By Trevor Greene
Ever since protesters started chaining themselves to logging roads in the Teal-Jones Fairy Creek cut block on southern Vancouver Island, dozens of articles on old-growth logging have declared that the ancient trees are worth far more standing than cut down for lumber.
Usually, they go on to say that the trees' value is incalculable.
The old-growth forests of British Columbia took 8,000 years to develop into amazing mini-ecosystems of biodiversity that store carbon, filter water, and provide habitat for endangered plant and animal species.
It’s a fool’s game to measure their value in dollars and cents, because we'll never come to grips with the fact that the forests are priceless.
But logging companies have no trouble putting a price on the giant trees by calculating the value of the lumber that can be produced. Western red cedar is the most valuable because of its flexibility, strength, and natural waterproofing properties. It’s worth hundreds of dollars per cubic metre on the international market.
Old-growth trees are so valuable that the logging companies target the biggest, best trees using an airborne sensing method called LIDAR (light detection and ranging) that can pick out the biggest ones with single-tree accuracy, not unlike using sonar to find the biggest fish in the ocean.
In 2006, 85 percent of the Great Bear Rainforest was declared permanently off-limits to logging. But in 2016, government ecologists opened a logging truck-sized loophole by shifting to a new way of measuring ecosystems that allowed the biggest and best trees to be taken, all under the guise of meeting legal targets.
In early June 2021, a request was granted to the local Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht First Nations to defer old-growth logging for two years on their lands in southwestern Vancouver Island to develop comprehensive forest-management practices.
The B.C. government should use that time to calculate the incalculable.
In mid-February, Teal-Jones was granted an injunction against Fairy Creek protesters by the B.C. Supreme Court. The application estimated the value of the products manufactured from timber sourced from Fairy Creek to be about $19.4 million, a laughably low valuation and a fraction of Environment Minister George Heyman’s budget.
What if Teal-Jones were paid to not chop down the old growth of Fairy Creek?
There is an economic concept called opportunity cost that measures the potential revenue a business misses out on when choosing one alternative over another. So the opportunity cost to Teal-Jones of not logging Fairy Creek is at least $19.4 million.
A deluge of emails might convince the minister (firstname.lastname@example.org) to pay Teal-Jones the opportunity cost of not harvesting the old growth of Fairy Creek—with a cc to the premier (email@example.com) for good luck.
Teal-Jones chops down trees to make lumber. That’s its raison d’etre as a forestry company. It produces millions of the highest quality boards in the world but the ugly flipside is rarely seen: hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of clear-cut forest that resemble a war zone, with massive tree stumps, huge gashes in the soil, and a nightmarish tangle of branches and splinters. Spindly second-growth trees poke up here and there grotesquely, like tufts of hair on a bald man’s head.
Teal-Jones has a duty to its shareholders to make as much money as possible. It also has a duty to its employees, the fallers and the loggers, who have to make a living. Logging jobs are among the most dangerous and difficult in the world—there were an average of 31 deaths per year from 1996 to 2005 in B.C. Loggers work long hours in remote locations and in harsh weather conditions, with limited access to medical care.
Every summer, wildfires burn many thousands of hectares of forest lands—but 501,676 hectares, or 5,016 square kilometres, this year so far, and more than 1,350,000 hectares in 2018—and force thousands of people to flee with only the clothes on their backs as they watch the flames consume their communities.
I saw this firsthand in 2003, when the army was called out to fight the wildfires consuming the Okanagan. We were hurriedly trained to mop up hotspots. It cost the province tens of millions of dollars and put the boots to the wildfire-fighting budget.
This year, as usual, firefighting teams from all over Canada and from as far away as Mexico deployed to B.C. for yet another hot summer in the burning forest. What if there was a well-trained “army” of forestry experts to call on when the inevitable wildfires rage?
Iron & Earth is a nonprofit founded in 2015 by unemployed oil-patch workers who realized that their hard-won trade skills were transferable to renewable energy. And they recognized that the timing was right to transition from reliance on a dying industry that drives climate change to the energy industry of the future, one that fights climate change.
I think it’s time for highly skilled forestry workers to transition from destroying ancient forests to restoring them and fighting the inevitable wildfires that threaten them.
The provincial Wildfire Service conducts forestry-firefighting training all over B.C. The credentials of an ideal applicant echo the skill set of an experienced forestry worker: “a well-rounded set of skills and experiences that show their ability to work well on a team, an ability to solve problems, comfort in the outdoors for extended periods of time, a willingness to work hard, and physical fitness and resilience”.
There are also more than 100 private wildfire-fighting companies that contract with the province. But fighting wildfires isn’t the only option.
The Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC) funds local communities, contractors, companies, and First Nations to implement innovative forestry projects that reduce greenhouse gases, protect communities from wildfires, and improve wildlife habitat.
In 2021, FESBC funded a project in Chetwynd to produce green energy from residual wood fibre on a clearcut and hired unemployed loggers and mill workers around 100 Mile House to clear forested areas for fuel breaks to reduce wildfire risk to homes and recreational areas.
Since 2016, FESBC has created more than 2,000 jobs and generated more than $350 million.
Much like Alberta’s oil and gas workers, B.C.’s forestry workers have a chance to transition away from a troubled, destructive resource industry with no future to one that literally embraces growth and will inspire and educate for generations to come.
It’s a choice between wastelands and wonderlands, and one that has to be made before the ancient trees are gone forever.