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B.C. Premier David Eby speaks during a news conference in Vancouver, on Feb. 5. The NDP government made a commitment in the 2020 election campaign to protect old growth – officially recognizing that the value of old-growth trees left standing can be far greater than the value of those trees as timber products.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government is seeking to harness the financial clout of non-profit conservation groups to protect endangered ecosystems, with a commitment to create a new trust fund to leverage charitable donations for nature with its own dollars.

Premier David Eby announced on Wednesday his plans to fast-track his government’s progress on protecting old growth, including $25-million to help First Nations participate in land-use decisions on old-growth forests, and $90-million added to the B.C. Manufacturing Jobs Fund to help forestry companies retool their mills to adapt to second-growth timber.

The new money pledged by Mr. Eby pales in comparison with the potential for philanthropic conservation. Even without the province as a partner, non-profits have slipped past the province’s slow decision-making process to secure environmentally important lands, from rare undeveloped Gulf Islands properties to threatened wetlands to unique pockets of mixed old-growth forests.

Earlier this year, however, the province announced a major new conservation area secured through financing by the Nature Conservancy of Canada in Incomappleux Valley, which it called the most significant new protected area in a decade. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization that has works on large-scale, permanent land conservation.

Inspired by that model which secured Indigenous consent and financing from corporate, private and federal government sources, the province is now promising to establish a conservation financing mechanism within six months that it expects will tap into “hundreds of millions of dollars of philanthropic donations to fund conservation measures.”

Details of how much money the province will contribute have not been released, and may not be known until the next provincial budget is tabled on Feb. 28.

“This is significant – Premier Eby is paving the path for a major transformation in conservation,” said Ken Wu, whose Nature-Based Solutions Foundation was set up to secure endangered ecosystems. “There are hundreds of millions dollars out there – easily – but the province needs to contribute their own dollars to kickstart it.”

The NDP government made a commitment in the 2020 election campaign to protect old growth – officially recognizing that the value of old-growth trees left standing can be far greater than the value of those trees as timber products.

In November, 2021, the province announced a plan to suspend one-third of old-growth logging, however it said it would first consult with each of about 220 First Nations on any logging deferrals within each nation’s traditional territories.

Since then, Mr. Eby said, the province has implemented temporary deferrals to prohibit logging in 2.1 million hectares of old-growth forests. At the same time, more than 11,000 hectares of old-growth forests have been logged in areas that were earmarked by the government’s independent expert panel for protection, while negotiations on deferrals continue.

“This is an approach that puts Indigenous perspectives and First Nations’ perspectives at the centre of the planning,” Mr. Eby told a news conference. “And First Nations have different approaches to their territory when it comes to forestry. It is more challenging to do it this way, because there are so many nations across the province.”

The $25-million fund will pay for eight new “forest landscape planning” tables that will bring together communities, industry and 50 First Nations that will have the authority to prevent logging in old-growth forests that are deemed to be important for biodiversity, clean water or other priorities.

The province has also changed its regulations to allow such decisions to take precedence over the economics of forestry. Until now, the Forest and Range Practices Act would not allow objectives like water quality or wildlife habitat to “unduly restrict” timber supply. That clause has been stripped from the regulations, by a cabinet order signed on Tuesday.

Torrance Coste, national campaign director of the Wilderness Committee, said the regulatory change could have huge implications – but it won’t be clear until decision-making starts to change. In the meantime, he said, the Eby government continues to “talk and log,” he said.

“The pace is glacial,” Mr. Coste said. “We’re talking about planning for forests that aren’t going to be there anymore.”

Mr. Eby maintains his government is making progress. “We’re seeing real results on the ground,” he said. “The latest numbers show that logging of old growth has declined to the lowest level on record.” Since 2015, the amount of old growth logged in B.C. has steadily declined, from 65,000 hectares to 38,300 hectares in 2021. The tally for 2022 has not yet been calculated.

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