In order to protect old-growth forests on private land, the land must be put up for sale by the owner and purchased. Private individuals and non-profit organizations typically do not have the resources to buy large enough tracts of land relative to the short timeframe endangered forests are faced with before they are logged. In other words, it falls to the various levels of government (regional, provincial, and federal) to allocate funding to help purchase and protect endangered forests on private lands.
- Old-growth forests have more gaps in the canopy that let sunlight through, resulting in more luxuriant understories with more plants and wildlife. Second-growth forests tend to have closed canopies that block out most sunlight, resulting in sparser understories.
- Old-growth forests have trees of diverse ages and heights within the same stand, which forms “multi-layered canopies.” Over time, different species have evolved to live in different levels of the canopy. Second-growth forests have a “single-layered canopy” of trees that are all the same age class and height.
- Old-growth forests have more “woody debris”: fallen and standing dead trees, which provide food, shelter, and moisture for much biodiversity. Second-growth forests have less and smaller woody debris.
- Old-growth forests are home to large amounts of lichens, mosses, ferns, fungi, and other flora that live on tree bark and branches (also known as “epiphytes”) compared with younger, second-growth stands. As a result, they support many more unique species than second-growth tree plantations.
Think of it this way: imagine that you are unemployed, but nevertheless have an inheritance of tens of millions of dollars – similar to the millions of tons of stored carbon that we’ve inherited in our old-growth forests. If you spent all your inheritance money and then got a job, would you be better off financially than when you were unemployed? Of course not. Your job would simply be a means to make back the money you lost by spending your inheritance. Similarly, fast-growing tree plantations are simply working to get back the carbon in the atmosphere lost by logging the old-growth forests we’ve inherited – except they never get all the original carbon back due to the short rotation ages.
In addition, BC government statistics tend to find ways to “ignore” vast areas of previously logged old-growth forests, to make it appear that a far larger fraction remains. For example, on Vancouver Island, there are over 600,000 hectares of private lands, the vast majority of which were previously managed by the provincial government under the same regulations as public lands until recent times, and which are currently managed by the BC government through private lands regulations. These lands constitute about one-fourth of all productive forest lands on Vancouver Island – and virtually all old-growth forests have been logged there under provincial management. By conveniently ignoring these lands in their statistics of remaining old-growth forests, it appears that the situation is not so dire – that a relatively smaller fraction of the land base has been logged.
Old-Growth (OG) Forest Statistics (2012) – SOUTHERN COAST (i.e. Vancouver Island and SW Mainland)
- Original Total OG: 5.5 million hectares
- Low Productivity OG: 2.2 million hectares
- Original Productive OG: 3.3 million hectares
- Remaining Productive OG: 860,000 hectares (26% of original)
- In Parks – Productive OG: 200,000 hectares (6% of original)
- In Parks and OGMAs – Productive OG: 260,000 hectares (8% of original)
Valley Bottom,* Highest Productivity Old-Growth (2012) – SOUTHERN COAST (i.e. Vancouver Island and SW Mainland)
- Minimum Original: 360,000 hectares
- Remaining: 31,000 hectares (9% of original)
- In Parks: 9,400 hectares (2.6% of original)
- In Parks and OGMAs: 11,700 hectares (3.2% or original)
- * Low, Flat Terrain Under 300 meters elevation, under 17% slope.
Secondly, the total amount of logging in the province, the “rate of cut”, is far too high. Logging companies are cutting too much, too fast. Another way of putting it is that rotation ages are too short: instead of cutting on a 400-year rotation (as is the natural age of many coastal old-growth forests between major forest fires or hurricanes), for example, we’re cutting on a 50-year rotation on the coast (i.e. eight times too fast for 400 year old stands). This is resulting in the conversion of the older, more structurally complex forests into younger age classes, which lack the structural features that only develop with time in older forests and that support many old-growth dependent species. For human communities, overcutting also results in the “fall-down effect”, where there is a long-term diminishment in the available wood supply as the forest age classes get younger and the timber volume per hectare correspondingly diminishes (that is, older forests have more wood per hectare than the ensuing second-growth forests that replace them). This results in massive layoffs in the forest industry, including on the coast over the past 20 years and now in the BC interior. A massive reduction in the rate of cut is necessary to achieve a sustainable forest industry.
Thirdly, we need better forestry practices. This includes more selective logging instead of clearcutting to minimize soil erosion, wider riparian buffer zones to protect streams, higher road engineering standards, no logging on steep slopes, and greater set-asides for important wildlife trees, biodiversity, scenery, etc. There are many such reforms that can be made.
Finally, we need to ensure the industry is structured so there are greater benefits for human communities. We need regulations and incentives for value-added manufacturing, a forest allocation system that breaks up the corporate control of our forests and that instead promotes small businesses, community, and First Nations forestry, and an end to the export of raw, unprocessed logs from BC.