Why the f*@# are we still cutting old growth?"
This emerged to a friend in a chairlift conversation. Not from a forest-savvy environmentalist, but an investment banker, a champion of the capitalist machine. Even he couldn't understand the flawed, anachronistic policy of Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) that sees the less than one per cent of original old-growth forest cover remaining in B.C. relentlessly removed. Certainly as a Whistler second homeowner, this fellow might have been leaning on aesthetic considerations, or property values. But he wasn't; instead, as a money man he understood the zero economic sense in continued feeding of old growth to feed B.C.'s gluttonous raw-log export dragon, and that the value of a standing tree of more than 250 years (the province's definition of old growth) was considerably higher than that of any log — be it for ecological or touristic reasons.
He isn't alone. Recent weeks have seen many letters to the editor of Pique from folks equally baffled that this is still happening in B.C., let alone Whistler's Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) — which, despite its mandate, seems less a reflection of community than a partnership in which we're the de-facto losers. There have also been letters from those championing its continuance. Those in favour of changing the practice bring biological facts to the table, empathy for the jobs involved, and concrete solutions; those who want to log, baby, log, offer little but nostalgia, misinformation, misplaced entitlement and economic fear-mongering.
To begin, there's the hubris of the expression "harvesting." This is certainly applicable to planted second growth, an overly dense monoculture of low biodiversity essentially grown to be cut down. Mowing down old growth, however, yields wood only through loss of an entire ecosystem — thousands of plants, animals, mycorrhizae and other soil organisms that rely on and chemically connect these trees to comprise an integrated whole of water and nutrient cycling evolved over thousands of years. Instead of harvesting, old-growth wood is obtained by "destroying" an ecosystem that is essentially irreplaceable. Which leads to another favoured forestry expression — "sustainable" — which this clearly is not. Rather, cutting old growth is like dragging the ocean for whales with a net of mesh so fine you also capture all fish, plankton and even the microscopic organisms the plankton feed on. You keep the whales, kill everything else, and hope the giant hole you left in the ecosystem fills in over time. Due to the fluidity of water and generation times, the ocean will recover in as long as it takes for the whale population to rebound — maybe 50 years. To re-establish a multigenerational old-growth forest, however, requires upward of a 1,000 years. This makes the current CCF practice of removing what's left of the 300- to 500-year-old, low-altitude forest in Whistler a totally outrageous proposition.
Every day, a train of logging trucks blithely ferries old-growth logs — and ergo, entire ecosystems — through town from remote valleys to our north and west. These are a blight on our community, and so to engage in it ourselves is criminally irresponsible. With no justification for continuing old growth logging anywhere in B.C., no tree older than a century — an approximate human lifespan — should be cut. If we can't fully replace it in a generation, we shouldn't take it. As a community that supposedly trades in natural values, we should stand on the ecosystem perspective: globally there are few multi-generational, old-growth forests left, repositories of DNA that record the history of life on Earth and vaults for species never before detected, so it's incumbent on us to preserve those we steward (the successful Whistler Biodiversity Project and annual Whistler Naturalists' Bioblitz have, in a decade, raised the number of known species here from south of 500 to more than 4,000).
In a particularly impassioned letter, Alan G. Whitney — former chair of the Forest and Wildlands Advisory Committee to the Resort Municipality of Whistler during the years they lobbied for the CCF — concluded: "We are not a logging community, we are a resort community. Most of us are very proud of the advancements that we have made in this regard as well as in our opportunities for educating the sense of wonder of our many guests. Diminishing our beautiful valley just for the very outmoded concept of the AAC, for a very small revenue stream, as a way to subsidize fire management, or as a way to train workers in what one can see as a sunset industry, as well as the cutting of any old growth, is way too shortsighted."