ENVIRONMENT

A towering fight

The debate rekindles over B.C. logging

HAL QUINN June 5 1989
ENVIRONMENT

A towering fight

The debate rekindles over B.C. logging

HAL QUINN June 5 1989

A towering fight

ENVIRONMENT

The debate rekindles over B.C. logging

The stately tree is called the Carmanah Giant and since engineers discovered it last summer, it has come to symbolize an emotional debate that has flared among environmental groups, British Columbia’s largest logging company and the province’s forest workers. The 310-foot-high, centuries-old Sitka spruce—believed to be the tallest tree in Canada—towers over the lower slopes of the Carmanah Valley about 80 km northwest of Victoria on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. Environmental groups want the entire 16,626acre valley to be placed off limits to loggers. For its part, MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. has proposed that 1,329 acres of the valley containing the giant tree and 239 unusually tall spruce trees be preserved while the rest of the valley is opened up to logging. Last week, the woodworkers’ union, IWA-Canada, entered the fray when more than 1,600 of its members and supporters demonstrated in Victoria in support of the company’s proposal. Some demonstrators carried placards pointing to the difficult choices involved in the issue: “Our jobs, our forests, our children’s future.”

The debate over Carmanah Valley is potentially the most explosive since a federal-provincial agreement in 1987 ended a bitter 13-year dispute between Haida Indians and logging companies and saved an ancient stand of cedar, hemlock and Sitka trees on Lyell Island, 360 miles north of Vancouver. The latest dispute comes at a time when concern is growing over the rate at which British Columbia’s forests are being cut down—and over the forestry firms’ practice of clear-cutting, which involves cutting down everything growing in a forest, including the valuable timber. In the dispute over the Carmanah Valley, company officials offered to protect the tallest Sitkas.

Still, environmentalists insist that the entire valley must be saved. They say that partial cutting of the valley’s trees could cause soil erosion and other ecological damage that could eventually threaten even the protected area. Said Adriane Carr, a director of the Vancouverbased Western Canada Wilderness Committee: “The spruce groves are sustained by the entire ecosystem, and for that system to survive into the future the whole valley has to be preserved.” Premier William Vander Zalm’s Social Credit government was expected to decide the issue after the province’s forestry service completes an analysis of the situation. The controversy over the valley that is known as Khrowbodewah—“The Beginning”—by the indigenous Nitinat Indians began in April,

1988, when two hikers entered the area bordering Vancouver Island’s west coast Pacific Rim National Park. Randy Stoltmann, 26, and Clinton Webb, 31, who are both members of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, discovered survey flags in the valley and newly created logging roads. “We were really surprised,” recalled Stoltmann. Company officials said that the company’s five-year logging plan

submitted to the government and made public in 1984 did not indicate any logging in the central Carmanah Valley until 2003.

Webb, a former B.C. Forest Service employee, later checked with the local ministry office in Port Albemi and discovered that the logging plan had been changed in 1985—legally, but without public review—to include timber cutting in the valley. Alarmed, members of environmental organizations submitted briefs to the company and the B.C. Forest Service calling for preservation of the Carmanah Valley as part of the Pacific Rim park.

As the intensity of the controversy increased last year, MacMillan Bloedel, in response to pressure from environmental groups, halted road construction in the area. Environmentalists began cutting a trail to the lower end of the valley. After company engineers discovered the Giant last June, the company submitted a revised plan calling for a spruce preserve that would protect the tree and other spruce that have grown more than 240 feet high in the area.

Environmentalists rejected that proposal. “In other areas where they have logged strips,” said Stoltmann, “you get a lot of erosion and a lot of trees knocked down by wind along the edges of the cuts. Basically, the ecosystem is altered to the extent that spruce may not survive.” Company officials dispute that contention, arguing that clear-cutting is not necessarily destructive to forest systems. Among environmentalists, said Janna Kumi, a MacMillan Bloedel specialprojects forester, “there is always the reaction that everything will be destroyed, nothing will grow and everything will wash into the sea. That is just not the reality.” Still, in the environmentalists’ campaign, sheer ecoN nomics may be the most difficult argument for them to I overcome. According to com° pany officials, their plan to log in the valley would provide — 300 permanent jobs and gen-

erate $12.8 million in economic activity a year. Said Kumi: “What is being debated is social values. This is uncharted territory. Society must decide.” Now, that process is under way in a province where the majesty of the forests, the emotions they stir and the dependence on the jobs they provide are unique in the nation.

HAL QUINN