VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, September 19, 2020 (ENS) – Days after the province of British Columbia announced a new provincial approach to old-growth forests, conservation groups are sounding the alarm on plans to log more than three square kilometres of intact rainforest north of Revelstoke, destroying critical habitat for the endangered southern mountain caribou.

While B.C. advances plans to log the old-growth, the province is trumpeting the spending of about C$33,000 to restore caribou habitat nearby.

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Old-growth trees are already being cut to make way for a logging road in the Argonaut Valley of British Columbia, August 2020 (Photo by Charlotte Dawe / Wilderness Committee & Wildsight)

“The B.C. government is taking two steps forward and three steps back by attempting to create habitat while also obliterating old-growth habitat that caribou have been known to use. It’s a net loss,” says Wilderness Committee conservation and policy campaigner Charlotte Dawe. “The government is sabotaging itself and caribou, not to mention wasting taxpayer money, by logging right next door.”

An onsite investigation by the nonprofit groups Wildsight, Echo Conservation Society and the Wilderness Committee in the Argonaut Valley has revealed the planned logging will destroy a large area of primarily old-growth rainforest, with massive cedars and hemlocks over 50 metres tall and many hundreds of years old.

This comes right after a provincial review of old-growth forests found that a paradigm shift is necessary to manage British Columbia’s old-growth forests. The authors recommended 14 steps to preserve the old-growth found in the province including immediately deferring logging in old forests where ecosystems are at high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.

Argonaut Creek is one of these areas where biodiversity and the old-growth forest is at risk.

“The rainforest in the Argonaut Valley is an incredible place, with giant ancient cedars,” says Echo Conservation Society Executive Director Thomas Knowles. “B.C.’s interior rainforest is a hidden ecological jewel along the eastern edge of the province, but we’re letting it slip away to logging.”

This rainforest is critical habitat for endangered southern mountain caribou, which have recently disappeared from the southern part of their B.C. range in the Kootenays after two herds were lost in the Purcell and Selkirk mountains.

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Southern mountain caribou in British Columbia (Photo courtesy Wilderness Committee)

“Mountain caribou have already been wiped off the map in southern B.C., mostly because of the destruction of their habitat through logging,” says Wildsight Conservation Specialist Eddie Petryshen. “The North Columbia herd is the southernmost herd left in B.C. with the best chance at survival but they won’t survive if we keep clearcutting the old-growth forest they need.”

These cutblocks are being auctioned off by BC Timber Sales, which is the provincial government’s own logging agency.

The groups are calling on the provincial government to cancel the auction of these primarily old-growth logging blocks and restore the five kilometres of the road already constructed.

“If B.C. won’t protect this critical caribou habitat, then federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson must use his powers under the Species at Risk Act and issue an emergency protection order to protect irreplaceable caribou habitat,” says Dawe.

The proposed clearcuts fall within the 150-member North Columbia herd’s critical habitat under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and tracking data shows that caribou use the area.

Logging and other industrial activity is largely blamed for the severe decline of southern mountain caribou to less than 1,200 animals. They are one of the world’s southernmost caribou populations, found from central British Columbia down to northern Idaho and Washington in the United States.

This population of deep-snow caribou survive by eating lichen from trees in the winter. The conservation groups warn that they are disappearing not just because of the loss of the old-growth forests they rely on, but also because of an increase in predators because of changes in forest ecosystems and backcountry roads that come with logging.

British Columbia’s Upper Argonaut Creek, August 2020 (Photo by Charlotte Dawe / Wilderness Committee & Wildsight)

This summer, the B.C. government announced C$1.1 million in funding for caribou habitat restoration. Splatsin First Nation is leading a restoration project in the area and the province has devoted over $33,000 to this effort.

Yet at the same time, the province is auctioning off cutblocks less than two kilometres from the area being restored. In past years, the province has also spent significant sums on maternal penning for caribou in the North Columbia herd, culling predators like wolves and other measures.

“Habitat restoration is an incredibly important aspect of recovery,” says Knowles. “But it makes no sense to restore habitat, build maternity pens and kill predators for caribou and then turn around and cut down the old-growth forest they need to survive.”

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