By JOHN MCKINLEY
June 7, 2016 · Updated 3:12 PM
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The provincial government is largely noncommittal in its response to a request by Vancouver Island communities to halt the logging of Island old growth forests. / John McKinley

If attitudes about old growth logging are changing in Vancouver Island forests, does the government hear?

The answer, apparently, is “sort of.”

In the wake of a recent resolution by Vancouver Island communities calling for a halt of old growth harvesting, followed last week by a similar — though conditional — resolution by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the provincial government did not make forests minister Steve Thomson available for comment to the 230,000 Vancouver Island homes and businesses served by Black Press.

Instead, it released an emailed statement that defended its record on forest policy while implying that such a significant policy change will not be forthcoming any time soon.

“While some communities on Vancouver Island have successfully diversified their local economies more into tourism, many – like Port McNeill and Campbell River are still heavily dependent on forestry,” the statement reads. “Through our policies we try to achieve the right balance between conservation and resource development.

“We have specifically protected about four million hectares of old growth forests. On the B.C. coast, 1.783 million hectares of the 3.18 million hectares of old growth forests on Crown land are protected.

”Old growth forests are protected from logging in parks, protected areas and old growth management areas. The intent of these areas is to conserve biodiversity and species associated with old growth forests. Of the 1.9 million hectares of Crown forest on Vancouver Island, 840,125 hectares are considered old-growth – but only 313,000 hectares are available for timber harvesting.”

The Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities voted in favour of halting harvesting in April, stating old growth has more “economic, social and environmental value as wildlife habitat, tourism resource, carbon sink and much more” if it is left standing.

On May 30, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce endorsed “support (for) the increased protection of old-growth forests in areas of the province where they have or can likely have a greater net economic value for communities if they are left standing.”

Both resolutions basically serve as position statements as each organization lobbies the provincial government to change its policies.

Forest industry leaders say 45 per cent of the timber cut on the Island and south coast is old growth. According to Truck Loggers Association executive director David Elstone halting that harvest would devastate the industry — which directly employs 38,000 people in the region — and damage the Island economy, particularly in the north.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

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