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The Best Science And Data Available On BC's Old Growth Forests?

An Editorial Opinion – Right From The Stump, October 28, 2021



LESS THAN 3% OLD GROWTH WITH LARGE TREES REMAIN

Or in other words, less than 1% of all BC forests still have large old growth trees, according to BC’s Old Growth: The Last Stand For Biodiversity (“The Last Stand report”), a report by Karen Price, Ph.D, Rachel Holt, Ph.D., R.P.Bio and Dave Daust, M.Sc., RPF.


The Last Stand report was published just in time as input to the Old Growth Strategic Review being conducted by the then minority NDP government in 2020. The Last Stand report is substantive, peer reviewed and states it was independently produced, with no source of funding noted (to my knowledge).


The Last Stand report concludes:


There is less than 3% (or 415,000 hectares) of old growth forests with large trees remaining in the province and “without immediate action we will lose these globally priceless old forests.”


The notion of “less than 3%” was immediately embraced by prominent environment organizations including Canopy, the Sierra Club of BC and Stand.Earth, and was their authoritative basis for delivering highly effective pressure campaigns to bully the NDP government into halting all old growth timber harvesting.


The government has since committed to implementing all 14 recommendations in the “A New Future For Old Forests: A Strategic Review of How British Columbia Manages for Old Forests Within Its Ancient Ecosystems” – a review that did not produce its own analysis on the amount of old growth but relied on the government’s estimate of 13.2 million hectares in total. Some immediate old growth harvesting deferrals were announced with the release of that review.


One of the key aspects of The Last Stand report is the comment that not all old growth forests are the same, making the distinction that “only a tiny proportion of BC’s remaining forest supports large trees.” Indeed, old forest trees range in size, and not all of the 13.2 million hectares of old growth forests contain large trees (i.e., the picturesque images of massive, monumental trees). The Last Stand report’s assertion is that while there may be millions of hectares of old growth forests, what matters is the relatively very small area with stands of large trees.


The mix of masterful social media, powerful imagery and an independent report stating less than 1% of BC’s forests has large old growth trees has created immense political pressure to halt old growth harvesting. The Honourable Sonja Furstenau, MLA has made headlines tabling in the legislature Stand.Earth’s petition with 50,000 signatures. Canopy obtained 200 signatures of prominent figures such as an ex-Prime Minister, the singer Bryan Adams and even Captain Kirk (William Shatner) – all were informed using The Last Stand report’s estimate that there are less than 3% or less than 415,000 hectares of large old growth trees left in BC, and that these forests are subjected to imminent harvest.


TAPPED FOR TAP

The government has been hinting that more deferrals are coming very soon. In a bewildering move to many, including myself, the government engaged all three of the authors of The Last Stand report to participate on the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel (“TAP”) to provide science-based advice on identifying candidate deferrals areas.


According to a June 24, 2021 government news release


““This new technical panel will ensure we’re using the best science and data available to identify at-risk old growth ecosystems and prioritize areas for deferral,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “We are committed to a science-based approach to old growth management, and our work with the advisory panel will help us break down barriers between the different interpretations of data that are out there.””


What is key to this statement is the Minister’s commitment to ensuring the use of the “best science and data available.” The commitment stands out because there is a new estimate on the amount of old growth forests in BC just recently published…


FORSITE: 29% not 3%

Forsite Consultants Ltd. (“Forsite”), a highly respected consulting firm known for its expertise in forest inventory analysis has recently published a new perspective on the amount of old growth forests in BC and brings into question the “less than 3% estimate” that has fueled the global campaign against old growth harvesting in BC. Forsite’s “Status of BC’s Old Growth Forests, The Situation in 2021” was just published October 2021.


Forsite’s report found that the total amount of old growth forests was 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); however, it found 3.3 million hectares or 29.3% of old growth forests were on sites that met The Last Stand report’s definition for producing large trees - a sharp contrast to the less than 3% estimate offered in The Last Stand report.


The Forsite report is transparent about its source of funding coming from the British Columbia Council of Forest Industries (“COFI”), a forest sector trade association. Critics will suggest that because COFI was the client, Forsite must be biased in its conclusions. From my perspective, the fact that COFI is identified as the source of funding makes it even a more robust report as a company like Forsite, full of forest professionals, accountable for their work, would not jeopardize their reputation simply to satisfy a single client’s interests – it’s called professional independence.


