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Forest industry hoodwinks British Columbia environmentalists again?

March 22, 2000: The world's largest temperate rainforest is located along the Northwest coast of North America between Oregon and Alaska. Much of the old-growth timber, including many of the world's largest trees, has already been cut. Of what remains, about half is in British Columbia, and of that, most is slated to be logged within the next dozen years.

The decision to log British Columbia's coastal rainforest has been made without reference to its important ecological functions, which include the preservation of biodiversity and the regulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.

According to the Rainforest Action Network, British Columbia "is the most biologically diverse region of Canada, containing approximately 70% of its bird species and 74% of the land-dwelling mammal species, most of which are forest-dwelling." Among species to which the old-growth coastal rainforest provides either a permanent or seasonal home are the grizzly bear, black bear, woodland caribou, cougar, bald eagle and Pacific salmon.

In addition, the coastal rainforest represents a vast accumulation of organic carbon, both in trees and soil. Liquidation of the forest will release most of this carbon to the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

Deforestation has a major impact on atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and hence climate, because forests account for two-thirds of terrestrial biomass and terrestrial biomass contains as much carbon as the atmosphere. In addition, forest soils contain as much carbon as the forest, and this is rapidly released to the atmosphere when the ground is warmed by exposure to the sun after clear-cut logging.

Two years ago, environmental organizations, including Greenpeace and the Forest Action Network, endorsed a plan by logging giant MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. to adopt what the company called "variable retention logging" in place of clearcutting in British Columbia's old-growth coastal rainforest. However, the support of the environmentalists appears to have been misguided, because the change in harvest method represents a return to something very much like the discredited practice of "high-grading," or removing the most valuable timber and leaving a silvicultural slum populated by malformed, decayed, or damaged trees (see naturalSCIENCE Commentary: A Dubious Proposal).

Now, as Lawrence Solomon of the Urban Renaissance Institute reported yesterday in the National Post, environmentalists are hastening to enter into a new agreement with the forest industry that will sacrifice most of the old-growth coastal forest in return for an 18-month logging moratorium and the protection of a limited number of forest enclaves that already belong to the public. Absurdly, the destruction of a vast ancient forest will be accomplished with billions of dollars in public subsidies and, on the industry's record, without even yielding a substantial return to company shareholders.


References

Rainforest Action Network

Commentary. 1998. A DUBIOUS PROPOSAL: Forest Giant's Rainforest Conservation Plan Is Unsupported by Scientific Data. naturalSCIENCE July 14, 1988

Lawrence Solomon. Eco-extremists aren't extremist enough They have the power to crush destructive forestry firms. National Post, March 21, 2000



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