Sierra Club BC on Saving Ancient Forest

Sierra Club BC’s Forest and Climate Campaigner Jens

Jens Wieting, Forest and Climate campaigner for the Sierra Club BC, has an early memory planting small trees, ferns and mosses next to little rocks and roots in the backyard of his childhood home in Germany. The mini landscape looked like a tiny temperate rainforest. He thinks of this memory as an example of the longing of many to remain connected with nature on a planet with quickly disappearing wilderness and ancient forest. Jens immigrated to Canada and joined the Sierra Club 11 years ago. From 2007 to 2016 he worked primarily on implementation of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements with the government of British Columbia, First Nations governments, a group of logging companies and other environmental organizations.

Before moving to BC, Jens worked for a development cooperation project to protect tropical rainforests in Nicaragua and as a tropical rainforest campaigner for the German organization Robin Wood. His experience has taught him that poverty as result of global injustice combined with local problems such as corruption makes it difficult for poor countries to protect their rainforest. He is convinced that wealthier nations must lead by example to protect the natural world and safeguard a livable climate and ancient forest.

Canada’s Responsibility

He recently told me that Canada has a unique responsibility to become a better steward of our boreal and temperate forests. No other country has 9,000 trees per capita as this country. Unfortunately, we are also the leader in forest degradation as a result of industrial logging transforming large areas of natural forests into tree plantations, now increasingly combined with degradation as a result of climate impacts such as more severe wildfires and beetle outbreaks.

Canadians live in a vast country with rich ecosystems and natural resources. Jens suggested that we have a number of opportunities to show leadership in the context of resource extraction, starting with acknowledging that the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to slow down global warming. Vancouver Island remaining old-growth rainforests are another example. Temperate rainforests only cover about 0.5% of Earth’s land and store record-high amounts of carbon per hectare.

What’s Left

The majority of these ancient forests have been logged and what remains in British Columbia represents the largest remaining intact tracts globally. While much work remains the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements provide a path to safeguard the ecological integrity of the coastal forest in the northern part of the B.C. coast, have allowed progress for First Nations governance and community well-being, and for a long-term forestry perspective.

But on Vancouver Island and the southern part of the mainland very little ancient forest remains, conservation levels are dismal and old-growth logging continues at a rapid pace, increasingly for raw-log exports and fewer jobs and revenue for coastal communities. First Nations were marginalized in the process leading to the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan.

Bugaboo Creek Ancient Forest Logging
cc TJ Watt

Jens told me, that on Vancouver Island we are logging the original primary rainforest three times faster than in tropical countries. Globally, the loss of primary forests – characterized by ecological processes largely undisturbed by human activity – is threatening species, carbon storage and environmental services. In some countries this is primarily in the form of deforestation; in other countries such as Canada, this is primarily through the replacement of rich ancient forests with even-aged young forest.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), tropical countries showed an overall decline of 10 percent of their primary forest in the last 25 years (from 1990 to 2015).

Vancouver Island’s Ancient Forest

Sierra Club BC’s data shows that between 1990 and 2015, Vancouver Island’s primary old-growth forest has declined by 30 per cent. The original extent of old-growth rainforest on Vancouver Island was close to 2.9 million hectares, of which close to 1.1 million hectares were remaining by 1990. By 2015 the remaining old-growth was reduced to less than 750,000 hectares. Only about 10 percent of the biggest trees remain standing.

Original Ancient Forest
cc Sierra Club BC

Jens explained that the remaining old-growth areas are now so small that they pose a ‘high ecological risk’ of loss of species. With climate change exerting additional pressure, endangered species such as the Marbled Murrelet are experiencing compounding stresses and are threatened with extirpation or extinction with the loss of the ancient forest.

Sierra Club BC is calling for immediate action by the provincial government to protect and restore endangered coastal rainforest ecosystems, before intensifying climate impacts like drought, wildfires and storms coupled with destructive logging practices further exacerbate pressure on ecosystems.

Remaining largely intact rainforest areas, such as the Central Walbran on Southern Vancouver Island and the East Creek watershed on Northern Vancouver Island need immediate conservation steps to save habitat for endangered species and restore second-growth forest to allow for connectivity.

BC Government

The new provincial government must change course and protects what remains of our endangered old-growth and restore rainforests for species, clean air, clean water, long term forestry jobs and as one of the world’s most efficient carbon sinks.

Remaining ancient forest
cc Sierra Club BC

Instead, the old-growth logging rate has increased by 10 percent in the last 12 months. We are now losing the equivalent of 26 Stanley Parks in one year on Vancouver Island.

The NDP government promised to work with First Nations, modernize land-use planning and sustainability manage ancient forests and other ecological values, guided by Ecosystem-Based Management, the model introduced in the Great Bear Rainforest. But Jens suggests that Sierra Club BC and other environmental groups are still waiting to hear about next steps from government, six months after they have taken office. We don’t have time on our side, and we can’t wait, Jens added. Jens is calling on you and other British Columbians to use their website to remind the Minister of Forests and MLAs that time is running out for BC’s endangered old-growth rainforest.

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Alison Wheatley

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