AFA campaigner and photographer TJ Watt looks up at an ancient red cedar tree more than 10 feet in diameter before and after logging by Teal-Jones in the Caycuse watershed in Ditidaht Territory on southern Vancouver Island. (Submitted photo)

Environmental group calls on province to preserve old-growth forests

Points to clear cutting along Haddon Creek as shocking

Conservationists with the Ancient Forest Alliance are urging the province to immediately halt logging in B.C.’s most at-risk old-growth forests.

The alliance also wants the Horgan NDP government to commit funding for old-growth protection following the destruction of some of Vancouver Island’s grandest ancient forests along Haddon Creek in the Caycuse River watershed.

On an exploration to the area earlier this month, AFA campaigner and photographer TJ Watt visited and photographed the fallen remains of a grove of ancient red cedars he’d first explored and documented in April while the trees were still standing.

The expeditions resulted in stark before-and-after images of the once-towering giants.

Watt said it was an incredible and unique grove.

“I was stunned by the sheer number of monumental red cedars, one after another, on this gentle mountain slope,” he said.

“Giant cedars like these have immense ecological value, particularly as wildlife habitat, and important tourism and First Nations cultural value. Yet, the B.C. government continues to allow irreplaceable, centuries-old trees to be high-graded for short-term gain while they talk about their new old-growth plan.”

Located southwest of Cowichan Lake and east of Nitinat Lake in Ditidaht First Nation territory, the Caycuse watershed hosts some of the grandest forests on the south Island, rivalling the renowned Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew or the Walbran Valley.

The now clear-cut grove was part of a 33.5-hectare cut block near Haddon Creek, located in Tree Farm Licence 46, which is held by logging company Teal Jones Group.

New roads are also being built into adjacent old-growth, which will see more of B.C.’s iconic big tree forests logged.

Earlier this year, the province appointed an independent panel to conduct a strategic review of B.C.’s old-growth management policies.

The final report, released in September, contains 14 recommendations including immediate steps to protect B.C.’s most endangered old-growth ecosystems within six months and a paradigm shift in the province’s forest management regime that prioritizes biodiversity and ecosystem integrity.

On the campaign trail in October, the NDP promised to implement all 14 recommendations in their entirety.

As a first step, the province also announced two-year logging deferrals in nine areas covering 353,000 hectares, but only 3,800 hectares, or about one per cent of the deferred areas, consist of previously unprotected, productive old-growth forest.

“With less than three per cent remaining of B.C.’s original, big-tree old-growth forests, the NDP government must work quickly, as soon as cabinet is sworn in this week, to engage Indigenous nations, whose unceded lands these are, and enact further deferrals in critical areas while a comprehensive old-growth strategy is developed,” said AFA campaigner Andrea Inness.

The AFA is also calling for significant funding to be allocated in the province’s budget for 2021 to facilitate negotiations with First Nations on additional deferral areas and to support Indigenous protected areas, Indigenous-led land-use planning, and economic diversification in lieu of old-growth logging, as well as the purchase and protection of old-growth forests on private lands.

First Nations leaders, including the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, are also demanding the province work with them to expand deferrals in threatened old-growth forests and provide First Nations with dedicated funding to protect and steward their lands while pursuing conservation-based businesses and economies, as outlined in a UBCIC resolution passed in September.

“The B.C. NDP has promised sweeping changes by implementing all of the old-growth panel’s recommendations,” said Inness.

“Now they need to put their money where their mouth is by fully funding Indigenous-led old-growth conservation and the transition to a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forest industry. Otherwise we can expect more irreplaceable groves like the one in the Caycuse watershed to be destroyed.”

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