Clearcutting B.C. forests contributing more to climate change than fossil fuels: report

Protective wrap surrounds seedlings newly planted on a clearcut hillside along Highway 14 on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Western Forest Products Jordan River Managed Forest area. The wrap helps to protect and nurture the seedlings.

 Protective wrap surrounds seedlings newly planted on a clearcut hillside along Highway 14 on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Western Forest Products Jordan River Managed Forest area. The wrap helps to protect and nurture the seedlings. CP PHOTO/Don Denton

While B.C. aims to drastically cut fossil fuel emissions, a new report from an environmental action group says the province should end an even more dangerous contributor to climate change: clearcutting forests.

The report released last week by Sierra Club BC found 3.6 million hectares of forest were clearcut across B.C. between 2005 and 2017 — an area larger than the size of Vancouver Island.

Those areas are considered “sequestration dead zones” for 13 years after they’re clearcut. That means until newly-planted trees grow and mature, the areas release more carbon into the atmosphere from decomposing matter and soil than those young trees can capture and absorb.

 Conservationists attack NDP government over old-growth logging

After reviewing provincial data, the report found logging in B.C. contributes 42 million tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Add on the 26 million tonnes of carbon per year that cannot be captured because of clearcutting, and those emissions outpace the 65 million tonnes of emissions recorded annually in B.C., mainly from fossil fuels.


“At a time when we urgently need to be reducing all forms of carbon pollution to defend our communities from the climate crisis, clearcut logging in B.C. is making the problem notably worse,” the study’s author and Sierra Club BC’s senior forest and climate campaigner Jens Wieting said in a statement.

“We can only have a stable climate if we protect intact forests, and we can only sustain intact forests if we stabilize the climate. Both are only possible if we reform forestry and give up clearcutting.”

READ MORE: District of Peachland asking province for pause on watershed clearcutting

According to Sierra Club BC, the province does not include forest carbon emissions in its official greenhouse gas inventories.

That practice should change immediately, the report argues, with the group calling for more government research and monitoring along with an overall end to clearcutting, primarily within old-growth forests.

The report found of the 3.6 million hectares of clearcut forest studied — which amounts to just over nine per cent of B.C.’s total forested land — 1.9 million hectares were old-growth forests.

Those old-growth trees are the best defence against carbon emissions due to their great capacity for capturing the gas. According to the report, B.C.’s old-growth rainforests can store over 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare, which is one of the highest rates on the planet.

 Plan to allow logging of old growth forests draws criticism

“By clearcutting old-growth and older forests, we’re fuelling more global heating,” Wieting said. “We’re putting at risk the future of communities, the forests that remain standing and current and future forestry jobs.”

In his own statement, Nelson city Coun. Rik Logtenberg said local governments’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions will do little to lessen impacts on the climate unless clearcutting comes to an end.

““Clearcutting the forests that surround our communities can have serious impacts on watersheds, dirtying drinking water and putting us at greater risk from flooding, landslides, droughts and wildfire,” said Logtenberg, who also chairs a group of elected leaders known as the Climate Caucus.

“We need provincial leadership to reduce all emissions, including those from forestry, and we need reformed forestry laws to protect and restore forests as a natural defence against climate change.”

READ MORE: B.C. climate plan targets cleaner industry and transportation to hit emission targets

The province’s CleanBC plan, unveiled just over a year ago, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, based on 2007 levels.

Legislation was introduced earlier this year that would set interim emissions targets that will help reach that goal.

While the plan includes initiatives to reduce pollution from industry — primarily oil and gas — and pushes towards energy-conserving buildings and electric vehicles, it does not mention the forestry industry or logging practices.


In a statement, the Ministry of Environment said it does record emissions from forestry operations, but does not apply them to the province’s emissions totals “as is standard carbon accounting practice around the world.”


 Disturbing finding about destruction of old-growth rainforest in B.C.


The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development added it introduced the forest carbon initiative in 2017, which includes planting more trees and hauling away residual waste from forest floors.

The initiative, which is jointly funded by the province and the federal government to the tune of $290 million, has led to the replanting of roughly 12 million trees on the coast and in the Cariboo, with an anticipated 70 million more anticipated by 2022.

