ENVIRONMENT

A clear-cut fight

B.C. logging becomes an international issue

HAL QUINN June 10 1991
ENVIRONMENT

A clear-cut fight

B.C. logging becomes an international issue

HAL QUINN June 10 1991

A clear-cut fight

ENVIRONMENT

B.C. logging becomes an international issue

Two couples danced in the shadows of the surrounding trees to music played on a concertina. Above the crackle of a bonfire, the wind that blew off Kyuquot Sound carried the sound of laughter and fragments of animated conversations, spiced with American, Canadian, Finnish, German, Scottish and Swedish accents, from the 20 people sitting on logs around the fire. But the scene that unfolded last week on Spring Island, six miles from the village of Kyuquot on the northwest coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, did not involve carefree vacationers: the campers were there on business. As guests of two environmental organizations—Amsterdam-based Greenpeace and the Victoria-based Sierra Club of Western Canada—the politicians, journalists and environmentalists from Canada, the United States and Europe were taking part in a week-long visit to study the effects of clear-cut logging on old-growth rain forests.

Greenpeace officials said that their objective was to turn a local campaign against the practice of clear-cutting in British Columbia’s forests, in which loggers take every tree in a given area, into an international issue. Said Peter McAllister, director of the Sierra Club of Western Canada: “British Columbians have failed to stop the destruction of our ancient forests. We don’t have any other choice. We must tell the rest of the world.” The campaign by environ-

mentalists, which has prompted concerns about an eventual European boycott of Canadian forest products, could not come at a worse time for the B.C. forest industry, which accounts for about 50 per cent of the manufactured goods exported from the province. Battered by the current recession, nearly all of the province’s more than 100 forestry companies reported first-quarter losses this year. As a result, pulp mills are running at only 79-percent capacity, and more than 6,000 people have been laid off from a forestry-industry workforce that stood at 81,000 in 1990.

Now, U.S. and European environmentalists have begun to focus their attention on British Columbia, where logging companies often use clear-cutting techniques to level old-growth rain forests. In particular, the area around Kyuquot, where Vancouver-based International Forest Products Ltd. (Interfor) has clear-cut about 7,500 acres of forest during the past 15 years, has received widespread publicity. As a result, Fred Lowenberger, Interior’s chief forester, said that he spends much of his time explaining his firm’s logging practices to environmental groups and journalists. Said Lowenberger: “We don’t think that the rain forest is vanishing, as the environmental groups say. Admittedly, we are changing its age and its character. But clearly, this is a renewable resource that, if handled properly, will continue to provide benefits to British Columbia.”

Greenpeace officials say that their goal is not to halt all logging or to promote a boycott of B.C. forestry products. David Peería, Greenpeace’s forests campaign coordinator, said that the organization’s long-term aim is to preserve the primary forests, where some trees are more than 800 years old, by reducing the consumption of disposable paper products by consumers in the industrialized nations. The environmentalists also promote sustainable forestry methods, •ç including small-scale, selects tive logging and the use of ^ horses instead of heavy, z mechanized equipment. The g B.C. forestry companies, int; eluding Interfor, defend clear-cutting as the safest and most economical logging method—and the most effective for promoting new growth. Said Lowenberger: “Our forefathers had practices that were massively worse than what we do, but still, in 60 years, the forests grew back abundantly. Now, we monitor soil depths, build roads not subject to landslides and do massive reforesting.”

Still, the barren and ugly clear-cut areas and the pristine ancient forests that the visitors saw last week create lasting impressions. Jup Weber, a forester who is a Green party member of parliament in Luxembourg, said that his party, which advocates widespread environmental reforms, plans to organize a European media campaign “to show what is going on over here.” He added: “We think it is possible that readers will force publishers to use only paper made from pulp that does not come from primary forests.”

For his part, Thomas Clarke, a member of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said that he planned to raise the issue in Parliament and that he would encourage members of the European Parliament’s health and environment committee to take up the issue of Canadian clear-cutting. Said Greenpeace’s Peería: “If a person blows their nose on a disposable tissue in Europe, we want them to know that they may be blowing away part of a temperate rain forest in B.C.”

As the environmentalists’ campaign to make Europeans more aware of controversial Canadian logging continues this summer, Greenpeace officials are preparing for a voyage this fall aboard the Rainbow Warrior, a converted fishing vessel named after an earlier Greenpeace ship that was destroyed by French agents in Auckland in 1985. With a film crew and a team of international forestry experts and ecologists on board, the ship will tour logging sites on British Columbia’s north coast. The battle over the province’s forests has been joined, and it may be played out for the rest of the world to see.

HAL QUINN on Spring Island