Protect Endangered Old Growth Forests


On Thursday March 25th I had a follow up debate on my question about the federal government's role in protecting endangered old growth forests.

In 2019, this parliament recognized that we are in a climate emergency.


While it is true that the provinces have jurisdiction over natural resources, climate change does not recognize political jurisdiction. The federal government is responsible for upholding the international climate accords Canada has signed.


It is incumbent upon all levels of government to work together to address this emergency with the urgency it requires.


The time for dithering and jurisdictional squabbles is over. It is time to act.


Canadian old growth forests are under threat. Their destruction and mismanagement will accelerate climate change and biodiversity loss. But a clear path to preserving these endangered ecosystems is open to us -- if we commit ourselves to the principles of UNDRIP, recognizing the rights and title of Indigenous peoples and their stewardship of these lands. Unfortunately, there are far too many hurdles and roadblocks, and time is running out.


While I commend the federal government’s commitment to plant 2 billion trees, there is concern that the tree planting program will be nothing more than a tax-payer funded subsidy for the forestry industry.


Seedlings are mostly planted in clear cuts, replacing trees that had a far greater capacity to capture and store carbon. These monoculture tree farms lack biodiversity.


I also commend the government's commitment to protect 30% of Canada’s terrestrial areas by 2030, with a focus on protecting intact ecosystems and areas of high biodiversity value. This is why I am urging the government to work with First Nations -- and with the provinces -- to protect Canada’s old growth ecosystems before it is too late.


The terrible reality is that from a governmental perspective it is relatively simple to clear cut an old growth forest. Protecting and preserving these endangered ecosystems is more difficult.


Since colonization, the economy has been based on the extraction and removal of resources. We talk a good game about preservation, but the hurdles and roadblocks that must be overcome to save endangered ecosystems lays bare the underlying values and priorities of governments.


On Vancouver Island, only 9% of the original valley-bottom big tree old-growth forests are still standing. Just 2.6% of those forests are protected in parks. Contrary to its repeatedly stated commitment to protect old growth ecosystems, the provincial government continues to allow old growth logging.


The BC government is also looking at doubling the annual allowable cut in northern BC, so whole trees can be ground up and exported as biofuel pellets. This flies in the face of climate accountability and should be opposed.


There are plenty of second growth forests available for a healthy forest economy. The focus should be on value added manufacturing so forest resources are used to maximize jobs and economic benefit rather than for raw log exports.


The Canadian Boreal forest is also a globally significant carbon bank and stores more carbon than is currently in the world’s atmosphere. The soils, wetlands and trees of the boreal soak up almost twice as much carbon as a tropical forest. Without protection the boreal forest could become a major carbon emitter.


If we are truly committed to the principles of UNDRIP and to recognizing the rights and title of Indigenous peoples, governments must provide critical financing for First Nations land protection initiatives and support sustainable economic alternatives to old-growth logging for the First Nations communities in these unceded territories.


It is the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments to remove the hurdles and roadblocks to First Nations land protection initiatives. It cannot continue to be easier to cut a forest down than to protect it.


Thank you.



REBUTTAL


Thank you Mr. Speaker. I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his comments.


If Vancouver Island's old-growth forests were a banquet table, there are only crumbs remaining, and First Nations have only recently been invited to share some small economic benefits from logging the last of these ancient ecosystems.


We cannot expect First Nations that are struggling with the legacy of colonization, to engage in the lengthy administrative process necessary to protect endangered ecosystems without serious government support.


Canada is a climate laggard. We have the worst record of the G-7 countries for emissions increases.


People are fed up with government inaction. On Vancouver Island, land defenders are taking direct action and gearing up for another ‘war in the woods’ -- much like the campaign to save Clayoquot Sound that became an international movement in 1993.


This government can avoid an international black-eye by stepping up to protect endangered old growth ecosystems now. I hope that they will do so.