Climate change changes everything in our Forests

For some time West Coast Environmental Law has been advocating for the BC government to change the way it manages forests to recognize the reality of climate change.  These efforts have come together in a report released today by West Coast and the 6 other environmental groups who form the BC Working Group on Biodiversity, Forests and Climate.

New_Climate_Report_Cover_1.jpgA New Climate for Conservation, by biologist Jim Pojar, reviews the stresses that BC’s forests are under due to climate change and their critical role as a carbon sink in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Feel free to read the Executive Summary if you don’t want the full 100 page version. 

Based on this review, the report’s central recommendation is:

To develop a comprehensive provincial Nature Conservation and Climate Action Strategy that a) combines goals of biodiversity conservation and climate change action, and b) recognizes the fundamental role of ecosystem conservation in both ecological adaptation and mitigation.

What would that look like?  Glad you asked.  Such a strategy would hinge on identifying forest areas with high biodiversity and ability to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere, and to prioritize these areas for protection. 

The report’s other recommendations sketch out some of what’s required:

  • Broaden Core Protected Areas into a “Climate Conservation Network” – calling for at least 35% of the public land base to be managed for biodiversity and climate change mitigation, in addition to the 15% of BC’s lands already in protected areas (for a total of 50% of the province);
  • Introduce New Tools, Legislation and Incentives – The report recommends developing new laws that require that land use decisions protect biodiversity and take climate change action;
  • Provide Incentives for Stewardship in Every Sector – The report acknowledges that people – industry, communities, individuals – who practice good stewardship need support from government;
  • Take the Lead on Carbon/Biodiversity Valuation – The report acknowledges that BC can obtain revenue from carbon offsets by protecting forests, but only if we adopt stringent standards and document the value of our forests in removing carbon from the atmosphere. 
  • Establish the Principle that Humans are Part of Nature and our Survival is Intertwined with Nature’s Survival – The report demonstrates that changing how BC manages its forests is necessary and urgent.  

Will everyone come on board to protect our forests and avert climate change?  Perhaps not; the industry-based BC Forestry Climate Change Working Group recommends tackling climate change by intensive management that replaces old growth forests with younger trees, an approach which grossly oversimplifies the carbon cycle (for example, ignoring carbon stored in the soil entirely), while ignoring the need for forest ecosystems to adapt to climate change.  Other reports, such as SFU’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) 2008 report Climate Change Adaptation and Biodiversity, are much more consistent with our recommendations. 

We’re under no illusions that getting the recommendations of A New Climate for Conservation implemented in BC will be easy.  But if one thing is clear, it’s that climate change has changed everything.  We cannot treat our forests as if it was 1955, or even 1995.  New solutions are required to allow our forests to adapt to a changing climate and to allow them to clean our air.