The ministry also anticipates 55,000 hectares of fertilization along the coast between 2019 and 2022, after seeing 14,000 hectares fertilized over the past 18 months.

READ MORE: B.C. bans logging in sensitive border area after urging from Seattle mayor

In a statement, BC Council of Forest Industries president and CEO Susan Yurkovich didn’t dispute the Sierra Club’s science, but pointed to its track record in “sustainable forest management.”

“Each year, we harvest less than one per cent of the working forest land base and three trees are planted for every one harvested,” she said. “We have more forested areas certified to internationally recognized sustainability standards than any other jurisdiction in the world.”


Yurkovich went on to say buildings and products created with forested materials also store carbon dioxide, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  SOURCE

Filmmaker exposes corporate capture in forestry in N.B.

Filmmaker Charles Thériault’s passion is observing. His troubling encounter with a young man in the northern rural New Brunswick community of Kedgwick made him turn his camera on the forest. The result: a popular web series documenting decades of forest mismanagement and what he calls “corporate capture” of our forest.

Thériault’s impression that all was fine in New Brunswick’s woods was shattered when he met a 26-year-old man who had tried to commit suicide. The man was $1 million in debt, a debt he had accrued from working as a contractor, cutting wood for J.D. Irving, the largest forestry player in the province. According to Thériault, the contractors are in a perpetual debt cycle of taking out loans to buy new machines.

Filmmaker Charles Theriault

Thériault spoke with several contractors who had their loans for new machines co-signed by J.D. Irving. These types of systems, in which workers have their financial affairs tied to the company they work for, are ripe for exploitation. “It’s a system of slavery-like control over the workers,” claims Thériault.

About 100 students, professors and others concerned about the state of New Brunswick’s forest filled a room at St. Thomas University (STU) in Fredericton on Oct. 16 to hear Thériault share his story.

STU professor Joan McFarland invited Thériault to speak to her New Brunswick Economy class and the public. “We are using, as class materials, the fascinating 28 videos on his blog, The videos expose the disastrous situation of the Crown forest in New Brunswick. We felt that he would have something important to say. We weren’t disappointed,” says McFarland.

New Brunswick’s land base, which has never been ceded by the Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq and Passamoquoddy peoples, is carved out as 50 per cent public land (also known as Crown land), 30 per cent private land and 20 per cent freehold. The New Brunswick government is tasked with managing the public forest in a way that benefits all New Brunswickers but many like Thériault argue that private interests are largely benefiting from forestry practices today.

Forestry has been a main source of jobs and way of life in many rural communities across New Brunswick for generations. The closure of many mills across the province in the early 2000s devastated many forestry-dependent communities. However, as mills closed and people were thrown out of work, wood continued to be cut from New Brunswick’s public forest in record volumes. The Conservation Council of New Brunswick reported that timber harvested from public land reached a record high of 5.4 million cubic metres from 2006 to 2007.

Intensive industrial practices, such as clearcutting and conversion of natural forests into plantations, have also not sat well with people from across the province. In 2015, the Auditor-General of New Brunswick recommended reducing clearcutting on Crown forest. A 2008 survey of public attitudes on Crown forestry management by Nadeau and Beckley noted that participants–from both rural and urban areas of New Brunswick–wanted water protection and biodiversity protection to be the top two forest management priorities. Participants chose jobs as the third priority.

“New Brunswickers do not trust the forest industry to manage Crown Lands.” Episode 5 of Is Our Forest Really Ours. Produced by Charles Thériault.

Thériault, who has travelled the world, producing media for the National Film Board and the Discovery Channel, says that his time spent working inside government when Frank McKenna was the Premier of New Brunswick opened his eyes to “how important decisions were being made in the backroom.” He remarks, “this was not my kind of politics so I left politics for filmmaking.”

Thériault was raised in what he describes as an “Acadian ghetto in Moncton,” Georgetown. He recalls the paved roads and services ending just outside Anglophone Moncton. He eventually settled in the rural northern New Brunswick community of Kedgwick with his wife, Betty St. Pierre, who he says, “taught him how to stand up.” In 2009, St. Pierre organized a petition to stop spraying the forest after she said she and other forestry workers were sprayed.

