Many areas slated for old-growth protection are not old-growth forests: Syilx Okanagan Nation

ONA slams old-growth plan

The Okanagan Nation Alliance is formally opposing the B.C. government’s old-growth deferral plan, declaring that many of the areas mapped for protection in their territory are simply not old-growth forests.

In November, the province announced it would be protecting 2.6 million hectares of Crown forest from logging, giving First Nations 30 days to provide feedback on the plans.

On Friday the Syilx Okanagan Nation, the tribal council representing seven area First Nations, said they are rejecting the process the province has used to identify old-growth forests.

ONA tribal chair Clarence Louie slammed the province’s consultation process as “inadequate and superficial,” noting all of the Syilx community forestry companies have been left out, despite the economic impacts the deferrals have to the companies’ bottom lines.

“BC must step back and enter into a meaningful collaborative process. This begins with co-development of the concept, and collaboration throughout the development process; as opposed to production of a provincial document for review and ‘comment’” Louie said.

The ONA says the old-growth areas that have been mapped by B.C. are inaccurate. Burn areas, second-generation plantations and recent clear cuts are all being considered “old-growth.”

The old-growth maps created by a panel of appointed advisors detailing proposed deferral areas are built on top of a data set many foresters consider unreliable, the “Vegetation Resources Inventory.”

The VRI includes data going back to the 1980s and relies entirely on satellite imagery, aerial photography, forest licensee submissions and growth projections. Updates are not routine.

It’s not uncommon for a forester to arrive at a planned cutblock expecting to see mature century-old trees, but find something else like a dead forest or young pine stand.

Due to the provincial scale of the deferral maps proposed by the government, old-growth areas are also proposed for protection in unnatural 100x100 metre blocks across the landscape.

Syilx forest working group chair Dennis McDonald said that type of a “postage stamp approach” to conservation is not meaningful. He called the “total inaccuracy” of the deferral areas frustrating.

“If BC genuinely wanted to protect Old Growth stands, they would engage with the experts on the land base. The Syilx Forestry Working Group have a collective knowledge of the forests that is unmatched — many of us are foresters within their communities,” said McDonald.

“We have meaningful partnerships with major licensees, with whom we work closely and regularly. The fact that this group was not part of the development of these deferrals, and all of the other policy and legislation that BC is pushing through as part of the forest policy modernization process, is deeply disconcerting.”

It is expected the old-growth deferrals will result in job losses of between 4,500 and 18,000 jobs, depending on the estimate.

Conservation groups, meanwhile, have been pushing the government to rush to enforce old-growth deferral areas. Some areas slated for protection have since been logged since the deferrals were proposed.

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