The Crunch is Here

There are times when we either act or give up, so if you think that the Covid epidemic, the conservation of endangered species, and the protection of old growth forests are irrelevant problems to your way of life, stop reading here. These three major problems are here and now and have come to a head as a crunch: do something or quit.

The Covid epidemic is the most obvious of the current crises and it is on the radio and TV every day with an array of instructions of how to avoid this virus disease. You can respond to all this in three ways: ignore the problem because you are immortal, take a few precautions when you have time but minimize inconvenience, or take the mortality rate and the sickness rate of Covid to heart and do all you can to prevent infection or spread of infection. In the third wave of this virus, too many people in North America are taking option 1 and 2, perhaps in the hope that the vaccines arriving now will solve the problem of infection. If you think the pandemic will go away without much death and disruption, read Kolata (2019) or one of the many good books on pandemics in history (e.g., Kelly (2006). They are with us and our governments must take note.

Of less visibility in the news media are conservation issues that are equally at a crunch point. The most obvious one in Canada is the decline of mountain caribou, and the current status of conservation efforts on their behalf. Nagy-Reis et al. (2021) have recently reported on the lack of success to date in conserving mountain caribou. We have known for more than 20 years that habitat loss and habitat changes were the critical factors driving mountain caribou populations in Western Canada to extinction. Forest cover within the caribou range is the key indicator for caribou conservation, and forest harvest is the main cause of habitat loss added to by forest fires in more northern areas. From 2000 to 2018 caribou lost twice as much habitat as they gained by restoration policies from forest companies and the governments involved. Loss rates of habitat in different subregions of Western Canada ranged from about 1% per year to 8% per year loss. If we had a bank account with these continued losses over 20 years, we would start a revolution. The accepted policies are failing caribou. Seismic lines that break up caribou habitat are regenerating at a slow rate. Changes in land use management must be implemented to prevent extinction but the crunch comes there – jobs in the forestry industry vs. conservation goals that do not generate cash for governments. Temporary fixes like wolf control will help, but as Nagy-Reis et al. (2021) point out are not sufficient to solve the problem. If we wish to reverse these caribou declines, we must make long-term commitments to land use planning and reduce human alterations of landscapes. 

The third problem in which crunch time is coming is the loss of old growth forests, and thus is related to some extent to the caribou conservation issue. Old growth forest is disappearing globally and in any country on Earth you can hear the cry (e.g. Lindenmayer et al. 2020, Watson et al. 2018). In British Columbia now you must drive many hours to see old growth (3 meters diameter) and they are still logging these stands. The reason for this is the clever foresters who classify “old growth” in this province, so that in their arithmetic at present 26% of our forests are called ‘old growth’. At high elevations many ‘old growth’ stands are small trees, and at one extreme old growth in terms of age could be Krummholz (‘knee timber’) < 1 m tall. The government classifies old growth in wetter areas as stands of 250 years or more in age, and in dryer areas trees of 140 years old, primarily because the logging companies so far have not wanted to log such “small” trees. Price et al. (2021) analysed the forest structure of British Columbia and classified old growth with a proper definition of a productivity class of trees that will grow to 25 m or more in height by age 150 years. By government definitions B.C. has about 50 million ha of forest, of which 26% is classified as ‘old’growth’. So, this means they believe that 13 million ha of forest in B.C. is old growth. But if you consider the more correct ecological definition of old growth as stated by Price et al. (2021) of trees that will grow > 25 m tall in 50 years you find that <1% of B.C. forest is old growth at the present time. People do not drive for miles to see 5 m trees which they already have in cities. They will drive to see trees that are 800-1000 years old and more than 3 m in diameter, so a common-sense definition of old growth prevails in the tourist population. But again, we are back at jobs in forestry vs tourism potentials and the government is so committed to the forest industry that you have to search hard to find anyone who will give you a public lecture on “old growth” logging. So, this is another crunch for our time, jobs vs some 800-year-old trees with a lot of wood that inspire us and our children as being part of nature. All these considerations do not even begin to consider the other species that are lost in logging old growth because they are small and rarely measured (Doak 1989). The accepted government policies are failing us and our children. It is time to use science to challenge these changes which will affect us all now and in the future.

Doak, D. (1989). Spotted owls and old growth logging in the Pacific Northwest. Conservation Biology 3, 389-396.

Kelly, J. (2006) ‘The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time.’ (Harper Perennial: New York.). ISBN: 978-0060-00693-8.

Lindenmayer, D.B., Kooyman, R.M., Taylor, C., Ward, M., and Watson, J.E.M. (2020). Recent Australian wildfires made worse by logging and associated forest management. Nature Ecology & Evolution 4, 898-900. doi: 10.1038/s41559-020-1195-5.

Kolata, G.B. (2019) ‘Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that caused it.’ (Atria Books: New York.). ISBN: 978-14299-79351

Nagy-Reis, M., Dickie, M., Calvert, A.M., Hebblewhite, M., Hervieux, D., Seip, D.R., Gilbert, S. L., Venter, O., DeMars, C., Boutin, S., and Serrouya, R. (2021). Habitat loss accelerates for the endangered woodland caribou in western Canada. Conservation Science and Practice (in press), e437. doi: 10.1111/csp2.437 .

Price, K., Holt, R.F., and Daust, D. (2021). Conflicting portrayals of remaining old growth: the British Columbia case. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 51, 1-11. doi: 10.1139/cjfr-2020-0453.

Watson, J.E.M., Evans, T., Venter, O., Williams, B., and Tulloch, A. (2018). The exceptional value of intact forest ecosystems. Nature Ecology & Evolution 2, 599-610. doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0490-x.