A Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project volunteer measures the circumference of a veteran Douglas fir on Quadra Island
THE MILD, WET CLIMATE of the Discovery Islands has, in the past, produced lush forests containing large, long-lived trees that stored immense quantities of carbon and supported unusually large numbers of forest-dependent plants and animals. The evidence for this can still be found in scattered groves of old-growth forest around these islands, and in the huge, decomposing stumps left behind by early hand loggers. Where the groves remain, you can find plants and animals that can’t be found anywhere else.
These remnants of primordal forest contain critically important characteristics that current circumstances—namely the collapse in biodiversity and growing climate instability—demand be conserved and more broadly restored across the islands.
But the forests of the Discovery Islands are being treated just like any other forest in BC: as a “natural resource” that can be used for the generation of private wealth, no matter what the long-term impacts may be.
This private seizure and destruction of an essential common life support system has long been characterized by those benefitting from the seizure as “in the public interest”: logging pays the bills of government, is essential to the province’s economic growth and is “sustainable,” they claim.
But our so-called “publicly owned” forests are not being cut down to “pay the bills” for government services. The cost of running the ministry of forests between 2010 and 2019 exceeded all forest-related revenues by an average of nearly $1 million per day.
Nor are BC forests being logged to meet British Columbia’s own need for wood products. Between 80 and 90 percent of the wood products obtained from BC forests are exported, mainly to the USA, China and Japan.
Essential ecological services provided by forests have been legislated into oblivion by the “unduly” clauses in regulations governing logging of BC forests. No matter what beneficial services forests provide—habitat for fish and wildlife, protection of biodiversity, regulation of water quality, temperature and flow, and so on—current legislation protects those services “only to the extent that it does not unduly reduce the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests.”
Any private economic benefit derived from logging comes at the cost of hidden losses: Loss of stable, unfragmented wildlife habitat; loss of the capacity of forests to provide climate stability, loss of the hydrologic functions of mature and old forests, including filtering and moderating the temperature of salmon bearing streams; and loss of low fire hazard.
The resulting widespread over-exploitation of BC forests, including those on the Discovery Islands, provides few economic opportunities for ordinary British Columbians. Once an important part of BC’s incipient economy, the now-highly-mechanized industry has lost 50 percent of its workforce in just the last 20 years and now contributes less than 2 percent of the province’s GDP.
The industry has become a noose around taxpayers’ collective neck, constantly pulled tighter by the influence of industry insiders who pass through the revolving door between the Council of Forest Industries and deputy ministerial postings. The industry is simply not economically viable without taxpayer support.
The tenuous economic nature of the industry is illustrated by a claim made by Mosaic Forest Management, the logging company doing the greatest damage on the Discovery Islands. In 2020, according to Globe and Mail reporter Justine Hunter, the company’s Chief Forester Domenico Iannidinardo claimed that “the company’s cost of harvesting usually exceeds what local mills are paying for logs.” Mosaic made that claim as it pressured the federal government to remove all restrictions on the export of raw, unprocessed logs to overseas markets.
Mosaic Forest Management owns no mills of its own in BC and is the largest exporter of raw logs. Destroying forests for raw log export may keep a few local road builders, fallers, truckers and a handful of professional foresters employed, but their employment is highly subsidized by both BC taxpayers and nature.
It is a common experience that personal submissions to the ministry of forests or the logging companies—from people concerned about the myriad impacts on their community of logging for the export market—have little or no effect, no matter how well-considered they are. De facto privatization of BC’s publicly owned forests in 2003 transferred the obligation to ignore public concerns from government to industry. Since then, the main role of the forest ministry has been to create the conditions that keep wood exports flowing to the US, China and Japan, at as high a rate as the market allows.
Even when other government agencies have tried to limit the amount of logging on the islands—for example, by the establishment of Special Management Zone 19 on Quadra Island by the 2001 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan—the ministry of forests has undermined the effort and reasserted its own control over the extent of logging on Quadra.
The ministry operates as though one set of forest policies fits every part of the province equally. And those policies have been designed for one purpose: to allow an aggressive liquidation of BC’s mature and primary forests in order to meet the export market for wood products and generate private wealth. But differences in geography, wildlife occurrence, human population density and economic need all demand a thorough reassessment of this industry and its subsidies, community by community.
Besides, emerging new economic opportunities are turning logging on its head. An example of what’s coming is illustrated by the March 2022 announcement by Mosaic Forest Management of its “BigCoast Initiative.” (Mosaic is the joint management company that performs certain task for both TimberWest and Island Timberlands, which are two separate corporate entities, both owned by the BC Pension Investment Fund.) TimberWest will cease logging on approximately 40,000 hectares of its privately-owned forest land on Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. Why? Iannidinardo, Mosaic’s chief forester, told The Globe & Mail, “We expect to make at least as much from the BigCoast initiative as we would earn from harvesting these forests.”
The BigCoast initiative will sell carbon offsets instead of logging its forests. If it makes more economic sense for TimberWest not to log its own property, then surely it makes just as much sense for the ministry of forests to stop logging public land on the Discovery Islands, too. No matter what you think about “carbon offsets,” Mosaic’s direction reflects a new understanding that forests have a crucial role to play in mitigating climate change.
A paradigm shift in the human-forest relationship is already underway. The role the Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project will play in that shift will be to gather and curate accurate information about the forests on each of the Discovery Islands, and present ideas and opportunities that reflect the need for greater conservation of those forests.