Ottawa designated whitebark pine trees as an endangered species seven years ago, but British Columbia continues to sanction logging of the tree by forestry and mining companies
Tens of thousands of some of Canada’s most imperiled trees are being logged in British Columbia despite the federal government listing them as endangered seven years ago.
The companies doing the logging include a major forest company and an international mining giant. None have been ordered to curb their logging activities or faced penalties for doing so.
An investigation by The Narwhal shows that since 2012, the year the federal government formally designated whitebark pine as endangeredunder Canada’s Species at Risk Act, more than 19,000 cubic metres of the trees have been logged in B.C. If those trees were telephone poles, they would string a line from Vancouver nearly 800 kilometres north to Prince George.
The amount of whitebark pine logged is tiny compared to B.C.’s total log harvest. But given the dire threats the tree faces, any logging has“extreme” consequences, the federal government says.
The Narwhal used a provincial database to identify the trees. The database shows that since 2012 almost half of the endangered trees were logged by Canadian Forest Products Ltd., B.C.’s largest forest company. Significant numbers of whitebark pine were also logged by Canwell Timber Ltd. and mining giant, Teck.
“To be honest, I find this devastating. Watching a species decline in this province and not doing what we need to to reverse those trends, it really breaks my heart,” says Sally Otto, a biologist at the University of British Columbia and a member of a committee that advises the federal government on species at risk.
Otto noted that nearly three-quarters of the known range of whitebark pine is expected to shift with climate change this century, further increasing the already sobering challenges facing the species.
“Every single patch that we remove is basically removing one possible link from where the trees are now to where they need to be in order to survive,” Otto, who has advocated for stronger action by the provincial government to protect species, told The Narwhal.
Just how many of those patches are removed by logging is a vexing question because the information that is available — including that in the database analyzed by The Narwhal — likely understates the true extent of the losses.
In 2017, the federal government noted that the logging of whitebark pine is “notable” in B.C. and resulted in a “net loss” of the species. The federal government also warned that such logging “is not well tracked as records often group it with other species or ignore it.”
A perverse incentive to log an endangered species
The ongoing logging of whitebark pine in B.C. plays out against the backdrop of a company in Alberta being hit with one of the largest fines ever under the Species at Risk Act.
In 2013, Lake Louise Ski Resort, which operates inside Banff National Park, logged a patch of trees that included 38 healthy whitebark pine. The company subsequently plead guilty to the offence and was fined $2.1 million in 2018 for what Alberta court judge Heather Lamoureux called its “reckless” behavior. The company has appealed the fine that amounts to $55,000 for each whitebark pine tree it logged.
No similar fines have been issued in B.C. for the ongoing logging of the endangered species, however, because few lands within the province’s borders are under direct federal control. The whitebark pine trees that continue to be logged in Canada’s westernmost province typically come down on Crown or public lands that fall under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has powers to step in to protect endangered species on provincially controlled lands but has rarely done so.
A draft “recovery strategy” for the species prepared by the federal government in 2017 suggests that identifying patches of forest where healthy whitebark pine trees are found and then protecting an additional area up to two kilometres away from the trees may be critical to their survival. MORE