High rates of logging old growth rainforest on Vancouver Island will lead to an ecological and economic collapse in a generation unless provincial government policy changes, warns a new Sierra Club study.

And B.C.’s Forest Practices Board also says the province, which acknowledges the critical ecological importance of old growth forest, needs to improve protection.

Using advanced digital mapping technology and government harvest data, the Sierra Club review of logging practices found that between 2004 and 2015 logging stripped 243,000 hectares of rainforest on Vancouver Island, and 100,000 hectares of that was old growth.

Indeed, rummage through reports that so often gather dust on legislature library shelves and you find a six-year-old forest ministry report admitting that in our remaining ancient coastal rainforests, only 21 per cent of stands over 250 years old are even nominally protected. It’s far worse on Vancouver Island, where only 11 per cent of the coastal Douglas fir rainforest with trees over 250 years old is protected.

Forest scientists like Jim Pojar say this forest should be considered the remnant of a dwindling non-renewable resource because the life cycle of these forests is so long that it will take 40 to 50 human generations before they recover to their original state.

Even then, he says, they won’t be anything like the forests that exist today, nor will the communities of plants, insects, birds and animals — about 400 species — that rely upon them.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club study points out, even as the remaining rainforest vanishes under the chainsaw, the rate at which it’s being cut has increased by 12 per cent. And, it says, re-planted forests that won’t mature for another 250 years are already being logged after only 50 or 80 years as immature second and third growth.

Pojar, a forest ecologist who wrote the well-regarded guide, Plants of Coastal British Columbia, was an ecologist and researcher with the B.C. Forest Service for years. He recently authored a major study for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society on climate change and its implications for biodiversity and conservation policy.

“Given the amount and pace of climate change, all B.C. forest stands older than 150 years are non-renewable resources, and some of them should be removed from the timber harvesting land base,” says Pojar. “If logged they will not be replaced either naturally or artificially by mature and old stands with similar structure and function, even if they are allowed to grow old.

“Even if allowed to grow old they will not recover to the primary condition,” he says, “which is why I maintain that recovery of old growth forest is now an inappropriate, anachronistic concept, given rapid climate change, system unpredictability and scientific uncertainty.”

The giant trees found in B.C.’s ravaged and fragmented rainforest take up to 1,000 years to grow. Some cedar species are thought to exceed 2,000 years in maximum age. Yet only about 10 per cent of the biggest trees on Vancouver Island remain unlogged, according to the Sierra Club inventory. Pojar argues that B.C. still has the most extensive and impressive example of temperate rainforest in the world.

In other words, as this remaining old growth is sacrificed to private commercial interests, the public, which owns most of the remaining resource, will see nothing like it again until about the year 3016 — and possibly 4016 in the case of the very oldest trees.

But isn’t enough forest already protected? “No, there isn’t enough of the old growth in protected areas,” Pojar says, “especially where it used to be the dominant land cover. The Protected Areas Strategy and land use plans of the 1990s and 2000s made good progress, but old growth coast forest and some wet interior and high elevations forest is under-represented.”

What about all those replanted forests? “Young forests are still forests but they are very different from old growth structurally, functional and as habitat,” Pojar says. “Widespread conversion of old growth forests to young production forests on a 60 to 80-year rotation has major impacts.”

Which raises a rather simple question: Why are we still mowing down the last remnants of the rarest, most biologically significant forests on the planet when we’ve already profited handsomely from liquidating 90 per cent of it? When you’re down to the last 10 per cent of what’s essentially a non-renewable resource, doesn’t prudent common sense suggest stepping back from the brink and putting a moratorium on its destruction?