Old Growth

The ancient forests of British Columbia, Canada once covered vast areas of the province. Today, 75% of these productive old growth forests have been logged – including over 90% of valley bottoms where the largest trees grow. And the BC government continues to clear-cut these global treasures, heading into more sensitive areas as they go.

This cartoon series began as a response to this crisis. I posted one 4-panel strip per day for the first month of 2020, encouraging readers to add their feedback to the BC Government Old Growth Review. Now the Old Growth gang will be looking for new adventures. You can follow them here, on Instagram or sign up to get cartoons delivered right to your in-box.

I was just as shocked as Doug the Fir to find out BC Timber Sales was still auctioning off blocks of old growth for clear cutting. And in some very sensitive areas. Here is a link to an article from the National Observer that tells some of the tale. BC Has Entered the Era of Extreme Old Growth Logging. We Must Stop It.

So just how are BC's old growth forests being auctioned off? Through an outfit called B.C. Timber Sales, which manages 20 per cent of the province’s annual allowable cut, making it the biggest tenure holder in B.C. This year, the government agency plans to auction off about 600 hectares and has plans to auction off another 8,800 hectares in future years. Read more in this excellent Victoria Times Colonist article here.

According to the Sierra Club, irreplaceable old growth is being cut at the rate of 34 football fields per day. OK, it's not for townhomes, (that's my cheap punch line) but the effect is dire.

When it comes to deforestation, it's hard to decouple the ecological issues from the overarching need for capitalist growth. But that's a whole other cartoon series...

The forestry industry in BC is in trouble. Wildfires, pine beetle kill, raw log exports, international market prices and lack of mill modernization to handle second growth timber all play a part. But even as some of the planet's last remaining stands of ancient forest are sacrificed, our mill workers still do not benefit.

One might think exporting raw logs without making something out of them first is akin to exporting jobs. Well, of course it is. But the raw log business does employ truckers and loggers and bring some money into government coffers as well. In a globalized economy there are no simple solutions. Here are links to articles explaining the raw log challenge better than I can in 4 panels.

Vancouver Sun - Reconnecting resources to communities

Vancouver Province - Restricting raw log exports doesn't make much sense

It appears that the forestry industry is going further and deeper into old growth areas that many people think should be better protected. One of these is Schmidt Creek, above the world-famous Robson Bight beaches where Orcas have come for millennia to rub their bellies. Here is an article in a Vancouver Island paper, the Campbell River Mirror, with more disturbing details.

The Robson Bight Ecological Reserve was established in 1982 as a protected area for the Northern Resident Orca whale population. The area hosts beaches traditionally used by this group as rubbing beaches. Unfortunately the protected area does not extend very far up the watershed or into the adjacent Schmidt Creek drainage, where logging is now taking place.

While looking at the issue of Old Growth clear-cutting from the point of view of an orca, the context quickly broadens to include raw log exports and even marine noise pollution (which scientists speculate is making it harder for the whales to echo-locate their prey)

OK, full artistic disclosure - China imports WAY more BC logs than Japan, and the Chinese don’t traditionally eat whale. But Japan also buys our logs and their support for commercial whaling is deplorable. So I might as well take them on, too.

There are a lot of competing interests in the forest.

If we can all work together, maybe we can help stop the destruction of these forest cathedrals... talk to the elders.

There are trees in BC's ancient growth forests that have been alive for over 1000 years. Yet in just a few hundred years we have wiped out almost all of them. Let's stop cutting the ones that are left while we create better policy to protect them fairly.

Scientists are discovering that trees have sophisticated network communication systems, using symbiotic fungi and possibly a whole bunch of other stuff we don't know about yet - read more here 
So when we destroy an ancient forest... do we really even know what we are losing?

It's very sad to see the massive trees that are being cut RIGHT NOW for short term profit. Here is a link to an article called 'Indicative of a Truly Corrupt System' by Judith Lavoie in The Narwhal if you want to see the breadth of the destruction.

