Destruction of the Island’s original old-growth rainforest is occurring three times faster than primary forest loss in tropical rainforests
Twenty-five international environmental organizations are calling for immediate action to protect and restore Vancouver Island’s endangered old-growth rainforest and its species diversity, carbon storage and benefits for a diverse economy including forestry, tourism and wild salmon in indigenous and non-indigenous communities on Canada’s west coast.
The call for action is an initiative of Sierra Club BC. “We are concerned that the BC government is not taking our global responsibility for Vancouver Island’s endangered rainforest seriously. Temperate rainforest ecosystems only exist on a miniscule portion of the planet but we are logging the original primary island rainforest three times faster than tropical rainforest is being destroyed,” said Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner with Sierra Club BC.
Globally, the loss of primary forests – characterized by ecological processes largely undisturbed by human activity – is threatening species, carbon storage and environmental services. In some countries this is primarily in the form of deforestation; in other countries such as Canada, this is primarily through the replacement of rich ancient forests with even-aged young forest. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, tropical countries showed an overall decline of 10 percent of their primary forest in the last 25 years (from 1990 to 2015).
Sierra Club BC’s data shows that between 1990 and 2015, Vancouver Island’s primary old-growth forest has declined by 30 per cent. The original extent of old-growth rainforest on Vancouver Island was 2,600,000 hectares, of which an estimated 1,082,000 hectares were remaining by 1990. By 2015 the remaining old-growth was reduced to 748,000 hectares, a decline of 30 percent over the course of just 25 years. Only about 10 percent of the biggest trees remain standing.
A 30 second time lapse map of Vancouver Island shows the ecological emergency of shrinking old-growth forests over a century of industrial logging:
The BC government does not share detailed information about the rate at which Vancouver Island’s old-growth rainforest gets logged. Available provincial information is superficial and exaggerates the percentage of remaining old-growth on Vancouver Island by excluding private land and including very poor productivity ecosystems with very small trees.
“Gaps in monitoring and reporting about the health of provincial forest ecosystems play a major role in poor forest management in BC such as overharvesting,” said Wieting. “Sierra Club BC has reported for many years as accurately as possible to fill this gap because the provincial government has not been fulfilling its duty to properly monitor and manage BC’s forests.” Sierra Club BC reports use publicly available forest cover data, filling gaps with Landsat classification, distinguishing the state of coastal old-growth by ecosystems in different regions, and comparing to the historic extent.
The call for action is also supported by a number of organizations from tropical rainforest countries. One of these organizations is SINFONÍA TRÓPICO in Colombia.
“A few days ago a mud avalanche killed more than 300 people in Putumayo, Colombia. These catastrophes are a consequence of climate impacts that have been intensifying in past years, paired with deforestation and forest degradation. Trees that helped avoid landslides were cut,”said Juan Pablo Castro with SINFONÍA TRÓPICO. “There is a grave disconnect between humans and nature that we can no longer ignore. Countries such as Colombia are under international pressure to protect the world’s tropical rainforests. We have similar expectations of countries in the Northern hemisphere such as Canada. Everyone needs to do their part. Protecting old-growth temperate rainforests that are threatened by clear-cuts like those on Vancouver Island is of paramount importance. Please protect them!”
The 2016 Great Bear Rainforest Agreements by First Nations governments and the BC government shows that solutions are possible. The agreements met science-based conservation levels, strengthened First Nations rights, enabled conservation financing and forest carbon credit projects, and gave forestry companies certainty for logging under stringent standards.
In contrast, south of the Great Bear region, coastal rainforests are in a state of ecological emergency as a result of too much logging and a dismal level of protection. Remaining intact rainforest areas imminently threatened by logging such as the Central Walbran and East Creek need immediate conservation measures.
There is one region of hope on Vancouver Island: The land use vision announced by the Ahousaht First Nation in January outlines a way forward for Indigenous stewardship in Vancouver Island’s most intact tracts of old-growth forest. Read about this great news in a piece by our Forest and Climate Campaigner Jens Wieting in The Tyee.
New protected areas and conservation measures for Vancouver Island must respect First Nations rights and interests, enable a transition to sustainable second-growth forestry and support diverse economic activities such as tourism and reduce carbon emissions.
The hectare numbers for remaining old-growth on Vancouver Island given in the press release include high, medium and poor productivity rainforest ecosystems (not very poor).
The percentage of remaining high and medium productivity old-growth ecosystems (without poor) is even smaller because these forests grow bigger trees and are therefore of greater interest for logging. Landscapes with the best growing conditions (High productivity, low altitude (<300m) and without significant slope (<17%)) have less than 10 percent remaining old-growth forests and less than 4 percent of these types of forest are protected from logging.
FAO information can be found in the following paper: “Status and trends in global primary forest, protected areas, and areas designated for conservation of biodiversity from the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015.”
Learn more about our efforts to protect Vancouver Island’s endangered coastal rainforests.
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