Massive emissions of greenhouse gases are coming from B.C.’s coastal forests because of poor logging practices and inadequate management, according to a new report by environmentalists.
The carbon from coastal rainforests, much of which comes from Vancouver Island, is not counted in B.C.’s official emissions tally as, at the international level, Canada and the provinces decided against including forests.
If they were included, emissions numbers for B.C. would increase by 24 per cent, said Jens Wieting, coastal forests campaigner for Sierra Club B.C. and author of the group’s report, “Restoring the Balance for Climate and Species.”
“These emissions are not caused by the mountain pine beetle or large fires, as in other parts of B.C. They are mainly produced by inadequate logging practices and insufficient management, and it’s time for that to change,” Wieting said.
Coastal rainforests have the ability to store massive amounts of carbon, which should make them a key asset in the fight against global warming, he said.
“We are throwing away a tremendous opportunity and our best defence against climate change.”
Clearcutting in old-growth forests, that have accumulated carbon for thousands of years, is pushing species to extinction, Wieting said.
Vancouver Island has the most forest ecosystems at a very high risk for species extinction and the lowest level of overall protection — only 13.2 per cent — he said.
Making matters worse, about 45 per cent of the 42,000 hectares of new Vancouver Island Old Growth Management Areas, although a step in the right direction, consists of poor- productivity ecosystems, Wieting said.
“Vancouver Island belongs in the ICU [intensive care unit]. It is in the worst shape with the risk of species extinction and protection of productive ecosystems,” he said.
New areas off-limits to logging are not chosen on the basis of ecosystems with the highest risk for species extinction and only six per cent would meet the high productivity criteria, the report says.
Climatologist Andrew Weaver, University of Victoria Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis, said the report underlines the need to think about the bigger picture when it comes to forest plans.
“The Sierra Club is absolutely spot-on that forests are a huge potential source and potential sink of carbon and it’s a lot better to use them as a sink rather than turning them into a source,” he said.
Weaver said he does not know whether it is feasible for carbon emissions from forests to be included in Canada’s reports to the international community on greenhouse gas emissions, a recommendation of the report. “But what matters is not the UN bookkeeping perspective, it’s the climate care perspective. … The atmosphere doesn’t really care how you account for carbon, it cares about what goes up,” he said.
Other recommendations in the report include shaping forest policy around using forests as carbon sinks. To do that there must be increased conservation, improved forest management and measures to reduce the risks of fire and pests, it says.
Featured image by Jens Wieting