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Reform the logging industry to slow climate crises in B.C., expert says


The logging industry and clear cutting of old growth forests were contributing factors in the severity of the flooding crisis is in B.C., a conservationist and forest management expert says.

Experts have long warned that clear-cut logging majorly affects the environment around it, including the stability of slopes, how fast water is absorbed into the ground and the disruption of vast root systems that hold soil in place. Without forests, heavy rains can wash sediment into water systems, choking them and causing them to overflow rapidly, which leads to flooding.

Peter Wood, conservationist and forest management expert with Canopy Planet, said on CTV’s Your Morning Monday that the connection between the logging industry and what is unfolding in the province cannot be denied.

“Healthy mature forests with a well-developed canopy and a rich understory kind of act like a giant sponge, it absorbs and releases water slowly – kind of ‘everything in moderation’ if you will,” Wood said. “The root structures holding soil to steep slopes, they’ve been in development for thousand of years.”

Wood said that logging has been shown to have acute impacts on the environment, such as landslides that are triggered by harvesting and roadbuilding on steep slopes, as well as impacts on the watershed level in the province, where the logging industry impedes the ability of the forest to moderate the flow of water.

“It’s kind of intuitive that when you remove the tree cover, particularly on steep slopes, it’s going to increase the rate at which the water flows into the creeks without the root structures that leads to erosion,” Wood said. “That’s exactly what science confirms.”

Wood referenced a recent University of British Columbia study that found that logging can result in up to a four-fold increase in the frequency of large floods.

Wood is the author of a recent report made in partnership with Sierra Club BC on the relationship between forest management and severe climate impacts entitled “Intact Forests, Safe Communities.”

It found that the province could mitigate climate disasters such as flooding, droughts and fires by reforming the logging industry, applying Indigenous knowledge to forest-related decisions and protecting and restoring the remaining intact forests in the province.

The report says that of the 15 climate risks identified in B.C.’s Strategic Climate Risk Assessment in 2019, the majority were influenced by logging, but that the assessment did not take into consideration how logging worsens climate risks – something the report refers to as a “major blind spot.”

Timber production and the logging industry is a major cornerstone of B.C.’s economy, with one of its largest exports being lumber and paper products. The current laws in the province allow for old-growth forests to be clear cut at exceptional rates.

Provincial data says approximately 447,000 acres of forest is logged annually, 70 per cent of which comes from the B.C. Interior. A 2017 Sierra Club BC analysis showed that 10,000 hectares of old-growth forests were logged in one year on Vancouver Island.

This is not the first time that the logging and forestry industry has been named a major factor in flooding disasters.

Residents of Grand Forks, B.C., a community about 520 kilometres east of Vancouver, launched a proposed class action lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court last year, alleging mismanagement of the forestry industry and negligent logging caused the devastating flooding residents experienced in 2018.

“It’s really a matter of priorities, we really need a paradigm shift, where we put safety of communities first and then see what kind of timber volumes are possible after that,” Wood said of the needed logging industry reform.

“We really need to be focusing on the health of the forest and our real long-term vision instead of these very ‘near-term’ timber objectives,” he continued. “We have a chance here to protect the few remaining intact forests we have, restore the rest [and] manage that sustainably.”

Wood reiterates in his report that Indigenous knowledge is paramount in recuperating the forests, and that First Nations communities are often on the front line of climate change-induced extreme weather events.

“The climate crisis impacts us all, but it particularly has devastating repercussions for vulnerable and marginalized people, including First Nations across the province, many who have limited capacity and resources to respond to climate disasters and whose territories are high-risk areas that corporations and governments seek to develop,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said in a news release for Wood’s report.

Nine First Nation communities are currently under evacuation order in B.C., with 41 communities affected overall. On Sunday members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) reached some of the more isolated communities.

Defence Minister Anita Anand said that the CAF had been resupplying necessities, including 3,000 pounds of food, to the Nooaitch First Nation communities near Merritt.

The CAF has been racing to fill sandbags to assist Chawathil First Nation on the traditional land of the Stah:lo people in Fraser Canyon, which is expecting more rain.

There are now more than 500 troops on the ground in B.C. assisting with recovery efforts.

Wood’s insight into how the province and the country can slow the effects of climate change in relation to the logging and forestry industry come as a second “atmospheric river” is expected to hit B.C., this time along the north coast.

Environment Canada warned of hazardous winter conditions in a bulletin updated Sunday morning, which included heavy snow in inland sections of the region.

The snow is expected to change to heavy rain as the temperature rises, which could lead to more flooding or landslides due to the melting snowpack.


with files from CTV News Vancouver and writer Alexandra Mae Jones Top Stories

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