B.C., First Nations move forward with unprecedented old growth deferrals

The Province and First Nations throughout B.C. are working in partnership to defer logging of old growth, while developing a new approach to sustainable forest management.

Deferrals have been implemented on nearly 1.7 million hectares of old growth, including approximately 1.05 million hectares of B.C.’s forests most at risk of irreversible loss.

“Our government’s new vision for forestry is one where we better care for our most ancient and rarest forests, First Nations are full partners in forest management, and communities and workers benefit from secure, innovative jobs for generations to come,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests. “By deferring harvest of nearly 1.7 million hectares of old growth – an area equal to more than 4,100 Stanley Parks – we are providing the time and space we need to work together to develop a new, more sustainable way to manage B.C.’s forests.”

In November 2021, the Province announced it would engage with First Nations rights and titleholders to find agreement on deferring harvest of old growth forests. As recommended by the Old Growth Strategic Review, logging deferrals are a temporary measure to prevent irreversible biodiversity loss while the Province, First Nations and other partners develop a new, long-term approach to old growth management that prioritizes ecosystem health and community resiliency throughout B.C.

Government received responses from 188 out of the 204 First Nations in B.C. Eleven First Nations have either no old growth or no commercial forestry in their territory. The Province will continue to reach out to the five remaining First Nations that have not responded. To date, 75 First Nations have agreed to defer harvest of at-risk old growth in their territory. Only seven First Nations have indicated they are opposed to any deferrals proceeding in their territory. More than 60 First Nations have requested more time to decide, including time to incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge. The Province continues to engage with these Nations.

As a result of these engagements, deferrals have been implemented on approximately 1.05 million hectares of B.C.’s most at-risk old growth, which are ancient, remnant and priority large stands identified by the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel. This includes areas where sales have been paused by BC Timber Sales while engagements with First Nations are ongoing. In total, more than 80% of the priority at-risk old growth identified by the advisory panel is currently not threatened by logging because they are already protected, covered by deferrals or uneconomic to harvest.

In addition to biodiversity, many First Nations expressed interest in managing old growth on their territory in support of broader, related values such as wildlife habitat, cultural practices, clean water, healthy salmon populations and species at risk. As a result of integrated land-use planning processes underway, deferrals have also been implemented on another 619,000 hectares of old growth forests.

These new deferrals represent more old growth forest than is currently protected under legislation in the Great Bear Rainforest (1.6 million hectares).

“Putting First Nations at the centre of complex land-based decisions builds a foundation for reconciliation and brings generations of knowledge and experience of local resources to the table,” said Josie Osborne, Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship. “I’m pleased to be working alongside Minister Conroy, First Nations and others to develop solutions that create certainty for communities and best stewards our old growth forests.”

The new Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship will have a crucial role to play in supporting the implementation of 14 recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review in partnership with First Nations. Government is working towards a new Old Growth Strategy for B.C. to be completed in 2023.

Budget 2022 provides an additional $185 million over three years to provide co-ordinated and comprehensive supports for forestry workers, industry, communities and First Nations who may be affected by new restrictions on old growth logging. This includes funding for short-term employment opportunities for contractors and their workers, rural economic diversification and infrastructure projects, bridging to retirement for older workers, education and skills training, and on-the-ground economic development and community support services.

To provide advice on program development and implementation, the Province will be striking a forestry worker supports and community resiliency council. The council will include industry, labour, Indigenous and municipal leaders, and will help ensure programs are targeted and providing supports where they are needed most.

Quotes:

Chief Helen Henderson, Canim Lake Band –

“Safeguarding our old growth is a top priority and will aide in envisioning our long-term forest and resource stewardship decisions. By taking the lead on managing the resources and ecosystems within our traditional territory, and in collaboration with the Province and industry stakeholders, we can ensure the sustainability of our forests for generations to come.”

Garry Merkel, independent coach and mentor for Old Growth Strategic Review (OGSR) implementation –

“Implementing old growth deferrals, the first of the 14 recommendations in the OGSR, have taken longer than any of us could have predicted. This is not surprising, given that this is the first time we have ever done anything at this scale, and we are all at different stages of readiness to engage in or lead this type of process, as well as the complications created by COVID-19 and the natural disasters we’ve faced over the past couple years. Despite these challenges, we are shifting our paradigms (ways of thinking), achieving real results and creating new ways of working together. We will learn from this first step to help inform our ongoing work on the remaining OGSR recommendations and achieve our common goal of improved land stewardship in British Columbia.”

Learn More:

B.C.’s approach to old growth: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/forestry/managing-our-forest-resources/old-growth-forests

Support for forest workers and communities: https://forestryworkersupport.gov.bc.ca/

Two backgrounders follow.

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