Two years into a three-year process to defer the logging of some of B.C.'s grandest trees in its most ecologically diverse wilderness so that forestry stewardship could undergo a vast transformation, First Nations and conservationists are decrying a lack of progress and transparency.
"Clearcutting of irreplaceable, endangered old growth continues, even in the most-at-risk stands," said Jens Wieting with Sierra Club B.C. as part of a report card issued by four conservation groups on Thursday.
It gave failing grades to the province, especially over meeting timelines and issuing public updates.
Sunday marks two years since the province released its Old Growth Strategic Review (OGSR), the work of two retired foresters. The review made 14 recommendations to change how logging is conducted in B.C., specifically transitioning to an industry that prioritizes the health of ecosystems.
One of the key recommendations was the deferral of logging of old trees most at risk of being lost permanently from areas rich in biodiversity, within six months.
At the time, the province announced three-year deferrals of the logging of old growth in 197,000 hectares, or more than nearly 2,000 square kilometres, at various sites across the province.
Since then, it has contacted 204 First Nations in B.C. to work together to announce further deferrals plus funding to help nations and communities offset economic losses.
In November 2021, conservation groups commended the province for releasing the work of a panel of forestry experts, which mapped out some four million hectares of priority at-risk old growth in need of deferrals.
As of April of this year, the last time the province delivered a public update on its progress, more than one million hectares the panel earmarked for deferrals had yet to be deferred from logging.
Since then, First Nations and conservation groups have documented logging occurring in at-risk old-growth areas slated for deferral, on Vancouver Island and B.C.'s north and central regions, using either publicly-available government data or satellite imagery.
"This analysis shows that they have failed in the most important aspect — getting the industry to stop logging the most at-risk old growth," said Angeline Robertson, a senior researcher with Stand.earth and the author of Tall Talk: Corporate loggers rush to cut old growth while province stalls on protection.
'Misses the forest for the trees'
In late August, the forests ministry issued a statement from minister Katrine Conroy that was critical of the Stand.earth report, saying it "misses the forest for the trees."
The ministry reiterated Friday that the province has been monitoring logging on-the-ground and that only 0.3 per cent of the proposed deferral areas have been logged since November of last year.
It also said in December that there were approximately 50,000 hectares that overlap with the proposed deferral areas with previously approved cutting permits. It's around the same amount of area the Stand.earth report indicated was being logged or at imminent risk of being logged.
Torrance Coste, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, said the province should have moved to protect those stands.
"The ones that were slated for logging have been logged or are being logged and again that's not ensuring the survival of the most at-risk old-growth forest that the original review panel recommended."
CBC News contacted three logging companies named in the Stand.earth report for logging activities in proposed deferred areas.
West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. said its logging operations, which Stand.earth said encompass active and pending logging permits in about eight square kilometres where there is identified at-risk old growth, "are conducted in accordance with government permitting and First Nations consultation and approvals.
"We continue to revise our practices around old growth as additional mapping and information is provided by the province," it said in an email.
Sinclar Group Forest Products Ltd. directed inquiries to the province, while Canfor Corporation did not reply in time for publication.
Logging is also proceeding in some First Nation territories that have indicated to the province that they do not support the proposed deferrals because logging supports economic independence for them. In April, the province said seven nations were opposed to any deferrals.
Stop it now: UBCIC
This summer though, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) passed a resolution calling on the province to "immediately defer logging in all proposed old growth deferral areas" and move faster on the 14 recommendations.
It also calls on the province to provide adequate funding to First Nations to help transition away from logging old growth.
"It is a Title and Rights violation for First Nations to have to choose between logging remaining old growth forests and having adequate funds to support their communities," reads part of the resolution.
The province said in most cases companies have agreed to defer logging once the government reaches agreements with First Nations in deferral areas.
The ministry said it is monitoring harvesting activity and whether legislation in B.C.'s Forest Act is needed to ensure deferrals are fully implemented.
It also said it expects to share a new update over its progress with the overhaul sometime in September.