Outrage over the cutting of BC old growth is not confined to the trees. There are many groups doing good work to advocate and raise awareness. Here are a few to check out:

Ancient Forest Alliance

Sierra Club of BC

There are other interesting reports on Old Growth logging to review if you want to get deeper into the roots of the matter. Here is an article that says BC should try to retain 30% of old growth.

In BC's past, confrontations between logging and environmental groups heated up. In 1993, 12,000 people showed up on the remote coast of Vancouver Island for the Clayoquot Sound blockades. 1,000 people were arrested in what became known as the 'War in the Woods' – one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history.

It's one thing for a ragtag bunch of carton animals to talk of equipment sabotage, but it's never a good idea in real life. Back in 2004, one group of 'eco-terrorists' spiked a bunch of trees in a controversial logging area. (Article here) That's the kind of thing that can get people hurt, and seldom results in lasting change.

It's one thing for a ragtag bunch of carton animals to talk of equipment sabotage, but it's never a good idea in real life. Back in 2004, one group of 'eco-terrorists' spiked a bunch of trees in a controversial logging area. (Article here) That's the kind of thing that can get people hurt, and seldom results in lasting change.

OK, going from bad to worse here... now you can add grand theft loader to their rap sheet. With suspicion of recreational equipment larceny.

One tree rescued. But its not enough. BC's old growth is being cut at an unsustainable rate. Time for the pitch again: MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD. Tell the BC Government to halt old growth logging until a science-based policy is in place.

Time for our heroes to get political. I joke about what limited powers our local or regional governments may have in a globalized world, but the truth is our provincial government can do A LOT to protect our old growth (and build a stronger, value-added forest economy) But they need YOU to tell them it's important. Please let them know.

The historic legislature building in Victoria BC has been the site of many a protest. Hopefully they are listening to the will of he people on the old growth issue.

Getting time with a Minister of the BC government is rare. That's why it's important to make our voices heard with this public consultation.

And the fun factoids start flying. The BC government factsheet quoted above actually references a 1990's statistic and goal. The UVIC study quoted by Steve the Squirrel was published in 2019 by the university's Environmental Law Centre. I'm not saying who is right, just pointing out that a consistent science-based approach to old growth management should probably be implemented, and that it might be a good idea to stop cutting these magnificent forests while we decide what that looks like.

I first saw ‘Talk and Log’ in a National Observer article – as a description of government inaction on forestry conservation while continuing to harvest. (It’s also the title of a book by Jeremy Wilson) That's why some major stands of ancient growth have been cut even as we deliberate their future. Its not easy to balance everyone’s needs but we have to work it out.

Of course the world's forests are critical to our ecosystem's survival. But to really achieve political change, economic numbers do the talking.

In 2017, tourism contributed more to British Columbia's GDP than any other primary resource industry (mining:$4.9B, oil & gas $3.7B, forestry & logging $1.8B, and agriculture & fishing $1.5B) Source: Tourism Industry Association of BC . So maybe we should save a giant tree or two for people to visit.

Are tourism service jobs equivalent to employment in logging and processing? Should we only preserve the ancient growth forests that can be accessed by visitors? What about the dangers of over-tourism? There are lots of questions to be answered, but protecting the ecosystems is job one.

Living in British Columbia is a great privilege. But it is easy to get complacent about the amount of nature we have here. I think it's always a good idea to touch base with the natural world and quietly appreciate it.  Then get back to work for the battle to preserve it, refreshed and renewed.

If you've made it this far, thank you for sharing the Old Growth story! Writing, drawing, colouring and posting a whole 4-panel strip every day was a bit more work than I thought, but it was rewarding to see it all come together. I especially enjoyed doing online research to try and understand the issues a bit better. If you have thoughts or comments, please drop me a note. And stay tuned for more Old Growth tales. 

- Lorne

 © 2019 Lorne Craig, Global Unicycle Creative Inc

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