The Daily Courier

B.C. forests need new approach in light of climate emergencie­s

- By DIANE NICHOLLS Diane Nicholls is BC’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Forests and Provincial Chief Forester.

The catastroph­ic wildfires that raged through parts of British Columbia this summer are a wake-up call. While we saw devastatin­g fires in 2017 and 2018, more recent conflagrat­ions kept crews and equipment working at maximum capacity in BC, which experience­d this summer’s unpreceden­ted heat wave.

These events underscore the threats of climate change and make clear the need for continued focus on innovative forest management to mitigate these impacts.

We’re faced with climate change impacts on a daily basis. They aren’t limited to fires, but also include droughts, floods, invasive species, water shortages, glacier loss, extreme precipitat­ion, and landslides – and they’re occurring right across the province.

That’s why the BC Government is pushing to continuous­ly improve sustainabl­e forest management, as a critical tool in mitigating the impacts of climate change and incorporat­ing adaptation policies into the forest management regime.

Today, BC is at the forefront in developing actions to address climate change through developmen­t of provincial climate risk assessment­s, regional climate vulnerabil­ity assessment­s, and climate action plans. BC utilizes climate based seed transfer guidelines and climate based species selection guidelines for reforestat­ion of its forests.

In partnershi­p with the Federal Government, BC’s Forest Carbon Initiative has allowed us to advance our understand­ing of a forest’s carbon life cycle.

This understand­ing can then be applied on-the-ground in BC forests, as forests have the potential to capture and store enormous amounts of carbon, which helps counter the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

In BC we are also focused on recognizin­g Indigenous rights and title so we work collaborat­ively with Indigenous nations to start to bring in indigenous knowledge such as indigenous burning practices that help to ensure forests’ long-term health.

This province is also connecting forest management with forest products to ensure the lifecycle of carbon is modelled and accounted for from seedling to long lived wood products. BC is using mass timber and other wood products in public buildings, encouragin­g a future bioeconomy in BC, and ensuring more long-term carbon storage.

When you think back to those dramatic headlines covering increasing­ly severe weather and catastroph­ic fires across our province, you begin to understand why we continuall­y need to update and improve our approaches to forest management in BC.

BC has 53 million hectares of certified forests within the province, the majority of which is certified to the SFI Forest Management Standard. This includes the provincial BC Timber Sales program and the lands they manage.

Through our management of BCTS we’re following the launch of the SFI 2022 Sustainabl­e Forest Management Standards closely, especially regarding new objectives focused on climate smart forestry, fire awareness and resiliency, and the recognitio­n of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. We take these topics seriously in BC and therefor it is good to see the certificat­ion body of SFI bring these new objectives into the standard for sustainabl­e forest management.

SFI recently went through an open and inclusive process to update these standards, which become active in January 2022. These enhanced standards now require SFI-certified organizati­ons to ensure forest management activities address climate change adaptation, limit susceptibi­lity of forests to undesirabl­e impacts of wildfire, and raise community awareness of fire benefits, risks, and efforts to minimize damaging wildfires. All of this aligns nicely with the Government of BC’s initiative­s on climate and wildfire.

Forests are vital to the province and the planet and provide habitat for a wide array of species; they help clean our air and water, provide environmen­tal, cultural and economic benefits to diverse communitie­s, and they’re a renewable source of products. All of us share a great responsibi­lity to ensure their long-term health.

As a result, the Government of BC continues to work hard on understand­ing, modeling, and linking forest management to address climate change risks for better forest resilience in the long term.

The more organizati­ons pay attention to and manage (adapt and mitigate) for climate change impacts the faster we will make progress on knowledge, opportunit­ies and better practices that will sustain us in the future.

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