“I am hopeful that this means there is a interest in a getting to the bottom of the confusion about the status of old growth in British Columbia,” Holt told the Nelson Star, “and that it means there is an interest in moving forward with meaningful old growth deferrals.”
She said one of the barriers to decision-making about old growth has been uncertainty within government and the public “about how much old growth there is, what its condition is, and how that varies in different ecosystem types in the province.”
The panel expects to get to work immediately, she says, and the further deferrals of old growth logging promised by the government for later this summer will be based on the group’s work.
But the panel will not make decisions about where or when to log.
“The panel is giving us advice but it’s not making decisions,” forest minister Katrine Conroy said when she announced the panel on June 24. “The decisions will be made in government-to-government discussions,” she said, referring to upcoming talks with First Nations groups.
The other members of the panel are forest policy analyst Lisa Matthaus, ecologist Karen Price, landscape analyst Dave Daust, and forester Garry Merkel who served as part of the province’s two-person panel that wrote B.C.’s old growth strategic review last year.
All of the panel members have been engaged in old growth and other forestry issues in B.C. for decades. Holt, who runs the consulting company Veridian Ecological, has worked on many aspects of the ecology and management of old growth forest over the last 25 years. She was on the board of the Forest Practices Board for six years and vice-chair for two of those.
Holt says one of the reasons old growth is difficult to define and quantify is that many different kinds of forests are technically old growth, but not all of them are what the public knows as old growth with very large trees, and not all of them are at risk, even though all of them are included in the government’s measures of the total amount of old growth.
She said she hopes her work will lead to clearer communication about old growth.
“That’s really what it’s about, getting that story clear, so that there’s much more transparency about the current condition, and much more transparency about the implications of decisions like deferrals.”
Part of the new panel’s job, Holt said, is to identify the most at-risk old growth ecosystems so they can be considered for deferral by governments.
The work of the panel is intended to fulfill two of the 14 recommendations of last year’s strategic review: provide timely objective information and trends, and defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss until a new strategy is implemented.