000 hectares were uneconomic to harvest otherwise considered outside the Timber Harvesting Land Base (“THLB”).

  • Taking out BCTS deferrals and uneconomic areas, leaves 480,000 hectares or 18% of the 2.6 million hectares that have been deferred due to the Province’s consultation efforts with First nations.

  • There is another 770,000 hectares still to potentially be deferred as being unprotected, priority at-risk old growth.


In comparison to all sources of deferrals, the Province’s effort to actively engage with First Nations has resulted in the least amount of deferrals. Minister Conroy suggests more to come but it has been slow so far.


This analysis reveals that progress to defer old growth is not as moving along as well as the Minister suggests. Total deferrals (included uneconomic areas) are indeed 81% of target; however, deferrals representing 69% of target have essentially been in place since the start of deferral process. Only 12% have been the result of Ministry staff conducting successful consultations with First Nations.


When will the deferral process be completed? That answer entirely depends on the consultation process between the Province and the remaining 106 First Nations. I am just guessing, but I would speculate the next 480,000 hectares will likely require more effort and time to defer than the first batch.


CONFLATING THLB with NON-THLB

Where dissecting the numbers becomes messy is in the accounting of the THLB and non-THLB hectares. TAP included 1.4 million hectares of non-THLB in their 2.6 million hectares of unprotected priority at-risk old growth recommended for deferral. Given 780,000 hectares were accounted for in the April 1 progress update, where is the remaining 620,000 hectares?

Without guidance from the Province, it is unknown how much non-THLB is included in the 1.05 million hectares of already deferred areas (in either BCTS or First Nations deferred areas). Factoring in the 780,000 hectares of accounted for non-THLB, the range of potential hectares that the Province still needs to defer is between 150,000 hectares to 770,000 hectares depending on where the unaccounted non-THLB rests.


THE HEADLINES

Another 619,000 hectares have been deferred without the involvement of the Province, through direct discussions between forest licensees and First Nations. These hectares come from integrated resource management plans currently being developed, independent of TAP recommendations. While these deferred areas are not part of the TAP recommendations, the news release does note that they were deferred after November 2, 2021.


Prior to the announcement of TAP’s recommendations, 198,000 hectares were deferred, including 2,000 hectares associated with the Fairy Creek watershed (much of Fairy Creek would be considered non-THLB or protected). It would be appear these initial deferrals (pre-TAP) are not included as part of the news release headline of nearly 1.7 million hectares of implemented deferrals. Why did TAP not include these 198,000 hectares as part of their recommendations when they were specifically deferred for old growth management?

Despite the headline of nearly 1.7 million hectares of deferrals implemented, only 29% or 480,000 hectares of that has come from the Province consulting with First Nations. For the anti-harvesting faction, the source of the deferral does not matter as long as old growth harvesting stops, even when it comes by overriding the interests of First Nations.


INDUSTRY IMPACT

The immediate deferral of BCTS areas has had a huge impact to many wood product manufacturers. The turmoil is real as manufacturing facilities scramble to find log supply and their owners question future investments. The deferrals made so far do not tell the true story of the on the ground impacts.


As mentioned during the press conference, a majority of forest licensees have taken it upon themselves to defer planned harvesting in TAP recommended areas while they carry on discussions with local First Nations. This collective action runs counter to the messaging of the anti-harvesting movement that suggests immediate blanket deferrals are needed because yet to be deferred TAP areas are at imminent threat of destruction from harvesting.


Pre-emptive actions by forest licensees have resulted in log supply getting tighter. Industry rumour suggests that the coastal industry could run out of logs by Q3. Logging and road building contractors have already begun to see their amount of work curtail. The amateur implementation of this old growth deferral initiative appears well on its way to realizing the so-called unintended consequences of an industry going into gridlock.


FINAL COMMENTS

The intent of this critique on the BC government’s progress report has been to provide clarity on a process that has lacked transparency from the beginning. I believe I have demonstrated that there is a high degree of spin to this progress report, motivated by whatever political reason.


Stating 81% of the 4.0 million hectares of priority at-risk old growth is currently not threatened due to government’s progress is misleading in terms of progress. The government would have already known from the start that protected areas, BCTS deferrals and non-THLB contributed to the vast amount of that 4.0 million hectares target. Obtaining approval for deferrals through consultations with First Nations has been the real work and will need to continue, but it’s a slow process.


I suspect that the BC government does not like the current situation being sandwiched by extremists on one side that are blocking highways and starving themselves, and on the other side, a forest industry getting close to imploding. Premier Horgan probably wanted this stage of the Old Growth Strategic Review completed as soon as possible but likely miscalculated. The forest industry needs predictability and the sooner that is achieved the sooner primary and value-added wood products manufacturers will know what they must work with. Most importantly, for government, First Nations, industry, and the public, having transparent information available for meaningful dialogue will be the only path forward. I hope this article has helped in this regard.


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Written By David Elstone, RPF

Publisher, View From The Stump newsletter

Managing Director, Spar Tree Group Inc.

david@spartreegroup.com

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