Budget Estimates uncover disappointing answers on old-growth

Apr 2, 2019 | Blog, Estimates, Governance, Question Period | 5 comments

Budget Estimates is an oft-overlooked aspect of our work in the legislature.

Once legislators have passed the budget the debate moves to Estimates. This is an opportunity for members of the opposition to ask direct questions to the Minister about their budget.

In reality, the questions are wide ranging and rarely stick to just the current budget cycle. This opportunity gives members of the opposition time to dig in and ask about the philosophical approach of the Minister and government. During Estimates the Minister has the full support of their senior staff.

The Estimates schedule is up to the government, but the annual budget cycle is not complete until these votes pass for each Ministry.

These debates are extremely slow moving. A Member asks a question, the Minister convenes with senior staff, then the Minister answers the question, and a Member asks the next question. Needless to say, it is not as exciting as the theatre of Question Period, so fewer people watch it. But it is no less important!

All of these discussions are on the record on Hansard. They capture important exchanges where the opposition has the space and time to press a Minister when they fail to provide a clear answer (or response).

The wrong direction

So with that background, here are two troubling responses from Hon. Doug Donaldson (Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development) to questions from BC Liberal MLA John Rustad about the BC NDP’s approach to the protection of coastal old-growth.

As the Ancient Forest Alliance pointed out in their advocacy with our caucus, coastal old-growth stands on BC’s coast are not a renewable resource – it takes 200 years for second-growth forests to begin to display some old-growth characteristics. On the South Coast 75% of these forests have already been logged. That includes over 90% of the high-productivity valley bottoms. High productive old-growth is essential for salmon, for carbon sequestration and watershed health. That’s why calls to protect these precious stands have been escalating.

As the Minister succinctly responds to MLA Rustad – government doesn’t intend to protect much.

Further, I have been in meetings with the “environmental organizations” whose interest is in “protecting old-growth forests to a larger extent.” They have been exceptionally clear with us that they have been explicitly clear with government. In other words, there should be no confusion about their desire to protect the remaining high productivity old-growth on the British Columbia coast.

And, the 13,000 emails I have received in two years from British Columbians suggest the government is on the wrong track on this issue.

In that light, Minister Donaldson’s answer is incredibly disappointing.

Exchange from Thursday March 28, 2019 (5:35pm)

View exchange on Hansard.

J. Rustad:

For the little bit of time remaining that we have in some questions today, I actually want to talk a little bit about some of the coastal issues, just from a staff perspective. The first question to the minister associated with coastal issues is: is the minister considering a moratorium on old-growth logging?

Hon. D. Donaldson:

We’re not considering a moratorium on old-growth logging.

J. Rustad:

Boy, if only questions could be that quick and answered on both sides, we’d be through this in a day or two.

Obviously, there’s a significant amount of old growth that has already been protected within the coast, particularly on the Island, but there still is old growth that is a significant part of the fibre basket that feeds the 15 million or thereabouts cubic metres per year that is harvested on the coast.

Does the minister anticipate or see within this upcoming budget any changes to the amount of old-growth fibre that would be continually contributing towards the annual allowable cut?

Hon. D. Donaldson:

Currently second growth on the coast comprises about 46 percent of the harvest. So second growth is a significant contributor to the annual allowable cut. I’ve met with environmental organizations that are interested in our approach to old-growth management. It was addressed, to some degree, in a coast process that we had about increased fibre utilization of what we’re actually harvesting that will actually contribute more fibre to mills and to pulp mills as well.

The old-growth component of forests on the coast obviously contributes significantly to the annual allowable cut. We are engaging with those who are interested in protecting old-growth forests to a larger extent. We’re drilling down to come up with the kinds of values that they attach to old-growth forests. If it’s a tourism value, then there could be options around retention of certain trees. If it has to do with other factors, then that’s what we want to know. But as far as this government is concerned, there will be sustainable harvesting in old-growth forests on the coast.

