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I Don’t Think It Matters Which Experts…We Would Have Gotten The Same Results?

A follow-up comment to the October 28, 2021 post, The Best Science And Data Available On BC’s Old Growth Forests?


Last week, the BC government announced intentions to defer timber harvesting for 2.6 million hectares of BC’s most at-risk ancient, rare, and priority large stands of old growth forests.


There is no doubt that these potential deferrals represent closures of several timber harvesting businesses, multiple sawmills, remanufacturers, value-added producers, pulp and paper mills, pellet plants and energy producers as well as supplier and service businesses. Estimates for job losses range from the government’s projection of 4,500 jobs to COFI’s 18,000 jobs.



Given there is so some much at stake I would expect Premier John Horgan and Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Katrine Conroy have gone above and beyond to ensure the deferrals announced, along with the science and data behind them was rock solid. When Minister Conroy announced the appointees to the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel (“TAP”) last June, the reason for her commitment to using the “the best science and data available” to identify deferral areas must have been to establish confidence in the process knowing that the outcome would put people’s livelihoods at stake.


Unfortunately, that attempt to create pre-emptive confidence has simply failed if it had been targeted towards the forest industry, its workers, and their families.



OUTSIDE INFLUENCE?

Indeed, the target for building confidence was never the industry folk, but rather, the environmental community given that one of the most glaring aspects of this process so far has been the government’s appointment of four of the five TAP panelists with ties to the Sierra Club BC as recently noted by Resource Works. Add in that Minister of Environment George Heyman as the former executive director of the Sierra Club BC, and one certainly begins to develop a healthy dose of skepticism in this old growth deferral process and how it has unfolded so far.


The Premier and his Minister(s) knew right from the start there would be job losses. They owed those who would lose their jobs respect and confidence in the decisions given the workers would be paying the price. To my great dismay, I do not see respect or confidence and here is why.


CONFLICTING ESTIMATES ARE NOT THE SAME RESULTS

Forsite Consultant Ltd.’s (“Forsite”) recently demonstrated that three of the TAP’s panelists past attempt[1] at estimating the amount large old growth trees “led to several inaccurate conclusions about the current state of old growth in BC.”


Forsite, a highly respected consulting firm known for its expertise in forest inventory, found that the total amount of old growth forests was slightly less than previously thought, at 11.4 million hectares (given it did not assess old growth forests located on private lands and included historical impacts of wildfires and mountain pine beetle). More importantly, Forsite found that 3.3 million hectares or 29.3% of old growth forests were on sites capable of producing large trees - a sharp contrast to the less than previous 3% estimate[2] that fundamentally incited the urgency of the issue with government.


Then came TAP’s recommendations to government, Priority Deferrals, An Ecological Approach and its 2.6 million hectares of recommendations.


Granted, the Forsite report was published within just a few days of TAP’s report to government, but I would have thought even if there was a glimmer of doubt, that testing TAP’s estimates against Forsite’s work would have been a rational move. But no, and when Minister Conroy was questioned about TAP’s ties to the Sierra Club by Lisa Cordasco, a Vancouver Sun journalist (Vancouver Sun, November 4, 2021) the Minister said,


“I don’t think it matters which experts we would have gotten on the technical advisory panel. We would have gotten the same results”


Gotten the same results? The following is a comparison of the results of three different estimates on old growth that are based on publicly available reports:





The table shows an immensely wide variation in estimates, particularly for the big-treed old growth estimate from 3% to 56% of all old growth forests.


When the results of the Last Stand report, Forsite and TAP’s Priority Deferrals are compared, I do not see “the same results.” And that is with two of the reports, the Last Stand and Priority Deferrals having the same “experts” as in Karen Price, Rachel Holt and Dave Daust.


Despite the massive gap in estimates between the reports, the Priority Deferrals report actually cites some of these author’s previous research (a published scientific journal version of the Last Stand report[3]) to emphasize how big old growth trees were rare and at risk (yet they ignore the massive gap between their TAP estimate and that of their Last Stand report estimate of big-treed old growth forest). That is a bit audacious in my opinion and certainly casts doubt on any of the “science” used by TAP.


The non-specificity of the Last Stand report and TAP information makes it hard to compare to the Forsite report. Forsite makes the effort to identify what is in the “Timber Harvesting Land Base” (“THLB”) which is where actual timber harvesting operations occur. According to TAP’s Priority Deferrals report footnote #1, “at-risk forests” mean those where “failure to act now could lead to the permanent loss of rare or unique ecosystem components,” I would assume TAP’s term “at-risk” is their equivalent to “about to be logged” even though much of the area they have identified in their report may be outside of the THLB and never a candidate for logging.


There were many other aspects of the BC government’s deferrals announcement that has left me wondering truly what is the strategy behind this announcement?


OLD GROWTH MAPS

TAP published eight old growth maps as part of their Priority Deferrals report. TAP describes the old growth maps as “adequate to guide meaningful deferrals immediately.”


TAP noted the maps were provided at a provincial scale. Upon review, it is quickly apparent these maps were not meant for operational application.

