Poor Land Stewardship

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“Sustainable” is not a word that many people would use to describe British Columbia’s forestry practices. Quite the opposite.

Beginning in the 1970s in the south and 1980s farther north, technological advances and government incentives jump-started a style of corporate forestry that more closely resembles mining than forest stewardship. By the 1990s, the rate of cut was so far beyond sustainable that environmentalists famously described BC as the “Brazil of the North.”

The satellite photo shown at this link captures the loss of oldgrowth forest in a small portion of south-central BC over a period of 25 years between 1978 and 2003. Shockingly, the rate of forest loss in BC has greatly accelerated since then. Indeed, never in Canada’s history has so much forest land been so rapidly converted into clearcuts.

The driving engine behind this this arboreal gold rush is a piece of government legislation passed into law by the BC Liberal government in 2002. To British Columbians this legislation is widely known as FRPA, short for “Forest and Range Practices Act.”

Forest legislation more at odds with forest stewardship would be hard to imagine. Not only did FRPA sweep away about a third of prior industrial and environmental regulations, not only did it reduce the size of the public service by a similar fraction, it also identified timber supply as BC’s primary legislated forest objective. Since 2002, all other considerations have been in distant second place.

Under FRPA, logging companies get to approve their own resource plans while at the same time certifying their own protocols and monitoring their own activities. These protocols FRPA achieves in large part through “professional reliance,” that is, by according to professional foresters and professional biologists the final authority on land use decisions. To describe this authority as “final” is no exaggeration: under FRPA, any proposed cut block or haul road that bears the signature of a professional forester/biologist must by law be approved by government officials. Not even the province’s premier has veto power.

As you might expect, FRPA has prompted bad behaviour on the part of many logging companies who now act in contravention to their social license. Not less, it has also encouraged many professional foresters and biologists to place corporate interests far ahead of the public good. More detailed analyses of FRPA’s impact on forestry practice in BC are found here: Unprofessional Reliance and Wages of Greed.

Sixteen years of public outcry has lately persuaded the BC government to give FRPA a second look – a process currently underway. In many ways, however, it is too late; the damage has already been done. For it is impossible to suddenly convert vast tracts of old forests into young plantation stands without incurring major shifts in ecosystem function. FRPA’s legacy will be felt by rural British Columbians for decades to come.

For better or worse, ecosystem functions already stressed by forest loss are now set to be further stressed by extremes of weather associated with deepening climate change. The loss of biodiversity and foreclosure of regional economic opportunity are discussed elsewhere. Other impacts include xxx

However, FRPA’s biggest and most costly immediate impact is likely to be the ravages of wildfire.Climate change speaks in different idioms in different regions of the world. In northwest North America, it speaks mostly in the idiom of wildfire. In recent years, wildfire has become a force to be reckoned with, to the extent that the xxx worst years for fire have happened since 2010. No longer is it a question of whether rural communities, especially in southern inland BC, will burn. The question now is only when.

In the past it was generally believed that cutblock logging, by removing old trees, was likely to decrease the incidence and severity of wildfire. There is now growing evidence that this is not necessarily the case, especially in humid regions [LINK TO XXX], where logging appears to have the opposite effect, as shown in this youtube video [LINK TO XXX].

Of course an even greater impact of FRPA is its long-term contribution to global climate change. This is not negligible. Logging oldgrowth forests sends massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. One study estimates the loss of carbon when comparing old-growth forest to a 60-year-old stand at more than 300 tonnes of carbon per hectare (more than 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide). It is inescapable that old-growth logging contributes millions of tonnes to provincial carbon dioxide emissions every year.

 

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