First Nations and TAP Member Demand Faster Action and Adequate Resources to Protect Old-Growth Forests

News Release
Dec 1, 2021

First Nations and TAP Member Demand Faster Action and Adequate Resources to Protect Old-Growth Forests

(Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. – Dec 1, 2021) Today, First Nations leaders from across B.C. and Technical Advisory Panel member Dr. Rachel Holt called on the provincial government to take faster action to protect threatened old-growth forests and commit the resources necessary to support First Nations through this process with immediate deferrals. Following the government’s announcement of its intention to defer 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old-growth forests, they gave a 30-day deadline upon First Nations to decide on logging deferrals, while themselves taking more than 18 months to reach this point. As this arbitrary and rushed deadline draws to a close, First Nation leaders and experts are criticizing both the process itself and the lack of progress on the ground.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, stated “The provincial government made its announcement to much fanfare on November 2nd, but a month later First Nations are still lacking supports, and threatened old-growth forests continue to be destroyed. The Horgan government is abdicating its responsibility to protect old-growth, is pressuring First Nations into making critical decisions regarding the territories and forests they have stewarded over since time immemorial, and is continuing to deny the fact that they must immediately provide substantial resources to support First Nations towards this goal- this is consent by coercion.”

Many First Nations are involved in the forest industry, and so there are economic barriers to old-growth deferrals for many communities. 

“To be effective, old-growth deferrals must be immediate, well-funded and transparently communicated to Nations – essentially the opposite of what the B.C. government has done,” said Khelsilem, Chairperson for the Squamish Nation Council. “The BC NDP are giving a terrible choice by only offering consent for temporary deferrals but not requiring consent for logging. Deferrals are needed now to provide the opportunity for long-term planning. The BC NDP’s rhetoric around conservation and partnering closely with First Nations is not aligned with its actions.”

First Nations leaders were joined by Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, expert on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) and Director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, and Dr. Rachel Holt, independent ecologist and a member of the B.C. government’s Technical Advisory Panel.

Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond stated “British Columbia has used Indigenous self-determination and consent as part of its justification for the 30-day time limit for Indigenous decision-making regarding old growth deferrals. This is incoherent and disingenuous. The UN Declaration makes clear that consent must be ‘free, prior and informed.’ Unilaterally determined approaches and timelines is not ‘free, prior and informed’ decision-making. Yet this is exactly what BC has done- taking 18 months to develop its approach without First Nations and then giving First Nations 30 days for their decision-making. This is not co-operation—  it is not a basis for consent.”

“I continue to commend the provincial government for tackling the long-ignored old growth issue, for commissioning the Old Growth Strategic Review panel (OGSR) and for taking a science-based approach to identifying potential deferral areas. However, roll-out has been less than smooth so far, and defaults to the status quo of harvest rather than protection,” stated Dr. Rachel Holt. “This is a significant issue, and now I see effort being wasted rather than working collectively to implement the bigger picture paradigm shift – that of changing management to prioritise cultural and ecological integrity as outlined in the OGSR. Clear, transparent, and supported implementation of deferrals is needed now, so the real work can begin in earnest. I am hopeful that lessons can be learned, and processes improved as we continue to move forward with this important work.”

The call made comes as many parts of B.C. grapple with weeks of devastating flooding, a disaster that underscores the need for more protected forests and reform of forestry practices.

Chief James Hobart of the Spuzzum First Nation joined today’s press conference from his community in the Fraser Canyon, which has at several points in the last few weeks been cut off due to landslides in both directions. “What we’ve seen in the past few weeks with torrential downpour reinforces the need for fully resourced, immediate deferrals- if our elder trees get logged, we stand to have even more landslides with the onset of climate change. Last week our community was entirely cut off from any food, water, or medical supplies. I am demanding that the Horgan government ensure that our stands of old growth are protected as part of the emergency response that must be taken. We also know that our endangered spotted owls require an end to old-growth logging of their remaining habitat— too much of our territory has been logged and it’s time to reset the balance in the forest,” Chief Hobart said.

The necessity to defer old-growth logging to protect crucial species was echoed by Kukpi7 Wayne Christian, Splatsin, and Chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council. “Splatsin has a sacred obligation as caretakers and stewards of our area and we have refrained from hunting Southern Mountain Caribou for generations due to falling population levels linked to diminishing habitat, said Kukpi7 Christian. “We are working with various partners to reverse this trend and setting old-growth forests aside is a huge part of that.” 

The UBCIC will continue to demand immediate logging deferrals in all at-risk old-growth forests and push the B.C. government to commit the resources necessary to accomplish this.


Media contacts:

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President: (250-490-5314)
Kukpi7 Wayne Christian, Splatsin, and Chair of SNTC: (250-503-7072)
Khelsilem, Squamish Nation Council Chairperson: [email protected]  
Chief James Hobart, Spuzzum First Nation: (604-860-3571)
Dr. Rachel Holt, Veridian Ecological Consulting: [email protected]
Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, legal expert, director of UBC IRSHDC: [email protected]

Further resources:

Operationalizing, Free, Prior and Informed Consent - The Residential School History and Dialogue Centre

Protect Our Elder Trees Declaration - UBCIC

First Nations Forestry Council Calls for Reset of ‘Flawed Consultation Process’ on Modernizing Forest Policies­- First Nations Forestry Council

UBCIC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

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