In a story reported by the NB Media Co-op in 2009, St. Pierre said, “A man reported fish kills along a stream here after the last spraying. It is not normal to do that to the forest. We can’t prove we are sick because of the spraying but cancer and pesticides have been linked. People are starting to question why do so many people in our community, in Northern New Brunswick, have cancer and rare cancers.”

“Where were the journalists?” questions Thériault. “I approached several reporters in the province about these stories of forest mismanagement. I was told that I was too controversial. I spoke the truth. They were too afraid,” says Thériault.

“I knew I had to report on what was happening in our woods because the press was not doing it,” says Thériault. He set out to do what he calls a “social awareness raising experiment.” Supported by the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, the filmmaker produced a number of online videos with people who had critical things to say about forestry practices in New Brunswick. The popular videos can be watched online at

Outdated forestry legislation that benefits large industrial interests is a main culprit behind forest mismanagement in the province, according to forestry experts, conservation groups and woodlot owners as reported in the Conservation Council’s 2017 Forest Report Card. However, getting the story of forest mismanagement told has been difficult in a province where J.D. Irving, Ltd. owns a large portion of the media.

The popularity of Thériault’s short videos and NB Media Co-op’s stories on spraying the forest reveal that people are hungry to hear the forest story in New Brunswick from the point of view of the small woodlot owners, forestry workers, scientists and conservationists. “After my first few videos, I started getting contacted by retired Deputy Ministers of Natural Resources who were now free to talk,” notes Thériault.

Don McCrea explains how the 1982 N.B. Crown Land and Forest Act came into being and why he refused to accept the post of Deputy Minister of Natural Resources. Episode 11 of Is Our Forest Really Ours. Produced by Charles Thériault.

Besides J.D. Irving, “other private interests are making tremendous amounts of money from our forest while we, the public, feel the pain,” says Thériault. The Auditor-General’s 2015 report affirms Thériault’s claim: Kim MacPherson’s audit of the Department of Natural Resources finances, from 2009 to 2014, revealed that the province had lost between $7 to 10 million each year on our public forests.

In perhaps his most popular video, Thériault tells the story of how forestry management was redesigned in ways that benefited companies that are associated with Bud Bird and Frank McKenna.

In Episode 9 of Is Our Forest Really Ours, Charles Thériault discusses the involvement of Frank McKenna and Bud Bird in forest management in New Brunswick. Produced by Charles Thériault. 

According to Thériault, Bud Bird, a well-known businessman and former Progressive Conservative politician, while Minister of Natural Resources under the Hatfield government, “essentially privatized the Crown forest by dividing the land into ten timber licenses in 1982.”

In response to concerns of woodlot owners, the Crown Lands and Forest Act was amended in 1982 to say that the industry’s primary source of wood fibre had to come from private woodlots. The big players in the forestry industry objected to the new power given to woodlot owners and their marketing boards but Bird was able to console the industry by consolidating 483 parcels of Crown land into ten licenses. Today, only four companies, all large, multinational corporations, control Crown forest. J.D. Irving is the largest Crown forest licensee. Theriault argues, “This system has impoverished New Brunswick.”

Frank McKenna, while Premier of New Brunswick, changed the Act by striking the woodlot owners’ guarantee of primary source of wood supply to the province’s mills. Woodlot owners have been fighting ever since 1992 to have the market advantage returned to them. They say they are not able to compete with cheap Crown wood and they point to the overcutting of the public forest as one symptom of a broken forest management regime.

McKenna and Bird entered again in Thériault’s storytelling of New Brunswick’s forest history. In 2009, Fraser Papers, that owned the mill in Edmundston, filed for bankruptcy protection with the Canadian and American governments so that it could restructure. At the time, Brookfield Asset Management was the majority shareholder of Fraser Papers. McKenna is a long-time board member of Brookfield, a company that denied 450 retired mill workers in Edmundston their full pensions.

