Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on February 26, 2014 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Who speaks for the trees?

Kimberly Shearon headshotKimberly ShearonStaff

Quick, name an endangered species! Was the first thing that popped into your head something with wings or fins or legs? If so, you’re probably not the only one. But while our animal friends often play a starring role in efforts to protect Canada’s endangered species, it’s important to remember that our country’s flowers, ferns and trees — spectacular in their own subtle way — need our help too.

Take the Coastal Douglas-fir for instance. These green giants once dominated British Columbia’s coastal forests, but now only fragments of these unique old-growth forest ecosystems remain. Aggressive logging practices have decimated the Coastal Douglas-fir population, leaving them perilously close to elimination — the ecosystem equivalent of extinction.

Did you know?
The Coastal Douglas-fir isn’t the only endangered species in B.C. struggling to survive.

In fact, its plight is echoed in forests across the province.

There are more than 1,900 species at risk in B.C., including the spotted owl and Northern goshawk. More than 85 per cent of those receive zero protection under provincial or federal laws.

These trees need our help. That’s why Ecojustice lawyers are working with the Wilderness Committee and ForestEthics Solutions to stop logging companies from destroying what remains of the Coastal Douglas-fir. We appeared before the B.C. Supreme Court today seeking a court order confirming that the provincial government has violated its own law by failing to protect these iconic trees.

Although the Coastal Douglas-fir was formally designated for protection by the B.C. Ministry  of Environment in 2006, logging of the remaining forests has continued for the last six years. In 2010, the province approved the logging of a Coastal Douglas-fir forest near Nanaimo, even though it was supposed to be protected under B.C.’s forestry laws.

The plight of the Coastal Douglas-fir is a striking example of why B.C. needs standalone endangered species legislation.

As we highlighted in last year’s Failure to Protect report, relying on patchwork of laws that purportedly protect endangered species through regulation is an ineffective approach. Can a law designed to promote and regulate forestry, such as B.C.’s Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) also adequately protect endangered ecosystems from harm? The B.C. government claims it can, but the results speak for themselves: Government documents estimate that less
than one per cent of Coastal Douglas-fir old-growth forest remains intact.

All told, government efforts to help this fragile forest type recover have been ineffective and hollow. As we pointed out to the court, if the Coastal Douglas-fir is to survive into the future, it must be protected, not logged — a sentiment echoed by the government’s own research.

Today, Coastal Douglas-fir forests only cover a fraction of their
historical range, but they nonetheless perform many important natural services. Not only do they help maintain biodiversity — these forests are home to hundreds of species, from the well-known Bald Eagle to the lesser-known and endangered Marbled Murrelet — they also prevent flooding by soaking up rainwater, filter the fresh water we drink, and purify the air we breathe.

Legal proceedings will continue through tomorrow and it will likely be a few months before we get a decision from the B.C. Supreme Court, but in the meantime there’s something simple we can all do to show our appreciation for the crucial role trees like the Coastal Douglas-fir play in our lives. Next time you’re outside, stop and take three big breaths. Smile. Then reflect on how you’ll do your part to speak for the trees.

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