Conservation scenarios, revenue and ecology: the perfect balance

We can generate more revenue not logging than by logging

Local forest activist and film maker Icel Dobell checks out North Cowichan’s municipal forest reserve with a young friend. (Photo courtesy of Icel Dobell)

Local forest activist and film maker Icel Dobell checks out North Cowichan’s municipal forest reserve with a young friend. (Photo courtesy of Icel Dobell)

It all began four years ago; now we’re coming down the final stretch – last stage of public consultation about the future of North Cowichan’s Six Mountain Forest. UBC recently delivered four management scenarios to council. In about two months, you’ll be asked your opinion on future management of our community forests, including two options that could make our community an international example of enlightened conservation – while collecting money to do this, and while protecting Cowichan Nations’ culturally significant areas.

In February, the first stage of public consultation was conducted. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of conservation. UBC attended our meetings, then created four scenarios – status quo harvest, reduced harvest, active conservation, passive conservation.

I’m part of the local grassroots citizen group, Where Do We Stand, who, since 2018, has been reporting on the forest review and public consultation. We watched the UBC presentation. It’s too complex to describe in this letter, so we’re going to begin the conversation with our take on the two logging scenarios – why they are less profitable; why conservation makes sense financially, environmentally and for other reasons.

To begin, about logging, Dr. Brad Seely confirmed: “(Past) harvesting has happened primarily in the back country… (It) was easier to harvest in those areas because it is not as visible to the public… (Now) there isn’t much left in the back country and we are having to shift the harvesting into the front country where it is more visible.”

OK, so going forward, what will happen if we log above our homes?

First, let us be clear that ‘status quo’ and ‘reduced’ are not so different. In both cases, extensive logging would happen in our watersheds, recreation areas and view sites. Both scenarios would require even more logging roads creating wind tunnels, blow down, bringing in flammable, invasive species, (spreading into our growing lands), ongoing disruption and noise. For in both scenarios, logging roads and logging trucks would cross our hiking and biking trails; then the logging trucks would pass through our neighbourhoods. After road construction, in both scenarios, logging would commence through our trails – noisy, disruptive, trails blocked by ‘Closed For Logging’ signs. Need we say, logging, in both cases, could irrevocably damage the ecosystems, and here is the kicker: there is no good financial reason for us to log.

Remember, awhile back, the UBC carbon report? Remember it sounded too good to be true? Well, it’s true; UBC has confirmed: through selling carbon credits, in 30 years, we can generate more revenue not logging than by logging. And we can sell to whomever we want, such as local municipalities and small businesses:

Total projected revenue from carbon and logging over 30 years – status quo: $ 31,393,000; reduced harvest: $29,992,478; active conservation: $34,355,987; passive conservation: $38,850,000.

From a business point of view, logging makes no sense. In the next 30 years, as far as volume, the forests could double in size. So, while we make money, protecting an irreplaceable asset, at the same time, this asset is growing financially more valuable. How much more valuable?

On the Valley side of the mountains, the forests are rare, second-growth, naturally regenerated ecosystems already functioning as old growth – on their way to becoming old growth; at present rate of logging mature forests in the province and the world, it’s anyone’s guess how valuable the few remaining ecosystems could be in 20 years.

As for the environmental, let’s begin with the elemental: water, earth, fire, air.

When a forest is logged, UBC tells us, it takes 30 years “to recover hydrologically” – i.e. water movement and water sheds. (How many years for soil, mycorrhizal and root networks?) This projection is from the past. Things are changing fast. We are coming out of a drought and heat wave that shockingly lasted into the third week of October. Mature Douglas-fir forests can handle drought better than most. All young conifer forests dry out fast. (In nature, seedlings growing under deciduous, nitrogen-righting trees are protected from drought and disease.)

Forests that dry out fast are a fire hazard. Contrariwise, mature, bark-thick trees, including deciduous, serve as fire blocks. UBC confirms that tree plantations, up to 40 years old, are high fire risk; 80 year old trees (nearly the age of our mature forests) are low risk.

As for the earth – after logging; soil, mycorrhizal and root connections decimated, few trees to hold water: enter erosion and flooding. Flooding, like fire, is expensive. Witness the small Maple Mountain wildfire in 2018: 5.9 hectares. Cost $330,000.

As for air quality – after the last few summers of heat and smoke, if you were able to escape into cool, oxygen-rich, vitalizing hormone-releasing conifer forests, your body knows where it wants to be as global warming heats up.

Icel Dobell,

North Cowichan


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