Report on biodiversity and protection of old growth forests

S. Furstenau: Yesterday the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources acknowledged that there is: "…a need for stronger steps to protect biodiversity and to support workers and communities dependent on the forest resource." He promised that this government is taking a science-based approach to this issue.


Today I'd like to canvass, with the Minister of Environment, what the science is actually saying about this government's current approach to old growth. Very recently, three independent scientists released a report titled A Last Stand for Biodiversity. Using the government's own data, these researchers have analyzed the current state of old growth in British Columbia, and what did they find? That the current levels of protection for old forests in B.C. are so low that they actually don't support biodiversity. The status quo "puts biodiversity, ecological integrity and resilience at high risk today."


My question is to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy: does he agree that our current levels of old forest protection are inadequate to protect biodiversity in B.C.? If so, what is he doing to immediately improve the amount of old forest protection?


Hon. G. Heyman: Thank you to the Third Party House Leader for the question. I think it's very clear, both from my colleague the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development's activities and answer yesterday, that his focus on the important role of old forests for a multitude of values, including biodiversity, led him and led our government to appoint the panel to do the review.


As he answered yesterday, he is very much in the process of reviewing the report, which included a significant submission from the independent report by three forest researchers that the member references. I've engaged with the minister in discussion about the old growth panels report, about the report of the independent scientists, about his thoughts going forward. I've joined the minister in meetings with concerned environmental organizations to talk about their ideas as well as the review process that the minister is undertaking.

I'm confident that the minister's response to these reports will be meaningful and help us chart a path forward, along with the activities being undertaken in my ministry.


Mr. Speaker: House Leader Third Party on a supplemental.


S. Furstenau: While all of this review and the panel are doing their work, unfortunately, old forests are disappearing, and they're disappearing forever. Returning to the scientists' report, they found, again using the government's own data, that less than 1 percent of our total forest area in B.C. is made up of "big tree forests."


These are the forests that people think of when they think about old growth. They are highly productive ecosystems. They produce majestic trees, and they provide unique, rare habitats. But they have almost vanished. To quote the authors: "These ecosystems are effectively the white rhino of old growth forests. They are almost extinguished and will not recover from logging." We don't

majestic trees, and they provide unique, rare habitats. But they have almost vanished. To quote the authors: "These ecosystems are effectively the white rhinos of old growth forests. They are almost extinguished and will not recover from logging." We don't get a second chance at this. If this government is truly committed to protecting biodiversity, they will act to stop the bleed in these rare old forests.


My question is again to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy: will he work with his cabinet colleagues to put a moratorium on logging our last remaining, productive old growth in British Columbia?


Hon. G. Heyman: Our government is very committed to protecting biodiversity and finding a way forward that is respectful of workers, of communities, of Indigenous nations and of the flora and fauna which provide such an important set of ecological services to all of us and which ensures that the water we drink and the air we breathe and the abundance of life around us maintains the biodiversity that is so critical for all of us going forward.


That's why we've been reviewing and working with environmental groups and others on different ways to improve species at risk as we move toward legislation. We're taking some significant policy measures, including consistent implementation of mitigating and offsetting measures for development activities as well as renewal of our approach to prioritizing and listing of species at risk. We're also working with the federal government and Indigenous nations. We protected rare inland temperate rainforest in the Darkwoods Conservation Area with the federal government and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.


Working with my colleague the Minister of Forests, we protected from further logging the Skagit Valley Donut Hole. We've also protected habitat for other species at risk by moratoria and set-asides and conservancies. My colleague the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, I know — because I talk to him on a regular basis — is applying himself to ensuring that the report is considered and implemented in a meaningful way, including measures that need to be taken in the short term as well as measures in the long term. He's doing that in a way that is respectful of government-to-government relationships and true consultation. He's doing that in a way that's respectful of workers and communities. He's doing that in a way that will guarantee that we have good protections and good protection of biodiversity and rare species, including old growth forests, going forward.

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