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Ken Wu with the Ancient Forest Alliance, climbs up onto a 14 foot wide tree stump of old growth tree that was cut down, near Port Renfrew on July 18, 2011.JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

Jennifer Ellen Good is an associate professor of communication, popular culture and film at Brock University. Elin Kelsey is adjunct faculty at the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria and author of Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis.

Recent anti-logging protests to save the vulnerable, biodiverse old-growth Fairy Creek Watershed on Vancouver Island came as a surprise to many across Canada who assumed old growth was already protected in B.C. After all, the NDP won re-election in the province last October with a platform that included promising to protect more old growth in accordance with a major report released in September titled A New Future For Old Forests.

The report delineates that Canada’s old-growth and primary forests are under threat, and other studies corroborate such findings. For example, a 2020 study by Karen Price, Rachel Holt and Dave Daust points to the need for “immediate action” to save B.C.’s old-growth forests. The Sierra Club highlights the report’s findings, pointing out “how shockingly little is left of B.C.’s most endangered old-growth forests, in particular those with very big trees. ... Only about eight per cent (approximately 415,000 hectares) of the original extent of these original forests with big trees remain as old-growth today across the province.”

The definition of an old-growth forest is complex and context-specific. In British Columbia, for example, the term “old growth” is officially defined by the age of trees in a forest using specific thresholds (often over 250 years on the coast and 140 years in the interior). The Convention of Biological Diversity offers that a primary forest is “a forest that has never been logged and has developed following natural disturbances and under natural processes, regardless of its age.” B.C.’s old-growth forests have been nearly eliminated and its primary forests are disappearing at an “extraordinary rate,” according to the World Resources Institute.

In 2020, the Government of Canada – along with 50 other countries – committed to protecting 25 per cent of land and oceans by 2025, and working toward 30 per cent by 2030. Protecting the old-growth forests that still remain is a vital part of fulfilling that pledge, especially given that the rate at which a tree absorbs carbon accelerates as it ages. Some of the trees in B.C.’s old-growth forests are more than 800 years old. As a result, those forests are among the Earth’s largest carbon storehouses.

We also know that old-growth trees, or “mother trees,” play a vital role in the well-being of the entire forest community. Forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard’s research details how mother trees nurture their own offspring and interconnect through fungal root networks to create hubs of communication and support that help generations of trees survive.

In 1988, Adbusters magazine launched a culture-jamming “UnCommercial” called the Talking Forest. In the 30-second animated clip, a young tree asks a tree elder, “What would the forests be without old ones like you?” The elder tree offers, “I believe they call it a tree farm.” A few years later, with pressure from effective boycotts of unsustainable forest products, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – a “market-based approach” to global forestry practices – was created in 1994 to provide a label to show consumers which products meet its social and environmental standards. However, while the FSC accreditation helped ease forestry-related tensions, consumers have been fundamentally failed when it comes to knowing whether our forest products contain trees from old-growth, or primary, forests. Greenpeace International, a founding member of the FSC, renounced its membership in 2018, citing the FSC’s role in “greenwashing the destruction of ecosystems.”

Over the past few decades, we have collectively become aware of the environmental importance of our purchasing choices. Accreditation and logos have played an important role in facilitating these environmentally informed purchases. From recycled, to GMO-free, to organic, to sustainable seafood, to fair trade, we rely on carefully monitored and verifiable labelling and accreditation logos as we make decisions about what to buy. Research is clear that Canadians want old-growth trees protected, including over 90 per cent of people living in B.C.

As the remaining old-growth forests are rapidly being cut down, we need an accreditation system and logo that tells us whether the forest products we might buy contain any of these ancient tree elders. These giants hold information accrued over centuries that enables the entire forest to thrive. We need a logo that affords us the opportunity to make an informed choice on behalf of the people and the forests in the centuries yet to come.

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