ENVIRONMENT

A war over a rain forest

JANE O’HARA February 11 1985
ENVIRONMENT

A war over a rain forest

JANE O’HARA February 11 1985

A war over a rain forest

ENVIRONMENT

About 225 environmentalists and Indians went to a picnic on British Columbia’s Meares Island last week. But the reason for the gathering was much more than a desire to share a meal. The people involved met off the west coast of Vancouver Island in an attempt to prevent logging operations on the steep slopes that support one of the last untouched rain forests in the province. The protest took place after the giant forestry firm of MacMillan Bloedel (MB) won a B.C. Supreme Court injunction on Jan. 25 which prevents anyone from blocking its access to 9,000 acres on the island. And because the company has not announced when it will begin cutting trees this year, 25 protesters are keeping a 24-hour vigil on the island. One is Harold Tieleman, a local restaurateur, who says that he is ready to confront the loggers—and risk being found in contempt of court.

MB has been embroiled in controversy since it announced plans four years ago to log the island. The firm, which owns one of two tree-farm licences on Meares, intends to cut one per cent of the timber there by April, 1986, and to clear 36 per cent of the wood by the year 2020. MB has made one concession to conservationists: it agreed not to cut trees visible from nearby Tofino on Vancouver Island for at least 20 years. Still, most of the 700 residents of the fishing village want the entire forest preserved as a threatened natural resource. MB spokesmen say that logging the island will help

to sustain 240 jobs in the industry and it has won support from the powerful International Woodworkers of America, representing 35,000 forestry workers in the province.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the environmentalists and Indians are appealing the court’s injunction. And the 1,200 members of the Clayoquot and Ahousaht bands who regard Meares as their ancestral home have also pressed their right to the island as part of a native land claim. But decisions in those cases will likely come after MB begins logging. Said Michael Mullin, a director of the 525-member environmental group Friends of Clayoquot Sound: “We do not need to be violent. All we have to do is stand around the trees and they won’t be cut.” But James Gosnell, president of the Nishga Tribal Council representing 5,000 Indians who support the Meares land claims declared: “There could be a bloodbath, but we will not be responsible. We will hold the white man responsible.”

Last week MacMillan Bloedel complained to the RCMP that vandals had damaged the company’s survey lines on the island. Said MB spokesman William Ohs: “This will not decelerate our logging but it will be costly, and we will have to send in more survey crews.” Loggers with chainsaws will eventually follow and, with both sides in the dispute holding their ground, a clash in the rain forest seems inevitable.

-JANE O’HARA in Vancouver.