The B.C. government says it's extending an old-growth logging ban for part of the Fraser Canyon, located about 100 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, for another two years to help with the recovery of the endangered spotted owl.
On Friday, the province announced it had extended the suspension of old-growth logging activity in the Fraser Canyon's Spuzzum and Utzilus watersheds — which span more than 300 square kilometres — until February 2025.
Two years ago, the B.C. and federal governments reached an agreement with the Spuzzum First Nation to hold off logging in the watersheds for a year while the governments continued working on a recovery plan. The agreement was later extended for another year.
The province says the two-year logging deferrals in the Spuzzum and Utzilus watersheds are part of its plan to bring back a "sustained breeding population" of the owl.
"These deferrals are an important component of a complex process that will allow us to learn as much as possible to support the reintegration of the spotted owl into its habitat," Nathan Cullen, B.C.'s minister of water, land and resource stewardship said in a written statement.
Northern spotted owls are endangered species
Northern spotted owls have been defined as endangered since 1986 and are under pressure due to habitat loss. They thrive in old, mature forests and help maintain the biodiversity of those areas.
The birds also face other threats, including competition from other species of owls, the effects of climate change and diseases such as the West Nile virus.
Protection of spotted owls has fuelled decades-long disputes between environmental groups and the forest industry, as their future is often tied to saving old-growth forests where the birds live.
In a joint statement last week, environmental groups Ecojustice and Wilderness Committee and the Spuzzum First Nation said they had learned that the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, is recommending an emergency order to protect the spotted owl from imminent threats to its survival and recovery.
The statement said the minister has determined that logging must be prevented in the two Fraser Canyon watersheds within the Spuzzum First Nation's territory, and that he is also calling for the protection of a further 25 square kilometres of forest habitat considered critical to the spotted owl's survival but at a higher risk of being logged within the next year.
Forests Minister Bruce Ralston says further extending the logging deferral will support recovery efforts to increase the bird's population.
Province's measures not enough to save owls: advocates
Ecojustice staff lawyer Kegan Pepper-Smith says he welcomes the province's latest move to help the endangered species, but it's insufficient in light of Guilbeault's recommendations.
"It's laughable that the B.C. government suggests these two simple deferrals demonstrate a commitment to recovering the species, when it's clear that [old-growth] logging continues," Pepper-Smith said.
"Logging elsewhere is completely jeopardizing any kind of recovery of the species."
The province says there are only three northern spotted owls known to live in the wild in B.C., two of which were released by a breeding facility in Langley in August last year.
B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development says it spends $400,000 annually on spotted owls recovery programs.
TJ Watt, campaigner for B.C. environmental group Ancient Forest Alliance, says the province needs to spend even more to save the species.
"We're calling for $120 million in short-term ... funding that would help offset the loss of logging revenues for First Nations to accept deferral in the long-term," Watt said.
"We're calling for … $300 million towards conservation financing to support sustainable economic development, guardian programs and new Indigenous-protected areas."