New report calls for immediate action on old growth forests

My name is Rachel Holt, and I’m an ecologist living in Nelson. 

For the last 20 years, I have worked primarily in British Columbia, bringing science and technical analysis to land use issues, including work on the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, multiple land use planning processes, and work on habitat protection for species such as boreal caribou. 

One theme that has run through almost all of this work has been the subject of old forest or old growth forest and how to effectively manage, report on it and conserve it. One of my very first jobs in the Kootenays more than 20 years ago was to fly around the whole region looking for the best areas to protect old growth under the new ‘Biodiversity Guidebook’ of the Forest Practices Code. Legislation has come and gone since then – but even though we have a land use plan that requires old forest to be maintained, many of the Old Growth Management Areas in the Kootenays have less than 20% old forest in them. 

As a member of the Provincial Old Forest Working Group, I have seen multiple iterations of documents that are supposed to report out on the status of old forest in the province, but none of them have been finished or made public. Unfortunately, this is because if you analyse it in a meaningful way, the news IS NOT GOOD. 

In frustration, and because the province had struck an ‘old growth panel’ but provided them with no information, two colleagues and I (Karen Price and Dave Daust) decided to create our own report on the status of old forests in BC. 

Read the report: BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity

Take action: Sign our petition to Stop Logging Old Growth Forests

We conducted these analyses to investigate the province’s claims about the state of old growth. Old forest matters, not only for its inherent qualities, but also because old forest retention is the province’s principle strategy to maintain biodiversity. Yet the recent Old Growth Panel was provided with a superficial and grossly misleading answer to the question of how much old growth is still standing today: “old-growth forests comprise about 23% of forested areas, or about 13.2 million hectares.” So says the province. 

As ecologists and foresters who have worked on old growth issues in BC for 25+ years, we looked more deeply at the provincial data to arrive at a more accurate and, unfortunately, alarming view.

  • Of the 13.2 million hectares of “old-growth”, the vast majority (80%) consists of small trees, including bog forests and subalpine forests. 
  • In contrast, only about 400,000 hectares of remaining old forest supports large trees, covering less than 1% of BC’s forested land.  These productive forests match most people’s vision of old growth and provide unique habitats, structures, and spiritual values. They are largely unprotected and will not recover from logging.
  • Over 85% of productive forest ecosystems have less than 30% of the amount of old forest expected naturally, and nearly half have less than 1%. This status puts biodiversity, ecological integrity, carbon storage and resilience at high risk today.

Continuing with current policy will make matters worse. Based on our findings, we recommend key actions including:

  • Immediately stop harvesting the rarest of the rare
  • Develop and implement ecologically defensible targets for old forest (e.g., minimum of 30%)
  • Improve implementation of policy to capture the best remaining old forest, and to maintain functional ecosystems for the future

We are in the process of sharing the results of our research with all those interested in the future of forests in BC, and we welcome further opportunities for dialogue. 

Rachel Holt, Ph.D., R.P.Bio. 

Download the report and high-resolution versions of key maps here: https://veridianecological.ca/publications/#OAFA

You can take action: Sign our petition to Stop Logging Old Growth Forests.

Acknowledgements: Karen, Rachel and Dave wrote this report under our own steam after each working in old forest management issues in BC for more than 20 years. We saw a long standing gap in publicly available analysis and were moved to start to fill that gap, particularly to help inform the provincial Old Growth Panel.

We thank David Leversee who helped to compile the publicly available provincial data, and thank also the various people who contributed photographs and design support to help tell this important story to professionals and the public.