B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson has had an independent report on old-growth forest preservation on his desk since May, but it will be some time before it is released and longer before any of its recommendations are acted upon.
Donaldson appointed two experts to conduct the “strategic review” in October, with the forest industry struggling with poor economic conditions, the B.C. government’s latest logging restrictions and continued protests calling for a moratorium on old growth logging.
Questioned on his ministry’s $489 million budget at the B.C. legislature, Donaldson said the report is expected to be released soon, but that will be followed by engagement on the recommendations. The terms of reference require “government-to-government” talks with first nations before any decisions are made, which is expected to take several months.
Donaldson made a couple of things clear in his answers to B.C. Liberal MLA John Rustad. He isn’t considering any change to the province’s definition of old growth forest, or a moratorium on old-growth logging for an industry that has seen steady increase in protected areas and restrictions on the Crown land base.
B.C.’s definition of old growth is 250 years old in the Coast region, and 140 years old in the Interior. Overall, about 13.7 million hectares or 23 per cent of the total B.C. forest base is considered old growth, and 3.75 million hectares, 27 per cent of the old growth, may be harvested, Donaldson said.
Asked by Rustad if he is considering a short-term moratorium on old-growth logging until the report is considered, Donaldson responded: “I have never used, and we’ve never used as a government, the word ‘moratorium’.”
The Coast region, which includes Vancouver Island, the Central Coast area designated as the Great Bear Rainforest timber supply area and Haida Gwaii, has 7.55 million hectares of forest, with 42 per cent old growth. “And 33 per cent of the west coast region is protected or reserved,” Donaldson said.
Vancouver Island forests are 73 per cent Crown land and 27 per cent private, much of it the legacy of colonial Governor James Douglas’ 1850s deal with coal baron James Dunsmuir to trade land for construction of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway.
A focus of anti-logging protests for decades, Vancouver Island’s Crown forests are 39 per cent old growth, nearly half of which are protected or reserved.
The review was completed in January by Garry Merkel, a professional forester and member of the Tahltan Nation in northwest B.C., and Al Gorley, a professional forester and former chair of the Forest Practices Board that audits logging in B.C.