Policy that pits us against each other

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More than 100 protesters have been arrested at Fairy Creek in BC for trying to protect old growth forests from logging. Though there is no universally accepted definition for an “old growth” forest, some researchers started using the term “old growth” to describe complex, biodiverse forests that are at least 150 years old. Environmentalists use the term to describe forests with large, old trees undisturbed by human impact.

The science behind forests tells us that old forests are like a giant carbon sink, and that trees from these old forests store an enormous amount of carbon in their trunks. The soil in these forests also store carbon. Current research on these types of old forests suggests that old trees can continue to capture large amounts of carbon, even into old age.

At one time, Canada had a National Forest Strategy that was a collaborative effort between provinces and stakeholders to define what sustainable forest management was all about. Considering that Canada is a forest nation that is a steward to 10% of the world’s forests, many folks felt it was important to define sustainability and set some criteria and indicators in place to manage how we treated the forest.

This project was a collaboration through the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers and offered hope that we could provide some type of universal forest management regime across the country to protect our forest legacy. But, alas, the National Forest Strategy program of the Canadian Forest Service ended in 2008.

In the absence of greener provincial policies around forest management, civil society, in an attempt to push for greener practices, formed the Forest Stewardship Council, which is an affiliate of the International Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and developed a forest management standard. The standard is available to forest companies that wish to voluntarily take up the challenge to practice sustainable forest management and submit to independent audits of their operations to ensure compliance. In exchange for the costs that companies outlay to adhere to the FSC Forest Management Standard, they are able to take advantage of world markets that are looking for green label certifications. One forest company manager noted that, even in the 2008 economic crisis, his company was able to do well in the market place, only because they were FSC certified. Industry thought that incorporating greener and socially just practices into forest management made good business sense, because that is what consumers are looking for.

The point is, that in the absence of sound, scientific, and progressive policy on sustainable forest management, industry and civil society had to react to fill in the gap, where provincial forest management regimes were deficient on questions of sustainability.

In this case, it is the province of BC which has jurisdiction over the management of natural resources, granted through the Canadian Constitution. Here, BC holds the responsibility for developing forest management guidelines, which apparently, allow for the logging of old growth forests.

The protesters and the loggers are pitted against each other. One group wants to protect the carbon sink and limit carbon emissions in response to climate change, and the other group wants to go to work to earn a living wage, and they are battling each other on the ground, in the forest, under the shadow of deficient forest policy.

FSC’s standard isn’t perfect either, as they allow for certification of logging operations in old-growth forests. The standard bars the conversion of “high conservation value forests,” but green activists have been campaigning for years to broaden the definition to include forests that haven’t been previously logged.

In light of the climate crisis, and the high pressure stakes of protecting the earth’s global temperature from rising any higher, and leaving the world in an uninhabitable state, perhaps it’s time to review all resource management regimes with our climate change glasses on.

Social groups and political parties talk about a just transition to a greener future, and it’s time we get on with it, so we don’t have to go to battle with each other over the right to a liveable planet and the right to earning a living wage. These two things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. If we want to protect our planet, we need to support our workers while we figure it out.

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