I would expect that the report’s lead author, Cam Brown, RPF, MF went to great lengths to ensure his information and analysis was the best it could be in anticipation of massive scrutiny. Especially to be able to make the claim The Last Stand report “led to several inaccurate conclusions about the current state of old growth in BC.”


From less than 3% to 29% is a huge gap in perspective and occurs because of the type of data used as well as the methodology. Bottomline – Forsite used better, more current data and a more appropriate methodology.


While it can be debated how much is enough, it is important to acknowledge that a 29% level does not paint as dire a situation as less than 3%. Forsite has shown there is better data available and has dramatically enhanced our understanding of the status of old growth forests in BC.


Announcing more old growth deferrals will be one of the boldest moves by any BC provincial government in shaping its forest sector in half a century. Minister Conroy committed to ensuring the best science and data available was used. Now we have better data – does that not change things? Did the government know better information existed? If the government was aware better data did exist, why has it not been presented to the public? And why has the 3% estimate not been challenged by government?


This is concerning. Has the public been misinformed? As a forester and a British Columbian, I just want to know the truth.


THIS IS A MATTER OF CONFIDENCE – THE WORLD IS WATCHING

The world is watching British Columbia’s forest sector due to an effective anti-timber harvesting campaign premised on inaccurate information. Our collective emotional stance on this issue is biased due to the notion less than 3% large old growth forests remains – an estimate which has now been drastically changed with Forsite’s report.


Advice from TAP including the three authors of The Last Stand report and the subsequent government decisions that are pending will have wide ranging social-economic impacts. So, what estimate on the amount of old growth is being used to guide the process? The prudent thing to do would be to pause to acknowledge, investigate and recalibrate based on Forsite’s findings.

The first and one of the most important recommendations of the A New Future For Old Forests was consultation with First Nations. I would suspect that effort is underway currently. What information is government presenting to First Nations to enable appropriate consultation, guidance and decisions by Chiefs and Councils, as well as Hereditary Chiefs and Elders?


It is my guess that the BC government should have similar or even better data than Forsite, so I must ask was the Minister’s commitment carried out? The less than 3% estimate has continuously been proliferated by The Last Stand report’s authors (and media), essentially unchallenged even as recently as just a few weeks ago at a Canadian Institute of Forestry conference, where one of The Last Stand report’s authors and TAP member spoke.


To be clear, my comments are not meant in any way to question the abilities of The Last Stand report’s authors, rather my concerns rest with their estimates generated. Forsite has demonstrated there is better data and therefore more accurate estimates.


The accuracy of estimates is a very serious issue given the implications to the livelihoods of people of this province. Now that we have the Forsite report, we deserve to have confidence that the information being used is the best available, (even if we do not always agree with the decisions made by provincial politicians).


So here is what I think should be done:


· At the very least, Cam Brown and his team at Forsite should be given a seat with the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel.


  • The world, and more importantly the people of this province deserve to be provided respect. BC’s old growth forest battle has been ripe with a mountain of misinformation. The BC government should be ensuring transparency and credibility to the old growth deferral process.

  • Set the record (and world) straight. Minister Conroy should provide a public statement on this new Forsite estimate on the status of old growth forests, including the amount of old growth forests with large trees, well ahead of any further deferral announcements. If the Minister has alternative estimates, we deserve to know.

  • Defer deferrals until transparency is provided and confidence is re-established to this important process.

  • Consult with the Office of the Ombudsperson of BC to investigate whether the public was treated unfairly in terms of what government has known about the amount of old growth forests, what TAP knows, and what has been allowed to influence the public.

  • Make sure First Nations communities truly do have the best information possible.


We are not running out of old growth forests, including ones with large trees. An informed and balanced approach to managing old growth forests is important. There is no argument from myself that we need improvements in this regard. Incorporating First Nations or indigenous voices into the process is vital. Even with better information potential deferrals decisions may not change, but at least British Columbians should have the confidence in knowing that decisions are being made with truly the best science and data available, as committed to by Minister Conroy.


Written By David Elstone, RPF

Publisher, View From The Stump newsletter

Managing Director, Spar Tree Group Inc.

david@spartreegroup.com


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