The restructuring of Fraser Papers involved splitting the company into two new companies: Acadian Timber and Twin Rivers. Bird is a former board director of Acadian Timber. According to Acadian Timber’s website, today, the company is the “second largest timberland operator in New Brunswick and Maine.” Twin Rivers operates the Edmundston mill and is one of the companies that the Alward government signed a controversial and unprecedented contract with in 2014 that allowed the company to cut an increased amount of wood from their Crown land license every year.

Frustrated by a political system that is captured by corporations, Thériault ran in the last two provincial elections, first as an independent and more recently, in the September 2018 election, as a Green Party candidate for Restigouche West. In that election, he came in second, with 31.5 per cent of the vote.

What is Thériault’s vision for rural New Brunswick? He says that decentralization is needed to restore community involvement. Decentralization involves local decision-making bodies having more power and responsibilities over resources such as the forest as well as health care and other public services. He says rural New Brunswick also needs to grapple with climate change and that resilient forests and food security should be at the top of our collective agendas.

‘You can’t drink money’: Kootenay communities fight logging to protect their drinking water

In Glade, where clear-cutting could begin any day, determined residents are pulling out all the stops in an effort to protect their local creek — even though a judge ruled they have no right to clean water

Glade Watershed Kootenay logging Heather McIntyre Louis Bockner
Heather McIntyre and her grandson Carmi Restrick collect water samples and record the temperature of Glade Creek. This daily community monitoring program began two years ago and is an effort to provide hard evidence should the proposed logging go ahead and the community’s water is negatively affected. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

Four years ago, on a morning hike with her husband, Heather McIntyre spotted red and white flagging tape near a creek that supplies much of the drinking and irrigation water for her village of Glade in a pastoral Kootenay valley.

The tape marked logging boundaries and roads and was stamped with “KLC,” the initials of a local timber company, Kalesnikoff Lumber Co., which planned to log in the community’s watershed on the slopes of a low-lying Selkirk Mountain in the interior rainforest.

“We kind of panicked,” said McIntyre, who lives in a yellow strawbale house amidst a patchwork of fruit and vegetable gardens, in a community named Dolina Plodorodnaya by its Doukhobor founders, meaning “fertile valley.”

Glade Watershed Kootenay River Louis Bockner

The community of Glade sits on the banks of the Kootenay River near Nelson, B.C. The Glade Creek watershed has been at the centre of an ongoing dispute between community members and two logging companies — ATCO and Kalesnikoff Lumber Co — who have been given cut permits in the drainage. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

“Everybody in the lower part of Glade gets their water from the creek and the logging flagging was right above the creek,” McIntyre told The Narwhal. “We’re using a lot of water in summer for irrigating and then there’s our drinking water.”

Since then, McIntyre and other Glade residents have been using their green thumbs to tap on the space bar of computer keyboards, writing long letters to politicians and organizing petitions and legal actions.

They have sought every possible recourse to stop logging by Kalesnikoff and a second local company, Atco Wood Products, on the grounds that Glade’s drinking water quality and flow could be affected by conventional logging, primarily clear-cutting, that is slated to begin as early as this summer.

B.C. Supreme Court judge finds no legal right to clean water

In April, after Glade residents sought a temporary injunction against the two companies, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen stated that any potential change to water quality caused by logging would not be “irreparable” because it could be remedied by additional water treatment.

If the injunction were granted, on the other hand, Tammen said the two timber companies would suffer “irreparable” injury due to “obvious economic harm.”

“Do you have a right to clean water?” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan said in court. “I’d suggest you don’t …  there just is nowhere in the law where you can look and say, ‘there it is — there’s my right. I have a right to clean water.’ ”

McIntyre said the ruling was “a kick in the gut,” hurting all the more because costs were awarded to the logging companies, compelling Glade residents to raise more than $10,000.

“You can’t drink money,” said Heather McSwan, a weaver and spinner who owns the Bee Glade nursery in the village of 300, reachable only by a 10-car cable ferry across the Kootenay River.

“This is our water that we’re talking about … We don’t get a second chance at this. When the timber’s gone the environment is impacted in a way that will result, somewhere down the road, in the degradation of the water, especially with climate change coming.”

