Protecting Biodiversity Requires Paradigm Shift in Forestry


Protecting Biodiversity Requires Paradigm Shift in Forestry

Protecting the biodiversity of British Columbia’s forests, and managing those forests through impending climate change, will require more than ad hoc measures, such as cordoning off protected areas from harvesting. Protecting biodiversity requires a paradigm shift in the legislation governing forestry. The BC forestry regime, like most extractive sectors, is a product of mid-twentieth century objectives — extract as much of our natural resources as fast as we can for the best price we can get. But, the wealth and economic expansion created by that thinking was costly not just to biodiversity and ecological values, but also Indigenous territories.

A recent report to the government of British Columbia, A New Future for Old Forests, documented how this outmoded trade-off continues to put biodiversity at risk. It explained how BC still views biodiversity conservation as a constraint on harvesting and limits such conservation measures to ensure they have only approximately 4% impact on total harvesting. This bias toward harvesting timber at the expense of preserving ecosystems is hardwired into BC’s forests practices and pricing to prevent forest managers from changing their harvesting systems to better protect natural processes even when they want to.

The result is a forestry economy dependent on harvesting from old growth forests with the attendant risk to biodiversity — the biodiversity of almost all of BC’s most productive forests are, or soon will be, at extremely high risk.

Fortunately, the solutions are in sight and opportunities to implement them should be high on BC’s legislative agenda. The process of reviewing, and then amending, the Forest and Range Practices Act is underway. BC must ensure the amended legislation
recognizes that ecosystems are not renewable, and that protection of ecosystem health is a priority. This includes recognizing the value of ecosystems as natural infrastructure and the role they play in sustaining healthy communities and economic sectors such as tourism.

But this paradigm shift in values, also requires a paradigm shift in who is managing those values. A New Future for Old Forests identified government-to-government agreements between BC and First Nations as the number one condition for change, noting that such agreements had widespread support across all sectors. Where those government-to-government agreements exist, there is a higher standard of care for the land base, greater innovation in forestry practices and increased monitoring and oversight — a particular failing of the current regime.

BC is taking some small steps in this direction with modernized land use planning and other pilot projects with First Nations. But, those land use plans and forest stewardship plans will sit inside the legislative regime. To be effective, legislative change is needed to enable the shared governance required.

BC’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (“Act”) empowers ministers to enter into the government-to-government agreements necessary to shift forestry management and governance to the shared decision-making model required. The Act also requires BC to take all measures necessary to ensure that its laws are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”). When BC is amending the Forest and Range Practices Act, its legislative commitments to UNDRIP must be given effect. Not doing so, will mean more than a lost opportunity, it will mean lost ecosystems.