The B.C. government has taken a first step in preserving old-growth and at-risk timber from being harvested due to environmental impact concerns. (File photo)

Okanagan activist welcomes old-growth logging deferral

Taryn Skalbania says time for environment to take precedence over logging

The B.C. government’s deferral on the harvest of old-growth timber is a positive step in the right direction, says a Peachland environmental advocate.

But Taryn Skalbania says the pro-logging influence of the province’s logging industry remains influential in government policy, running opposite to the need to protect and preserve our natural environment from the impact of climate change.

Skalbania, who serves on the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance board and BC Coalition for Forestry Reform, acknowledges the deferrals, a temporary measure to prevent irreversible biodiversity loss to allow industry stakeholders to develop a new approach to sustainable forest management, could have a negative economic impact if permanently adopted.

But she questions the initial prediction forecast by the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) of the deferrals resulting in the closure of up to 20 sawmills in the province, along with two pulp mills and an undetermined number of value-added manufacturing facilities.

According to Susan Yurkovich, president of COFI, that translates into the loss of about 18,000 jobs and more than $400 million in lost revenues to the government each year.

But Skalbania said as a matter of principle and long-term survival, it is time for the environment to quit being sacrificed to support a heavily subsidized industry that has been bleeding jobs for two decades while continuing to export logs for value-added manufacturing in other countries.

“At this stage clear-cutting is happening at such a fast pace that reforestation will never catch up. The deferrals offer a pause from that approach. Chainsaw medicine is not sustainable,” Skalbania said

“It is not working to control the beetle kill, and it is not protecting logging jobs. You cannot outsmart Mother Nature.”

Skalbania said mill closures and job losses have been a reality of the forest industry for the past 20 years, while opportunities exist to retrain and retool forestry workers in other environment-enhancement related jobs such as upgrading decommissioned forestry roads, reseeding, upgrading damaged fish habitat and removing old road culverts, jobs that primarily would have to evolve from government funding.

She says since 2005, 35 sawmills in B.C.’s interior and nine on the coast have permanently closed, along with about half of the coastal shake and shingle mills, thousands of jobs lost in the process without a ripple or a blip to B.C.’s total provincial labour force.

She argues raw log exports, mill automation and over clear-cutting have been bigger detriments to the forest industry than is the potential for preserving old-growth forests and placing a higher priority on environmental sustainability.

She cites the example of Newfoundland losing its cod fishing industry which caused initial economic hardship, but the province over time managed to carry on in new economic directions.

She cites statistics that show 1.9 per cent of available jobs in the B.C. labour force are involved with forestry. “Important jobs yes to some communities still but hardly the backbone of our economy. But keeping forestry workers employed at the cost of degradation of our environment…you need to give your head a shake.”

Skalbania said she remains concerned that under the BC Forest and Range Practices Act, logging takes precedence over all other land uses identified under that act, now coupled with the addition of forest fire mitigation efforts now placed under that legislation as well.

“Placing wildfire safety in the hands of the logging industry…there is not a good track record for community safety in the past. Loggers do one thing and they do it well, remove trees.”

To support the deferral process, the government has ceased advertising and selling B.C. timber sales in affected old-growth and at-risk forest stands, those details being shared by First Nations right and titleholders so they can advise how to proceed on the deferral areas in their respective territories.

When the deferral period ends, the B.C. government says the newly identified at-risk forests will either be added to the 3.5 million hectares of old-growth forest already off-limits to harvesting or be included within the new forest management plans.

Jim Cooperman, a Shuswap environmentalist and advocate for the protection of old-growth forests, says the deferrals bring to the forefront the role forests play to mitigate climate change.

“Forests are important carbon sinks, and already B.C.’s forests are emitting far more carbon than they are sequestering, due to clear-cutting, fires, pests and diseases,” Cooperman said.

“If Canada and the province are really going to seriously commit to their global objectives, they must dramatically reduce logging and plant many more trees.”

Skalbania reiterated the importance of tree planting, which she says has largely been a failure to keep up with timber harvesting, as a landscape management tool that needs to be re-emphasized.

“We see watershed refurbishing practices being carried out in the Cowichan Valley (on Vancouver Island) and the Nicola Valley. They are prototypes of pilot projects and we need more of those,” she said.

READ MORE: B.C. appoints expert panel on further old-growth forest preservation

READ MORE: March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. legislature

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