British Columbia’s old growth forests are being scrutinized and an independent panel is being charged with gathering input on managing the forests for ecological, economic and cultural values.

In July 2019, the government appointed panel members Garry Merkel and Al Gorley to lead an old growth strategic review and provide a report to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. The primary purpose of the review is to inform future policies and new old growth strategies for B.C.

"Old-growth forests have significant economic, social and cultural values," said Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson in a news release.

"We are committed to developing a new thoughtful and measured approach to managing this resource for the benefit of all British Columbians."

The panel was tasked with looking at old growth management from a variety of perspectives, including employment and economic benefits, social, cultural, and environmental value and the need to address climate change.

"Merkel and Gorley will be having broad conversations with Indigenous Nations, industry, stakeholders and communities about the future of old-growth management," said Donaldson.

One group who advocates for the protection of B.C.'s old growth forests says that the government's panel is a response to the public's call for change in old growth forest management.

"We are running out of original forest, forest that hasn't been logged, and the public has wanted change on this for decades because for too long they have been managed solely as timber," said Wilderness Committee national campaign director Torrance Coste.

"They are important to combating climate change, for Indigenous rights and [as] endangered species habitats."

The Wilderness Committee stresses that it is important that panelist acknowledge the regional differences in terms of old growth. They feel the meanings of ancient forests in coastal British Columbia are different than the forests in the interior.

"I'm hopeful that the panel has that base of knowledge to put together a particular report, but more important to me is what the government does with the information that the panel produces," said Coste.

"If the government is going to sit on it for six months and then put together something to head into the next election, that's spending a couple of years that we just don’t have," added Coste.

The Wilderness Committee would like to see more interim measures to protect old growth forests while the panel does its work and while the government decides what to do with their investigation.

"Otherwise it is the classic 'talk and log scenario' that we know too well in this province," said Coste.

British Columbians can share their views on old growth forests in B.C. through the panel’s website online here

Feedback is open until Jan. 31, 2020, at 4 p.m. with the final report being submitted on April 30, 2020. The report will include recommendations and a summary of what the panel heard so that government can determine next steps.