Return to old-school forest practices to protect BC grizzlies

October 9, 2013

More than 20 years ago, British Columbia signalled to the world that sustainable development was a concept it took seriously. In the intervening years, the phrase has become so over-used as to make people’s eyes glaze over. But back then it actually meant something, and our province led the world in enacting policies that better protected biological diversity for the benefit of present and future generations.
Thanks to provincial administrations on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum, we created a network of new parks that was the envy of the world.
The amount of land officially conserved grew to nearly 14% of BC’s land base; a remarkable achievement about which British Columbians take great pride. Yet anyone who pays attention knows that it isn’t enough. Science tells us that even the biggest parks become islands of extinction unless we pay as much attention to what we do outside of them as what we do inside.
Now, as a result of not heeding that important reality, one of our most cherished wildlife species – the grizzly bear – faces a completely unnecessary fight for survival in one of its favoured haunts in the southeast of the province, the Kettle Granby wilderness near the community of Grand Forks.
The threats to this imperilled population are from clear-cut logging and the construction of more logging roads – activities occurring outside the boundaries of the parks created to protect the bears. And the tragedy is that our government, which has the powers to reverse this trend, is directly responsible for the worsening situation.
That is because the logging and road building are directed by BC Timber Sales, a provincial agency that reports directly to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. The mandate of BC Timber Sales is to maximize returns to the public by selling off tracts of publicly owned forest at auction, where the highest bidder wins the right to log.
And here’s the rub. BC Timber Sales is auctioning off blocks of timber that it knows or ought to know will result in unacceptable losses to biological diversity, while simultaneously losing scads of money in the process – $68.3 million in the past three years alone, despite the agency’s self-proclaimed “relentless focus on cash flows.”
Yes, our government is selling forests that you and I own, driving a sub-population of grizzly bears toward extinction, while simultaneously depleting the provincial treasury. This unenlightened behaviour places far more than just grizzly bears at risk. It damages our own forest industry’s hard-fought efforts in international markets to have our forest practices independently certified as sustainable. Forest practices that are more than just about the trees we cut down to make forest products, but also about the clean air and water that forests provide and the plant and animal life that they sustain.
The good news is that there’s a way out of this dilemma - one that would improve prospects not only for the Granby’s grizzlies, but eight other grizzly bear populations that the Ministry of Environment considers at risk.
BC Timber Sales should immediately halt auctioning timber and approving new roads in the most contentious areas, pending a proper assessment of what is needed to protect bear populations and our international reputation.
Modest reductions in timber auctions might also have the added benefit of reducing available supplies, which could put upward pressure on prices, helping to ensure greater profitability for BC Timber Sales in future years.
The province should then turn its attention to what is by far the biggest threat to forest industry workers. Yes, they too are at risk, thanks to a decade-plus rush of investment capital out of the province and the closure of dozens of sawmills, the end result of which is escalating exports of raw, unprocessed logs from BC to workforces beyond our borders. If we held on to more of those logs and embraced adding more value to forest products across the spectrum, we could scale back logging tomorrow while increasing overall forest industry employment.
The time has come to get back to the progressive, sustainable development principles embraced by governments 20 years ago. Unnecessarily depleting our ecological capital does neither grizzly bears nor forest industry workers any good.
Anthony Britneff recently retired from a 40-year career with the BC Forest Service during which he held senior professional positions in inventory, reforestation and forest health. Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and author of Managing BC’s Forests for a Cooler Planet: Carbon Storage, Sustainable Jobs and Conservation.