ENVIRO NOTES: Finding balance in the forest

Gulf widens between environmentalists, industrialists

Canada’s boreal forest stretches all the way from the Yukon/Alaska border in the west to the eastern shore of Newfoundland.

It’s made up of trembling aspen, white birch, balsam fir, jack pine, black and white spruce, for the most part. Northwards, it merges into the sub-arctic taiga and tundra; in the south, it gives way to grassland or mixed woodlands. It covers almost six million square kilometres and has been rated as “one of the world’s greatest treasures,” along with its Siberian counterpart and the Amazon rainforest.

The International Boreal Conservation Science Panel met recently in Baltimore and came out with the assertion that half of the total area should be protected from industrial developments because of its ecological significance and value as a massive carbon depository.

The panel estimated that about one-eighth had already been adversely impacted by industrial developments – forestry, by which they mean timber harvesting, mining and oil and gas exploration.

The only activity that the panel would accept is traditional hunting by aboriginal peoples (does ‘traditional’ exclude ATVs, high-powered rifles and skidoos?) and there should be co-management.

This position, taken by a group of eminent biologists and environmentalists, looks at the ecological significance of the area and presents one side of an argument, thus clearly illustrating the philosophical gulf between conservationist and industrialists that presents governments with a difficult dilemma.

What might be the local and national economic benefits of permitting some development, and what might be the environmental costs? What measure of environmental harm, if any, is acceptable in the short and long terms? What constraints on development could be enforced, not just written, to minimize environmentally harmful impacts without compromising the viability of a project? How and by whom should decisions be made? What time frames should be envisaged? Whose interests are predominant?

These difficult questions should be addressed in open debate using science, facts and data, rather than rhetoric and unsupported hyperbole.

Think back a century and imagine a discussion on whether one could approve the conversion of prairie grasslands to wheat fields, a significant ecological and social change.

The social impact was immediate, alteration of habitat proved harmful to bison, burrowing owls, many other creatures and a way of life; national benefit came slowly.

How would a benefit/cost analysis have looked then and how would it compare with one today?

Can we embark on a similar examination of the pros and cons of possible industrial ventures in our pristine boreal forest?

It is particularly challenging when some of the values are difficult or impossible to quantify – can you put a dollar value on clean water, the last golden eagle?

What are the lost opportunity costs if development is not sanctioned? How does one apply the law of unexpected consequences?

There is no magic formula that will provide an answer. When all the issues have been explored and debated, the eventual decision will reflect the bias of the decision-makers and, whatever the outcome, it is unlikely to please all of the protagonists.

Only time will tell if it was the right solution.

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News. rmstrang@shaw.ca


Just Posted

Family-friendly Halloween event planned for Historic Stewart Farm

South Surrey historic site to host ‘Haunted Farm’ event

Cyclist reportedly struck by vehicle in Surrey

Man was rushed to hospital after incident on 104 Avenue

South Surrey man allows smart meter installation ‘under duress’

BC Hydro says devices emit fraction of radio frequency from a cellphone

Students, volunteers plant 300 trees in White Rock park

City partnership to ‘mimic the natural growth’ of Ruth Johnson Park

$50,000 reward for ‘extremely violent’ South Surrey murder suspect renewed

Offer for information on Brandon Teixeira to remain in effect through April, 2020

More beef products recalled due to possible E. coli contamination

The food safety watchdog has been investigating possible E. coli 0157:H7

B.C. VIEWS: How to get the best deal on your ICBC car insurance

ICBC slowly being dragged into the 21st century

Man killed in Richmond had ‘no record of criminality,’ IHIT says

Stephen Chong, 58, was found dead in his business

Pot legalization has gone ‘well’, but ‘yellow flags’ on vaping: task force chair

Canada legalized cannabis for non-medical use on Oct. 17, 2018,

ELECTION 2019: Federal leaders hit final 24 hours of campaign

Many leaders remain in B.C. for the final hours of the campaign

VIDEO: Vancouver Giants down Swift Current

Cole Shepard is off the injury list. This was bad news for the other team.

Jack’s Devils beat Quinn’s Canucks 1-0 in NHL brother battle

New Jersey youngster scores first career goal against Vancouver

Two charged after owner’s wild ride through Kamloops in his stolen truck

Crystal Rae Dorrington, 37, and Derrick Ronald Pearson, 32, facing multiple charges

Most Read

l -->