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FOREST INK: Old growth forests, what is the way forward?

Controversy swirls around how much old growth remains in the province
Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Quesnel Observer .

I always look forward to the monthly newsletter from the BC Community Forest Association, and this month was no exception when there was a link to a YouTube video presentation on the state of old growth forests in the province.

The Faculty of Forests at UBC under the webinar series hosted two sessions entitled Old Growth what is the path forward? followed by a question and answer involving three of the four participants in the first session. UBC Forestry professor Rob Kozak introduced Sally Aitken moderator of the program who included speakers Robert Dennis Sr., Cam Brown, Rachel Holt and Gary Merkel. I was very interested in this discussion because of two Tribune articles I had written in the fall of 2021 based on papers written by Holt and Brown.

The first article entitled. BC Old-growth Forests, A Last Stand For Biodiversity,by authors Karen Price, Rachel Holt and Dave Daust described how old growth forests have been reduced to a few percent of their previous amount mainly due to harvesting practices targeting the oldest stands first.

My next article was about some work done by Cam Brown in a paper entitled BC Old Forests, The Situation in 2021, who determined there was approximately 29 percent of old growth remaining if you use a more optimistic provincial site productivity layer ( PSPL).

The introduction to the YouTube program had the following. “The protest over logging old-growth trees at the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island has renewed the debate over how best to manage these ancient stands. Controversy swirls around how much old growth remains in the province.

Protecting these big trees could have ripple effects for the over 40,000 people employed in the forestry sector in BC, as well as the province’s economy. Our expert panel will share perspectives from the areas of conservation biology; First Nations rights and practices; and land management and planning that can help deepen your understanding of the issues and identify potential paths forward.”

I will not attempt a summary of the speakers’ presentations which took over an hour and 47 minutes but will attempt a short synopsis of participants’ responses to some of the questions raised.

All agreed that we need to change the way we harvest old growth forests, including a more ecological approach rather than just timber harvesting. We have to take into account the unique nature of the many forest ecosystems in the province and include local managers, especially First Nations when long-term management plans are being discussed.

All of the participants did a good job of describing many complex issues as best they could but I was disappointed at the low numbers of views that had been received following the airing of the program in April of this year. How important is it to get public engagement in the management of our old forests so that we can get economic benefits for existing forest workers and still protect the ecological integrity necessary for future generations? Do we need investments in movies like Avatar which attempted to describe the ultimate mother tree which was being threatened by the exploitative forces from other planets?

I encourage everyone to look at the many interesting presentations on the UBC site and recommend them to their friends.

Read More: FOREST INK: Forest gardens can complement traditional vegetable gardens

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