 “That’s the wild card.”  MORE


New Old Growth Protections More Symbolic than Symbiotic, Environmentalists Say

Clearcutting B.C.’s last old-growth leaves all of us poorer, forever

An old-growth forest clearcut in Schmidt Creek on eastern Vancouver Island in May 2019. (Mark Worthing/Sierra Club BC)

Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC responds to columns by Tom Fletcher and David Elstone

Earlier this month, hundreds of British Columbians visited MLA offices across the province demanding protection of endangered old-growth forests and improved forest management, during a day of action organized by Sierra Club BC.

In response, David Elstone, the executive director of the Truck Loggers Association, accused our organization of not acknowledging the economic importance of old-growth logging and claimed that clearcutting what little remains is sustainable (B.C. has most sustainably managed forests in the world, June 6).

He was joined by Black Press Media columnist Tom Fletcher repeating outdated claims about the climate benefit of replacing old-growth forests with young trees. Fletcher ignores modern science showing that clearcutting ancient trees results in the rapid loss of huge amounts of carbon accumulated over hundreds of years (Urban environmental “emergency” routine wearing thin, June 9).

Sierra Club BC is concerned about the economic, social and ecological impact of clearcutting endangered old-growth forests. True sustainability is leaving similar values and conditions for future generations. But B.C.’s ancient giants have been reduced to a fraction of their former extent, replaced by young, uniform forests cut in short rotation forestry, never allowed to grow old again.

Elstone claims B.C.’s forest management is the most sustainable in the world. However, satellite images show that on Vancouver Island, we are losing what little forest remains intact three times faster than Brazil’s primary rainforest in the Amazon is being destroyed. MORE 

Massive amounts of carbon have been added to the atmosphere as a result and only a tiny fraction remains stored in wood products. One study estimates the loss of carbon when comparing old-growth forest to a 60-year-old stand at more than 300 tonnes of carbon per hectare (more than 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide).

The current old-growth logging rate on Vancouver Island alone is about 10,000 hectares a year or more than 30 soccer fields a day. The inescapable conclusion is that old-growth logging there alone contributes millions of tonnes annually to provincial carbon dioxide emissions.


An (Even More) Inconvenient Truth Why Carbon Credits For Forest Preservation May Be Worse Than Nothing

When released into the atmosphere CO2 remains active for 100 years. Forests on which the carbon offsets are based, rarely remain intact for that long.

Photography by Fernando Martinho, for ProPublic

RIO BRANCO, BRAZIL — The state of Acre, on the western edge of Brazil, is so remote, there’s a national joke that it doesn’t exist. But for geochemist Foster Brown, it’s the center of the universe, a place that could help save the world.

“This is an example of hope,” he said, as we stood behind his office at the Federal University of Acre, a tropical campus carved into the Amazon rainforest. Brown placed his hand on a spindly trunk, ordering me to follow his lead. “There is a flow of water going up that stem, and there is a flow of sap coming down, and when it comes down it has carbon compounds,” he said. “Do you feel that?”

I couldn’t feel a thing. But that invisible process holds the key to a massive flow of cash into Brazil and an equally pivotal opportunity for countries trying to head off climate change without throwing their economies into turmoil. If the carbon in these trees could be quantified, then Acre could sell credits to polluters emitting clouds of CO₂. Whatever they release theoretically would be offset, or canceled out, by the rainforest.

Five thousand miles away in California, politicians, scientists, oil tycoons and tree huggers are bursting with excitement over the idea. The state is the second-largest carbon polluter in America, and its oil and gas industry emits about 50 million metric tons of CO₂ a year. What if Chevron or Shell or Phillips 66 could offset some of their damage by paying Brazil not to cut down trees?

The appetite is global. For the airline industry and industrialized nations in the Paris climate accord, offsets could be a cheap alternative to actually reducing fossil fuel use.

But the desperate hunger for these carbon credit plans appears to have blinded many of their advocates to the mounting pile of evidence that they haven’t — and won’t — deliver the climate benefit they promise.  MORE