Since 2017 the BC Green Caucus have been pressing the BC NDP to take action to protect the grandest, high productivity old-growth forests in our province.
Unfortunately, the talking points from the new Minister are the same as the talking points from the last Minister responsible for our forests. Both have routinely highlighted the protection of a few trees, neither have been willing to take real action to protect our ancient forests.
In question period I ask Minister Katrine Conroy what specific actions she has taken, and whether she is going to protect more than just the one percent.
I heard the Minister of Forests’ response to my colleague last week. Frankly, it was like Groundhog Day. If the Premier thinks British Columbians will accept his minister simply recycling the previous minister’s talking points from 2017 on old growth, he’s mistaken. The Premier committed during the snap election to implement all of the old-growth panel’s recommendations, including the panel’s call to immediately halt logging in the most endangered old-growth forest ecosystems.
As my colleague pointed out last week, we are now past the six-month mark since government released the old-growth panel, and we are coming up on a year since the government received that report. However to date, we’ve seen almost zero action towards the Premier’s promises. The only step taken so far, a set of deferrals announced in September, include very little of the grandest, high-productivity, old-growth stands at the heart of this debate. These are the monumental trees that tower high above you, the majestic forests that provide homes for so many species, including endangered species.
My question is to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. What immediate steps is she taking to fulfil the Premier’s response and halt logging in our highest-risk, high-productivity old-growth forests?
Hon. K. Conroy:
We want old-growth forests to be appreciated by people today and in the years to come. It’s also a priority for our government to support good jobs for people in B.C.’s forestry sector. That’s why our government asked an independent panel to advise us on how we could do better when it comes to protecting our old forests. Our government is dedicated to implementing the 14 recommendations to ensure a new holistic approach on how we manage B.C.’s old-growth forests. That’s why as a first step — just a first step — in September, we collaborated with Indigenous governments and protected old growth in nine different areas across B.C.. That was one of the recommendations that the panel put forward.
The very first recommendation was to make sure that we are working with Indigenous nations across the province, and that’s what we did. That’s our first step. There is more action to come, and we will be doing this. We also brought in a special tree regulation, so 1,000 to 1,500 of those special trees the member referenced will be protected.
We are moving ahead to protect old-growth forests in this province. We are moving away from the divisive actions of the past government to make sure that we are working together. We are working with Indigenous nations. We are working with communities. We are working with corporations, with labour, with environmental organizations and communities, who are dependent on the forest industry to ensure we can move forward in this province.
The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
Unfortunately, while the talking continues, the logging continues. Those trees, those monumental trees, are the ones that are being cut first, because they are the ones that the forestry industry sees as the most valuable. They are the ones that they want access to. So while we talk in this place, we log. And those trees are the ones that are falling first.
This government is getting a failing grade from the lack of action so far on old growth, from both environmental groups that the minister talked about and conservationists. As experts have pointed out, the steps taken to date have been highly problematic, leaving out those monumental trees and at-risk valleys.
The government has seriously exaggerated how much old-growth forest they have actually protected. Scientists have run the numbers and have shown that this government has given interim protections to less than 1 percent of the remaining high-productivity, big tree stands left in our province. So the clear-cutting is continuing in critical old-growth stands across British Columbia, right under our nose with the direct approval of this Premier and his minister.
My question again is to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. When can we expect at least interim protections for these rare ancient forests, or is the 1 percent all she’s protecting?
Hon. K. Conroy:
Well, the member just…. His numbers are inaccurate, so let’s just clarify a few things.
In this province, there are 95 million hectares of land. Of that, 57 million hectares is forested. Of that 57 million hectares, 13.7 million hectares is old-growth forests. And of that, 10 million hectares is protected. That leaves 3.7 million hectares that may be harvested. I didn’t say harvested — may be harvested.
Also, there is the Special Tree Regulation. So if someone goes into a stand and sees a special tree — the very tree the member references — they are to protect that tree. That includes over 1,000 to 1,500 trees in our province.
We are committed to following the recommendations of the old-growth report. I want to thank the members, Al Gorley and Garry Merkel, for the work they did — the very thoughtful work they did as professional foresters. Garry is a member of the Tahltan Nation.
We are moving forward to make sure that we have that government-to-government discussion with Indigenous nations. That’s one of the reasons we could defer those nine areas with that critical old-growth forest in it, right off the bat, because there were those discussions with the Indigenous nations who were affected.
That is critically important to us. We are moving forward. We are making sure that we have the government-to-government discussions with the First Nations. We are looking at what other old-growth forests we can defer. We’re also working with the companies, with labour, with environmental groups and with those communities who are dependent on old-growth forests in this province.
It is not either-or. It is making sure that we have a sustainable, well-managed forest industry while also protecting old-growth forests.