A trio of independent experts who had for years advised the B.C. government on forest management has released new mapping aimed at spurring the province to quickly defer logging in at-risk old-growth forests.
The mapping identifies about 1.3 million hectares of old forests with high ecological value, which the experts say fits the criteria for deferral outlined in a report on old-growth management led by a provincially appointed panel.
Professional biologist Rachel Holt says a smaller portion of that area overlaps with existing cutting permits and the province has the tools to temporarily defer cutblocks in those forests at immediate risk of logging.
Holt, who has served on B.C.'s Forest Practices Board, says the mapping also shows the vast area of forested land that's already been harvested, leaving less than three per cent of the highest-value old-growth.
She says the mapping should serve as a blueprint for the province as it figures out which at-risk old-growth should be set aside from logging while it shifts its management of old forests to a sustainable system.
The Forests Ministry says in a statement it is currently reviewing the mapping and exploring further deferrals "through engagement with Indigenous nations, and in alignment with the old-growth report."
B.C. has pledged to implement the old-growth panel report, which urged the government to act within six months to defer harvesting in old forest ecosystems at the highest risk of permanent biodiversity loss.
It received the report in April last year and temporarily deferred logging in 196,000 hectares of old-growth forests across nine different areas last fall.
But Holt says those deferrals tended to cover lower-productivity forests that were largely not at risk and didn't meet the old-growth panel's criteria.
The initial nine deferral areas were identified "where conflicts had occurred in the past," the Forests Ministry said in an email.
B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau reacted to the expert mapping in a statement Wednesday, saying the NDP government has the tools it needs to take action to protect ancient forests and "all that's lacking is political will."
"Deferrals are an essential tool to maintain options in a time of crisis," she said. "You can't build a new framework for protection while you log the last of what's left."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press