A very strange choice was made to present prioritised at-risk old growth deferrals within areas known to be existing provincial parks or other protected areas. An example is shown for Strathcona Provincial Park (British Columbia’s first provincial park).

For the left image, the darker shade of green is the Strathcona Park area taken from a BC Parks map. The right image, coarse and heavily pixelated, is from TAP’s Old Growth Map #1 and shows red areas as prioritised at-risk big-treed old growth deferrals, pink areas for ancient forests deferrals, and the grey areas as no-harvesting or prohibited harvesting areas. No timber harvesting can take place in Strathcona Park yet there are deferrals within the park area (and no administrative park boundaries shown) that are potentially at-risk?





If you read the text of the map, it says:


“Harvest prohibited or generally prohibited are forested areas already covered by an existing conservation designation. Some priority deferral areas shown are already covered by an existing conservation designation.”


If these forests are already in the protected area or have conservation designations, they are not at-risk and do not need to be deferred, because they are already protected. It is very confusing.


The maps have other issues. Industry contacts have said these maps are showing deferral areas for young forests, wildfire burnt forests and other non-old growth stands. One estimate I have heard is upwards of 10% to 15% of the announced deferrals are young forests.


Zooming in reveals the coarseness of the information which hardly makes for an adequate “guide to meaningful deferrals immediately.”


Given the billions of dollars to the provincial economy that are at risk, I would have thought the government would have invested more to get these maps right.


FIRST NATIONS CONSULTATION

One of the most absolutely astounding parts about the deferral announcement was the 30-day request to First Nations to indicate support for these deferrals, or not. Many others have commented on the outrageousness of this request, so I am not going elaborate because it should be self-explanatory why this is so problematic on so many fronts. With all there has been said with the government’s talk about Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, respect and reconciliation with First Nations, this government’s request just does not make sense.

2.6 MILLIONS HECTARES OF RECOMMENDED DEFERRALS

It is fair to say, there are many faults to this deferral announcement. Perhaps one of the most troubling is the misleading nature of the 2.6 million hectares. As pointed out, the maps show deferrals within protected areas, so those areas are not part of the 2.6 million hectares but we have no way of telling what is. The important distinction of the THLB and non-THLB is not made, even in the tabulated break-down of the deferred areas, which means there is no way to understand how much of this “deferral” area is going to impact the forest industry. The 2.6 million hectares is essentially a meaningless number which has caused panic.


STRATEGY?

What was the goal of the advisors to the Premier with their strategy behind the announcement and its timing? To generate a big number to garnish kudos from the environmental community (and the vast amount of the public that have fallen for their misinformation)? To incite an immediate condemnation from the industry to lend creditability to the boldness of the government’s actions in the eyes of the environmental community?


Why was it timed to be released on November 2? There are absolutely no political threats from the BC Greens nor BC Liberal Party, both in respective weakened states. While there was the commitment to deliver on the old growth file, there really were no consequences to delaying in order to get it right. All I can speculate is that political games motivating this announcement to coincide with the COP26 conference in Glasgow which were opened with a focus on deforestation. I do not know, but what appears to be a rushed job fraught with issues is going to have downstream consequences (there are massive rallies planned for November 18).


You may have heard the government is now running radio advertisements noting “decades of mismanagement”. This is a slap in the face. I am a forest professional with 30-years of experience and accumulated knowledge - I am deeply insulted. What about the Great Bear Rainforest, Clayoquot Sound, and all the valleys on southern Vancouver Island that the NDP government protected in the 1990s including, none-other than the Fairy Creek watershed? Claiming mismanagement of forests that are third-party certified and globally recognized as sustainable is just ridiculous.


Who is running the government of this province? It has become very apparent; it is the Sierra Club and their brethren (then and now). This is not a transparent or open process and appears designed to confuse (or worse, made up literally in the moment).


COMMITTMENT

Premier Horgan and Minister Conroy committed to implementing the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review. They have not done so on recommendations #1 and #5


#1. Engage the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations to review this report and any subsequent policy or strategy development and implementation.


#5. Provide the public with timely and objective information about forest conditions and trends.


And contrary to her comments to the Vancouver Sun, Minister Conroy most certainly has not ensured the best science and data available was used to develop the deferral recommendations. In going down this path, the Minister is in direct contravention of the Ministry of Forests and Range Act which obligates her to: manage, protect, and conserve the forest and range resources of the government having regard to immediate and long-term economic and social benefits they confer on British Columbia; and, to encourage a vigorous, efficient and world competitive timber processing industry.

First Nations deserve better. Workers and business owners of the BC forest sector deserve better. We all deserve better. Halt this process, be transparent and get it right - not for the Sierra Club, not for votes, but for the people of this province.


Written By David Elstone, RPF

Publisher, View From The Stump newsletter

Managing Director, Spar Tree Group Inc.

david@spartreegroup.com

spartreegroup.com


[1] BC’s Old Growth: The Last Stand For Biodiversity [2] BC’s Old Growth: The Last Stand For Biodiversity

[3] Conflicting Portrayals of Remaining Old Growth: The British Columbia Case, Canadian Journal of Research, April 5, 2021, Karen Price, Rachel Holt and Dave Daust

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