Decide Before the Old Growth Forest is Gone Forever

Open letter to Premier Horgan, The Minister of Forests, and Terry Teegee, Regional Chief, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations.

April 20, 2022

Dear Premier Horgan, The Hon. Katrine Conroy, and Terry Teegee;

As a citizen of Canada, a resident of British Columbia, and a white settler of third and fourth generations, living on unceded Snuneymuxw territory, (and grateful to do so), I don’t have the right to tell my First Nations brothers and sisters what to do. But I do have the right to be concerned about the preservation of our old growth forests and the great biodiversity that is found in them.

We elected John Horgan and the NDP in part because they promised to protect the last remaining 3% of the old growth forests in BC and yet they are still issuing licenses to cut and the forest is still being cut at a fast rate. The following cartoon says it all.

I have heard John Horgan say that he has given the First Nations a choice and asked them if they want to delay or cancel old growth logging and they are still in discussions about what to do. I understand these decisions are important, and there is much at stake on many sides. But if we delay any longer, it will be moot. The forest will all be gone. Turned into wood pellets to burn in England or soft toilette paper for our tender bums.

What a waste! What a loss! Something that will never be fully recovered.

The fight for saving the old growth forest is not just about saving a few big trees. It is about saving a complete ecosystem of interconnected life forms -- animals, insects, plants, birds, and fungi that support each other and depend on each other. It is about saving an ecosystem that retains moisture, gives us oxygen and manages the climate around us and the entire natural water system. It’s about preserving habitat for species that are otherwise going extinct. It’s about preserving biodiversity. It’s about preserving the salmon. It is my understanding that, for First Nations, it is about preserving the capacity for the land to sustain their culture and their livelihood.

Imagine the terrible position band councils are in to have to decide whether to take logging contracts and cut down their future well-being to have an economy and jobs or whether to refuse those contracts and remain dependent on meagre public support.

Surely there is a solution to this dilemma. I cannot understand why bands have not proposed, or the Government of BC has not proposed that these old growth forests should be protected parks and the First Nations of the territory hired to protect and steward them for future generations of people and wild life.

We know now that in this era of accelerating climate change, the old growth forests are an important line of defence. They are an important carbon sink, absorbing carbon and storing it, and emitting oxygen. When they are cut down and replanted, they will not be a carbon sink again for decades. Thinking that planting saplings is a replacement for old growth is bad math. Not only that, second plantings are often all one species. They are much more vulnerable to drought and disease. The capacity of old growth to recycle water informs the weather all around them. They are resistant to and therefore protect us from out-of-control forest fires.

Thousands of people have been arrested trying to protect our forests. Howard Breen has been on hunger strike for over 16 days, has lost 20 lbs, and is now out of jail for health reasons. Brent Aichler also on hunger strike for over 24 days, is very weak, and may die. These people are begging us to see the urgency of action and for the opportunity to speak to the Minister of Forests, the Hon. Katrine Conroy. Can we not take some action to recognize the real threat that we all face if things continue as they are?

We cannot, collectively, delay any longer in making the decisions to protect our forest. I appeal to all of you, sit down at the table and talk. Let’s make free, prior, informed consent work. Let’s make sure that First Nations have work with dignity that doesn’t involve cutting down the forests that sustain their culture and lifestyle.

I have read recent news reports that we have no good forest left to cut. We have already over cut our stocks. The forestry sector is already in trouble and it will be transition time for them. Some workers in that industry will either have to adapt to value-added work that cuts far less and does much more with it. Others may have to transition to other work. Cutting down the old growth will not save this transition. It will only delay it. The price is too high.

This is the turning point. We have to nurture our forests back, and learn to live with them sustainably -- both First Nations and settler. Reconciliation is important: reconciliation with both indigenous people and settlers, and between all of us and the land that sustains us. It’s time to look for real solutions to big problems where everyone has options to live with dignity.

With great feelings of urgency,

Most sincerely,

Rev. Frances Deverell

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