Regenerative forest management should be goal

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BY ANDREA PALFRAMAN

The old-growth conifers of B.C. are the botanical equivalent of iconic animals like the Bengal tiger, or closer to home, the humpback whale. It’s no wonder the charismatic “megaflora” found in ancient temperate rainforests get mystical sounding names like Cathedral Grove on the way to Port Alberni, or Eden Grove, west of Fairy Creek.

From a climate change perspective, all forests matter, but do some forests matter more than others? Simply put, the older the forest, the more substantial a role it plays in storing carbon and precious water. Next time you are standing on the Erskine trail (while trying to catch your breath!) consider for a moment that second-growth forests — which make up the majority of Salt Spring’s 14,000 forested hectares — sequester three to five times more carbon than newly planted forests. 

Big Lonely Doug, a 23-storey fir left standing in the midst of a clearcut, is emblematic of how we romanticize giant trees while matchsticking the rest of the system that fostered such magnificent growth. 

B.C.’s industrial silviculture promised that clearcuts could be simply replanted like corn in a field. Aside from the obvious irreparable damage to once salmon-bearing streams and soil health, replanting clearcuts with a monoculture will not come close to matching the carbon-sequestration services provided by mature mixed forests. Nor will it deliver the climate change protections we need, like reduced wildfire risk, and the water retention we get in healthy, diverse forests. Eliminating clear-cut logging, and incentivizing landowners to adopt regenerative forestry practices, will. 

“My mentor, Merv Wilkinson, sustainably logged his forested acreage for 60 years,” said Michael Nickels, owner of Seven Ravens Ecoforestry, in a recent interview from his home close to the Fulford Valley. “In the end, he was left with more standing timber than he started with.”

Regenerative forest management, which is the type of forestry practised by cutting-edge foresters like Nickels, involves the interplay between science and Indigenous knowledge, with the generation of rural livelihoods that actually build the land. This type of forestry nurtures human and non-human communities alike. 

Zooming out from our little island, a robust market in carbon offsets — worth $5 billion per year and growing — has emerged globally and is beginning to offer economic opportunities for carbon storage. Communities like Salt Spring where forests create many types of livelihoods — from hospitality to forestry — stand to benefit. 

When we start to think of standing forests as an investment with real monetary value, it changes the equations we use to weigh the benefits of keeping trees standing versus chopping them down. 

Ascribing value to the carbon that’s removed from the atmosphere and stored by standing trees, this new market makes preserving forests more economically viable. Says Katherine Bergeron, who works with the B.C.-based organization Taking Root, “People can earn money from planting trees, and if they are committed to long-term maintenance and monitoring of their forests they can also potentially earn money from the carbon these trees sequester over time.”

But paying for the future carbon that a tree stores over time requires a monitoring system to make sure the trees actually survive and thrive. Otherwise, it’s like having a bad inventory management system in a grocery store. Taking Root has developed a software system called FARM-TRACE that allows farming organizations around the world to collect the data required to facilitate the process of carbon certification.

“Our monitoring processes bring transparency to carbon markets while tying revenue to the health of forests. The emerging carbon market is as hungry for legitimate projects as farmers are eager to earn additional income streams from maintaining and building forests,” says Bergeron. 

According to the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Plan, keeping more forests standing is the number one priority to protect future generations from drought, fire and runaway climate change. To get there, we need to start deploying not only smarter forest stewardship practices, but also data solutions that can quantify the “worth more standing” claims made by environmentalists. 

Transition Salt Spring is advocating for the development of carbon revenue as a means of financing forest restoration on Salt Spring Island. With a federal carbon price slated to rise from $30/tonne this year, to $170/tonne in 2030, the financial feasibility of mass carbon storage projects in healthy forests and oceans is suddenly becoming more feasible. 

Says Nickels, “Almost nobody wants to cut old growth. So, we need to figure out a way to manage second-growth forests to allow for a real economic return that nourishes communities.”

Nickels believes that the right approach involves maximizing the value of every single tree. “Over 35 years, I’ve removed about 60 truckloads of logs from my 38-acre property. Every single piece of wood felled is milled on the property. The majority stays on Salt Spring and is used for edge-grain trim wood for baseboards, doors and windows, as wide plank slabs for furniture and flooring, and making posts and beams for houses. My forest today has a far greater volume of wood than when I acquired it.” 

With the right tools, islanders can balance private property entitlements with the urgent need to lower emissions and adapt to a hotter, drier future. To get there, islanders need to be rewarded for enhancing forest ecosystems through sustainable forest management practices.  

People are invited to check out this upcoming joint Transition Salt Spring and Salt Spring Island Conservancy fundraiser event: What’s Happening to Our Forests and Trees? It’s set for Wednesday, June 30, 7:30 p.m. Join acclaimed B.C. forest ecology scientists Andy MacKinnon and Richard Hebda for an engaging and timely discussion of forest ecology and the effects of climate change. 

Tickets are at www.tinyurl.com/SSForests. Students can participate free of charge.

One Cool Island is a regular series produced by Transition Salt Spring on how we can all respond to the climate crisis, together. Andrea Palframan is a TSS director and communications lead. For more information on how to support climate action on Salt Spring, visit transitionsaltspring.com.

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