B.C., First Nations move forward with old growth deferrals
Deferrals have been implemented on nearly 1.7 million hectares of old growth, including approximately 1.05 million hectares of B.C.’s forests most at risk of irreversible loss.

B.C., First Nations move forward with old growth deferrals

B.C., First Nations move forward with old growth deferrals

Photo: BC Government

The Province and First Nations throughout B.C. are working in partnership to defer logging of old growth, while developing a new approach to sustainable forest management, Government of British Columbia announced.

Deferrals have been implemented on nearly 1.7 million hectares of old growth, including approximately 1.05 million hectares of B.C.’s forests most at risk of irreversible loss.

“Our government’s new vision for forestry is one where we better care for our most ancient and rarest forests, First Nations are full partners in forest management, and communities and workers benefit from secure, innovative jobs for generations to come,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests. “By deferring harvest of nearly 1.7 million hectares of old growth – an area equal to more than 4,100 Stanley Parks – we are providing the time and space we need to work together to develop a new, more sustainable way to manage B.C.’s forests.”

In November 2021, the Province announced it would engage with First Nations rights and titleholders to find agreement on deferring harvest of old growth forests. As recommended by the Old Growth Strategic Review, logging deferrals are a temporary measure to prevent irreversible biodiversity loss while the Province, First Nations and other partners develop a new, long-term approach to old growth management that prioritizes ecosystem health and community resiliency throughout B.C.

Government received responses from 188 out of the 204 First Nations in B.C. Eleven First Nations have either no old growth or no commercial forestry in their territory. The Province will continue to reach out to the five remaining First Nations that have not responded. To date, 75 First Nations have agreed to defer harvest of at-risk old growth in their territory. Only seven First Nations have indicated they are opposed to any deferrals proceeding in their territory. More than 60 First Nations have requested more time to decide, including time to incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge. The Province continues to engage with these Nations.

As a result of these engagements, deferrals have been implemented on approximately 1.05 million hectares of B.C.’s most at-risk old growth, which are ancient, remnant and priority large stands identified by the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel. This includes areas where sales have been paused by BC Timber Sales while engagements with First Nations are ongoing. In total, more than 80% of the priority at-risk old growth identified by the advisory panel is currently not threatened by logging because they are already protected, covered by deferrals or uneconomic to harvest.

In addition to biodiversity, many First Nations expressed interest in managing old growth on their territory in support of broader, related values such as wildlife habitat, cultural practices, clean water, healthy salmon populations and species at risk. As a result of integrated land-use planning processes underway, deferrals have also been implemented on another 619,000 hectares of old growth forests.

These new deferrals represent more old growth forest than is currently protected under legislation in the Great Bear Rainforest (1.6 million hectares).

“Putting First Nations at the centre of complex land-based decisions builds a foundation for reconciliation and brings generations of knowledge and experience of local resources to the table,” said Josie Osborne, Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship. “I’m pleased to be working alongside Minister Conroy, First Nations and others to develop solutions that create certainty for communities and best stewards our old growth forests.”

The new Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship will have a crucial role to play in supporting the implementation of 14 recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review in partnership with First Nations. Government is working towards a new Old Growth Strategy for B.C. to be completed in 2023.

Budget 2022 provides an additional $185 million over three years to provide co-ordinated and comprehensive supports for forestry workers, industry, communities and First Nations who may be affected by new restrictions on old growth logging. This includes funding for short-term employment opportunities for contractors and their workers, rural economic diversification and infrastructure projects, bridging to retirement for older workers, education and skills training, and on-the-ground economic development and community support services.

To provide advice on program development and implementation, the Province will be striking a forestry worker supports and community resiliency council. The council will include industry, labour, Indigenous and municipal leaders, and will help ensure programs are targeted and providing supports where they are needed most.

There are approximately 11.1 million hectares of old growth in B.C., which covers approximately 12% of the entire province and 20% of B.C.’s forested land base. Of this, 3.5 million hectares of old growth, or one-third, is protected. Old growth harvesting in unprotected areas has decreased by 40% over the past five years. In 2020, 33,262 hectares of old growth were harvested; this represents 0.3% of the total old growth in B.C.

The Old Growth Strategic Review recommended that: “Until a new strategy is implemented, defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.” Deferrals can be implemented in two ways: by licensees agreeing to voluntarily pause harvest; or by a minister’s order under Part 13 of the Forest Act, rescinding approved permits and preventing new permits from being issued. 

In September 2020, the Province implemented nine deferrals in partnership with First Nations on 196,000 hectares of old growth forests throughout B.C. In June 2021, the Province implemented deferrals on 2,000 hectares of old growth in the Fairy Creek watershed and central Walbran areas at the request of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations.

In November 2021, the Province released the findings of the independent Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel. The panel included registered foresters and scientific experts who identified old growth forests in B.C. that are most at risk of irreversible biodiversity loss and should be prioritized for old growth deferrals. Provincial forestry professionals worked with the panel to confirm updated data on old growth and reach agreement on the methodology. The panel identified three types of at-risk old growth: ancient, remnant and big-treed. The panel identified four million hectares of priority at-risk old growth throughout B.C., 1.4 million hectares of which was already permanently protected. These forests are considered the oldest, rarest and/or most ecologically important in the province.

In November 2021, the Province started engagements with First Nations rights and titleholders on the deferral of old growth in their territories. To support the deferral process, BC Timber Sales paused advertising and selling licences in areas that overlap with the priority at-risk old growth identified by the panel. BC Timber Sales will only reopen sales in these areas if requested by a First Nations for their territory. Engagement with many First Nations on old growth deferrals is ongoing.

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