Vancouver Island’s big old trees almost gone forever, scientists warn

Fewer mammoth old growth trees remain than you imagine, according to authors of provincial study

Picture an old growth forest. You probably imagine towering, six-foot-wide trees carrying layers of silvery lichen and emerald moss.

But according to a report recently released by three B.C. scientists, only three per cent of B.C.’s old growth forest is comprised of these highly productive mammoth trees.

Almost one-quarter of B.C. forests are considered old growth, but most of it is small trees — between five and 15 metres tall — in forests with low productivity. Just three per cent supports large trees, 20 metres and taller. Provincial statistics are misleading, the report authors say, because they do not distinguish between forest types.

Tall, old trees are highly valuable as timber, making them a prime target for harvesting. On Vancouver Island, 50 per cent of the average timber harvest is listed as old growth.

Half of Vancouver Island’s tree harvest comes from old growth, according to provincial statistics. (BC government | https://engage.gov.bc.ca/oldgrowth/)

B.C.’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity, states that these types of forests are naturally rare. Only a small portion of B.C.’s geography supports this type of forest, and it’s almost all logged.

“These ecosystems are effectively the white rhino of old-growth forests. They are almost extinguished and will not recover from logging,” write authors Karen Price, Rachel F. Holt, and Dave Daust. The trio are part of an independent consulting firm based in Nelson, B.C. and produced the report to coincide with the Old Growth Strategic Review initiated by the province.

The strategic review tasked two foresters with recommending new old-growth forest management policy, based on public and stakeholder engagement and studying other regions’ management practices. Their report was due April 30, 2020, but has not yet been released to the public.

RELATED: Public engagement on North Cowichan forest reserve begins this month

Old-growth forests are culturally significant for First Nations peoples, ecologically important, and in B.C., are a well-branded tourist attraction. And yet, the report argues, there is insufficient protection for such delicate assets.

Old forests have mixed physical structures, fallen logs, snags, live trees and vibrant understory combine to support diverse inhabitants — from the micro-fauna in the soil to ungulates (such as deer and moose) and bears. They also contribute ecologically by storing carbon and “collecting, filtering, cooling and transporting water, gathering nutrients from the atmosphere, providing nurse logs for the next generation of trees, and building soil.”

The report calls on the government to update forest management strategy for the current mix of forests, and to place a moratorium on old-growth logging in any area with less than 10 per cent old growth remaining.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email:
zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca.


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