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  1. Gerry Taylor

    ” We’re drilling down to come up with the kind of values that they (assume NGO’s) attach to old growth forests”. EXPLETIVES, EXPLETIVES, EXPLETIVES BY ME! Surely ecologists within government have explained, ad nauseum, the value of trees in an ecosystem sense. They are not just trees in a forest context as harvestable fibre! Having spent over 60 years in crown and private ecosystems show me where there is ecological integrity and assured sustainability in the harvested old-growth forests on the coast. Most have been denuded by clearcutting practices way beyond allowable opening sizes! Further, variable retention, particularly bordering fish bearing watercourses, is nothing but an industrial/political shell game. No wonder other ecosystem values have been abused by neglect. There is a critical need for an adjusted and new paradigm for supposedly ecosystem – based management. Industrial logging needs needs new leadership and government “direction” of the publics’ natural living resources. The forest minister, forestry officials and other ecosystem personnel need to find a new life in a Ministry of Ecology.

    • Thomas Cheney

      Hi Gerry, I think that is why we need areas designated for selective logging and extended rotation. Old growth wood is useful for speciality products but in many parts of the coast, the amount of old forest in watersheds is below the high-risk threshold identified by the Coast Information Team. What I would ask the Minister is How does the Ministry expect to maintain old growth values in the managed forest areas. It can be done but it requires a type of skillsets and thinking that the wood products industry has yet to learn. There is still too much emphasis on fibre farming rather than producing high-quality wood in biodiverse, close to nature for forests.

  2. Marion Bergevin

    Time for a MORATORIUM on Old Growth and Watershed Logging…until an inventory is completed assessing:
    1. WILDFIRES: Losses of forests from 2017/18 wildfire seasons, and of wildlife and habitat.(i.e. Mt. Caribou near extinction, require Old Growth forests.)
    Determine Carbon Dioxide releases;(3Xs our entire B.C. Carbon budget!), and global Carbon sequestering commitments…to leaving intact, healthy forests.
    2. Inventory of Pine Beetle, Spruce Budworm, and drought stressed losses. Extrapolate potential effects of Climate Change on forests: heat waves, drought, snowpack variations, pine rust, loss of wet species: Cedar, Hemlock; and greater bug and disease infestations.
    3. Determine what accessible, economically viable “fibre” is left. Aerial and GPS surveys, and “on the ground site” analysis of stressors, damages, and predicted future wildfire losses.
    4. Calculate probable damages and mitigation costs, if watershed logging were to destroy water sources to communities, who’s liable for remedial work/paying for alternate sources. If in highway safety or visual Tourism corridors: what probable damages costs, for mudslides, avalanches, loss of life insurances, etc.
    5. Regulate and permit private land logging. With decreases in available TSA land, private land logging and land/logging speculators, must be held accountable for any damages they incur.
    6. Immediately halt whole log exports, and make them available to Value-Added facilities. Tie the amount of fibre allocated, to the number of local jobs created.(as it used to be.)
    7. In drought Climate Change era, unshaded clear cut logging, is no longer viable. Ban fellerbunchers, and revert to selective logging/smaller partial cuts, with smaller machines; employing more loggers.
    9.Present methods of logging, and Forests sustainability, is in jeopardy! Therefore, less wood waste, not slash-burning 30 year old trees, and preserving remaining healthy forests, is imperative. We are in both Climate Change and Forestry CRISES now; which must be accounted and mitigated for!
    10. Leave natural regeneration of Alder, Birch, berry bushes, etc., with no herbicide spraying, as they are fire retardant, high carbon sequestering Deciduous species; they shade desired Conifers, and provide wildlife forage. Use mixed species, multi-aged plantings, to avoid disease and bug kill, that wipes out our “tree plantations.” Evaluate the overall health, fibre quality, economic and environmental viabilty…
    of our second growth forests.
    Photo credit: Ramona Faust

  3. Phillip Tiicham Muir

    “We are making lots of money logging old growth. We are not willing to give up our money for the sake of these forests. If we can make money off people visiting these forests we will consider protecting them.”
    This makes my blood boil! What can we as British Columbians do to help protect our ancient forests? Is contributing to the AFA most impactful?

  4. Thomas Cheney

    I think one option that needs to explored more is using old growth as a speciality fibre supply for high value goods. This would mean banning clearcutting and focusing on logging strategies which retain old forest features in managed stands. The US Forest Service in the Tongass Forest of South East Alaska has used this approach in areas with high goshawk values. Additionally, areas which are second growth should be considered for extended rotation management. Many areas of the coast have already been logged to the point where the lack of old forest constitutes a risk to ecological function based on the work of the Coast Information Team. Managing some forests to be old growth like through extended rotations and silvicultural intervensions such as Variable density thinning would ensure late seral characteristics within a good portion of the managed forest landscape with lower timber supply impact than outright protection.

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