BIV — As protests continue on Vancouver Island over old-growth logging, and a new advisory committee wrangles over the question of just how much old-growth is left and how much should be off-limits to logging, one number persistently pops up: 3%.

That’s how many old-growth trees are left in B.C., environmentalists say. That number is based on a report, B.C.’s Old Growth Forests: A Last Stand for Biodiversity, by three researchers who now sit on the B.C. government’s five-person old-growth advisory panel.

The Council of Forest Industries (COFI) fears the public isn’t getting an accurate picture of how much old-growth is left in B.C. on the Crown harvest land base, so it commissioned an independent forestry consulting firm, Forsite Consultants, to do another assessment of old-growth in B.C., and it arrived at a very different number: 30%, not 3%.

“We’re trying to be very just-the-facts-ma’am, based on the classifications,” said COFI president Susan Yurkovich. “We wanted to go to people who are very experienced in this area and say ‘please do a review,’ and tell us what the real facts are in terms of what’s out there.”

The Last Stand for Biodiversity study estimated that only 8% (approximately 415,000 hectares) of “original forests” remained in B.C. and that only 3% (35,000 hectares) was productive old-growth very big, ancient trees.

The methodology used to arrive at the 3% estimate – the vegetative resource inventory — has been called into question, including by the Dean of Forestry at the University of BC. It uses 3D aerial photographs to estimate the extent of old-growth.

“Relying on simple statistics from B.C.’s inventory data to identify ecosystems at risk is not recommended as local context and data limitations are not addressed,” COFI says in a news release accompanying the new study.

“Detailed assessments of old-growth conditions must be completed regionally in conjunction with local experts, including First Nations and forest professionals, to ensure sufficient context is available to support discussions and management decisions.”

Forsite consultants arrived at some very different numbers because they used a different measuring stick – the B.C. government’s Provincial Site Productivity Layer tool.  It uses things like soil conditions, geography, and various climatic conditions to estimate forest productivity in specific areas. Using that tool, the Forsite consultants estimated that 30% of B.C. old-growth trees on the Crown Timber Harvesting Landbase are in higher productivity areas.

Using the site productivity tool, Forsite consultants moved 1 million hectares of forest in northeastern B.C. out of the “old” category into the “mature” category.

“While all old forests contribute to biodiversity, there has been much public discussion about the amount of old forests growing on sites capable of producing big trees – with previous reports falsely suggesting this amount to be 3%,” COFI says in a press release.

“In reality, the study found over 3.3 million (hectares) of old forests, or about 30%, are growing on high productivity sites capable of producing big trees.”

The study points out that of the 11.4 million hectares of old forests in B.C., 75% – 8.5 million hectares – is either protected or otherwise not included in B.C.’s Timber Harvesting Landbase. There are more than 600 class A provincial parks totaling 10.5 million hectares, the study points out, and national parks, reserves, and wildlife areas include another 1.8 million hectares.

The Great Bear Rainforest is 6.4 million hectares in size and allows only a minimal amount of logging. On Crown land where harvesting is allowed, very large, old trees are protected by the Special Tree Protection Regulation. Trees with these designations must be preserved with a buffer of 56 metres in diameter.

“Our point is that most of it is already outside the timber harvesting land base, and-or in a protected area, and a small amount is harvested,” Yurkovich said. “As a result of that small harvest, many families and communities are supported.”

Yurkovich said the new study has been submitted to the provincial government. Whether it will be considered by the old-growth technical panel is unclear.

(Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The original version said Forsite moved 1 million hectares of forest in northeastern B.C. out of the “mature” category into the “old” category. In fact, it was the reverse.)

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