Rare lichen enlisted in old-growth logging battle

The Bugaboo Predominant logging road in British Columbia where environmental activist Joshua Wright first spotted Oldgrowth Specklebelly lichen is pictured from above on Sept. 13. There are only 56 documented findings of the species in Canada.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

A logging road winds through the Bugaboo Creek watershed, opening up access to a bit of forest that has never been logged. Months ago, the blockades where almost 1,200 people were arrested for protesting against old-growth logging in nearby Fairy Creek got here down. Now, some opponents are using this rough backcountry path to look for brand new avenues to guard these forests.

After climbing up the Bugaboo forest road on a warm September day, Joshua Wright checked his GPS co-ordinates just under the ridge line, then descended down the steep mountainside into the luxurious, untidy terrain of an old-growth forest.

The 19-year-old environmental activist, a key figure within the Fairy Creek blockades, has spent the past few months visiting these mountains, trying to find Oldgrowth Specklebelly lichen. There are only 56 documented findings of this species in Canada. If he can confirm its presence here, he hopes that this one patch of forest, which has been marked by surveyors for logging, will probably be protected.

British Columbia has been embroiled in conflict over old-growth logging for many years, and the protests that began in Fairy Creek in 2020 led to one in all the largest acts of civil disobedience – measured by the variety of arrests – in Canadian history.

The protests targeted logging in Premier John Horgan’s riding. Mr. Horgan’s Recent Democratic Party government had promised to make conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem health an overarching priority across all resource sectors. Last November, it announced a plan to defer logging in one-third of British Columbia’s rare, old-growth forests which can be considered at a really high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.

Nevertheless, groups including the Ancient Forest Alliance, Sierra Club BC, Stand.earth and the Wilderness Committee say that old-growth logging in B.C. has not slowed, even within the areas where the federal government promised to defer harvesting.

When the Fairy Creek blockades ended last June, activists were disheartened that their actions had not produced substantial change, Mr. Wright said. He began trying to find a special point of leverage. That brought him to cutblock #4733, near Bugaboo Creek. Here, the alchemy of ocean breezes and ancient yellow cedars mix to create a nutrient-rich climate where Oldgrowth Specklebelly lichen can grow.

About two dozen metres from the logging road, Mr. Wright positioned his goal: a patch of the distinctive pale greenish blue lichen growing amid the moss on the bark of an amabilis fir tree. He has now mapped five host trees on this forest, and has written to the provincial conservation service to document those findings.

“The federal government knows it’s here, and it’s as much as them now,” he said in an interview, standing at the bottom of a towering yellow cedar that stands amid the patches of lichen. “Are they going to follow their very own rules, or are they going to bow right down to the timber industry?”

Specklebelly lichen incidence

Proposed cut block (approx.)

the globe and mail, Source: joshua wright; teal-

jones group; google earth

Specklebelly lichen incidence

Proposed cut block (approx.)

the globe and mail, Source: joshua wright; teal-

jones group; google earth

Specklebelly lichen incidence

Proposed cut block (approx.)

the globe and mail, Source: joshua wright; teal-jones group; google earth

Bugaboo Creek and Fairy Creek are a part of an unlimited coastal rain forest on the west coast of Vancouver Island featuring a few of the largest trees in Canada and rare, intact watersheds. These forests are positioned inside Tree Farm Licence 46, which is held by the logging company, Teal-Jones. Moreover, they lie inside the standard territories of the Pacheedaht First Nation.

The Pacheedaht’s leadership has been clear that the logging protests were unwelcome, and earlier this month, the band and Teal-Jones signed a pact to pursue the creation of jobs and training opportunities in forestry with Pacheedaht First Nation members.

The Pacheedaht’s support for logging inside its traditional territories has made the Fairy Creek protests contentious in environmental circles. Conservationists who’re comfortable opposing corporate and government interests have hesitated to face in the way in which of Indigenous rights to manipulate their lands and resources.

By shifting from blockades to cataloguing endangered species, nonetheless, the onus shifts to how government will meet its commitment to biodiversity conservation. An analogous tactic was utilized in 2021 to delay construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline, when birders complained that Anna’s hummingbird nests were being damaged. Environment and Climate Change Canada halted pipeline construction through a forest in Burnaby, B.C., until the top of bird nesting season.

Under the country’s Species at Risk Act, each the federal and provincial government have acknowledged the necessity to protect Oldgrowth Specklebelly lichen. “The best current threat is from logging and wood harvesting. The management goal is to keep up all known extant populations and any future populations of Oldgrowth Specklebelly which may be present in British Columbia,” states Canada’s management plan for the species.

The lichen is listed as a species of special concern, which suggests that the province requires a conservation plan. But that doesn’t provide any assurance of protection: Forests Minister Katrine Conroy was not available for comment, but in a written statement, her office said there isn’t a legal requirement for cover.

Trevor Goward is the expert who named and catalogued this lichen for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, an independent agency that advises the federal government on which species need protection. He has confirmed Mr. Wright’s find.

“There are 20,000 lichens that continue to exist this planet, there’s nothing that’s quite this color,” Mr. Goward said in an interview. “It’s like coming upon a unicorn.”

He doesn’t expect many individuals will worry concerning the fate of some lichen, irrespective of how rare. But he says Oldgrowth Specklebelly lichen must be recognized as a marker of a special and endangered ecosystem, one which takes hundreds of years to develop.

“It grows in conditions that the majority lichens couldn’t tolerate. It’s an incredible species in its own right, but who cares about lichen? That is an emblem of our planet’s survival,” Mr. Goward said.

Conrad Browne, director for Indigenous partnership with the Teal-Jones Group, said there are not any immediate plans to log on this particular cutblock at Bugaboo Creek, and the corporate would search for endangered species before filing a harvest plan with the province. Would the presence of a rare species alter those plans? It depends, he said.

“There’s best practices, and there’s also aspirational processes that folks have put into different reports, that don’t fall into the legal requirements,” he said. The corporate will develop its logging plans for this cutblock with the Pacheedaht, he said. “We’ll be certain that we’re doing it the way in which that the First Nation wants us to, so long as it falls inside the legal parameters of forestry.”

Conservationists are pushing B.C. to shift to harvesting trees only in second-growth forests, to go away the remaining stands of old growth intact. But Mr. Browne said Teal-Jones needs to reap high-value old growth as a part of its logging operations, otherwise the second-growth forests usually are not price cutting.

The dispute over logging around Fairy Creek has been costly for the corporate, Mr. Browne said. He wouldn’t say if the corporate has lost customers, but “it’s harmed us on many various levels, from markets, to customers … to our relationship with government.”

Environmental activist Joshua Wright geotags Oldgrowth Specklebelly lichen together with his phone between Fairy Creek and the Central Walbran area in B.C. on Sept. 13. Mr. Wright was a key figure within the Fairy Creek blockades and has spent the past few months trying to find the species.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here