THE WORLD IS WATCHING
Is Canada an environmental outlaw?
At 5:40 a.m., on a logging road near the west coast of Vancouver Island, the sun has begun to tint the sky pink and blue. About 100 demonstrators, mostly under 30 and wearing jeans, sweaters, serapes and windbreakers, stand in a wide circle before a bridge that spans the Kennedy River. They chant and sing and listen as Tzeporah Berman, a 24-year-old blockade coordinator, explains what is about to happen. She warns that when an official acting for the MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. forestry company, which is logging in the woods nearby, arrives and reads a court injunction banning protests in Clayoquot Sound, they should remain quiet. “The courts will be tougher,” she says, “if there is noise and disrespect.” At 6 a.m., a cavalcade of logging vehicles appears and halts several hundred metres away. Now, the demonstrators form a phalanx in front of the
bridge, holding up signs that read, “We must take care of her—the Earth is our mother.”
What follows is scrupulously nonviolent and very Canadian. The vehicles begin moving down the dirt road. As they approach the bridge, Richard Bourne, a Vancouver process server, informs the protesters that they should be “off the road before this vehicle has stopped.” When some stay put, eight RCMP officers approach, politely explain that the protesters are breaking the law and begin arresting them. Many refuse to be escorted away and have to be carried. “I’m like a tree—you’ll have to cut me down,” says Kim McElroy, 29, who manages sports facilities at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She is hauled away by two Mounties. The officers work their way across the bridge and, by 6:30 a.m., the company vehicles—including an explosives truck and four huge logging rigs— rumble across and disappear into the surrounding forest.
So goes the almost daily ritual. The 11 people arrested on that morning last week brought to 159 the number of demonstrators charged since regular blockades began at the Kennedy River bridge on July 5. This is the third straight summer of protests against logging the old-growth rain forest of Clayoquot Sound, located about 200 km northwest of Victoria. The debate—to cut and sell for cash or preserve for posterity—has been building for nearly a decade. It has grown from a local quarrel into a national and, increasingly, an international issue. And the B.C. government’s long-awaited policy decision on April 13, closing parts of the 656,000-acre region to loggers and promising new rules where tree-cutting is permitted, only inflamed passions further.
It could also prompt legal action by approximately 3,000 Indians, who claim the land. Francis Frank, elected chief of the Tla-o-quiaht First Nations band and a spokesman for a grouping of the region’s five bands, said that seeking a court injunction to halt logging operations while the Indians pursue a land claims settlement is “becoming very much the front-and-centre option.” Land claims negotiations between the natives and the provincial and federal governments are expected to begin some time next year.
To environmentalists, the decision by the New Democratic Party government of Premier Michael Harcourt to permit logging in some parts of Clayoquot Sound means the continued destruction of one of the world’s last surviving pockets of old-growth temperate rain forest. They point out that the dense, lush woods of western red cedar, balsam, spruce and hemlock are home to a rich assortment of plants and animals—known as biodiversity. Jim Darling, research director of the Clayoquot Biosphere Project, a local scientific and educational group, says that the government and the forestry industry give the impression “that you can cut down part of the forest and still have biodiversity. That’s not true. I think the government should have the courage to admit that we need the cash and we’ve decided to liquidate the forest.”
But others in the region hail the government policy as a sensible compromise. “We want to see sustainable development in the forest that will benefit everyone,” says Mike Morton, a former MacMillan Bloedel employee who is executive director of SHARE B.C., an industry-funded umbrella organization for local groups opposed to the sweeping demands of environmentalists. The government’s Clayoquot decision, says Morton, means that “the forest companies have been given a terrific opportunity to harvest our resources in a sensible way. They’d better do it right, or I’ll be out there protesting too.”
Along the rugged and beautiful coast of Clayoquot Sound, the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet, eight kilometres apart, have been polarized by the battle over trees. Between the two communities lie the sandy sweep of Long Beach, the dense forest of Pacific Rim National Park—and a world of cultural and economic differences. A centre of tourism in the area, Tofino (population 1,100) is marked by an eerily dated aura of the 1960s counterculture. Near the intersection of First and Campbell streets, overlooking the blue waters of the sound, German tourists and affluent summer residents stroll in the sun. Outside the Common Loaf Bake Shop restaurant, which specializes in muffins and vegetarian dishes, a gaunt, bearded man of about 40 and a younger woman tap meditatively on a bongo drum amidst a gaggle of long-haired young people.
Maureen Fraser, a former social worker from Toronto who has lived in Tofino for 18 years, says that the town acquired its distinctive coloration after the establishment of Pacific Rim National Park in 1973 disrupted the transient population of hippies and Vietnam War protesters who were living on Long Beach. Some of them drifted into Tofino and organized a community arts and crafts centre, which Fraser visited during the early 1970s. “I thought that a piece of banana bread would go well with this,” recalls Fraser.
Now the owner and operator of the Common Loaf, Fraser is a staunch backer and a former director of the 1,000-member Friends of Clayoquot Sound, the Tofino-based group that is a leader in the movement to preserve the forests. The group’s cause is supported by larger outside organizations, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club of Western Canada and the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee. Preservation of the forests is a critical issue for Tofino, says Fraser, because the local economy depends on the thousands of tourists who come to hike along forest trails and go whale-watching and kayaking along the coast. “We are concerned about our community’s future,” says Fraser, who is skeptical that the new logging rules will prevent damage to the region’s watersheds. “We don’t want this to be the area where they experiment with the new logging rules to see if they work.”
In Ucluelet (pronounced Yew-clue-let), the outlook is very different. In a community ol about 2,000 that depends on logging for jobs, villagers have taken to decorating their cars and trucks with yellow ribbons as symbols oí support for the forestry industry. Built around a sheltered harbor where fishing vessels and whale-watching boats tie up, Ucluelet faces a range of low mountains whose slopes bear ugly evidence of forestry operations. One conspicuously naked patch of mountainside was clear-cut only two years ago. Dennis St. Jacques, 44, a former logger who now owns a Ucluelet restaurant and bowling alley called Smiley’s, concedes that the clear-cut is an unsightly scar. But he adds pointedly: “The wood that is cut down here is used in cities. Then people from the cities come here and start telling us to stop cutting down the frees. They are well-intentioned, but misinformed. They don’t think about the kids and wives and husbands who will be affected if jobs are lost.”
In recent years, as predominantly white villagers, environmentalists and business and political leaders have argued over the fate of Clayoquot’s forests, the people who make up nearly half the population of the region have remained mostly on the sidelines. Now Indian leaders are beginning to take a more visible role in the debate. One reason is that the NDP government, unlike the Social Credit government that was defeated at the polls in 1991, has expressed a willingness to consider the Indians’ land claims. The natives are not necessarily opposed to logging, though Frank insists that as masters of their tribal lands they would log more selectively and respect the environment. “We would sit down with the forestry companies,” says Frank, “and see what kind of relationship we could have.”
Members of Frank’s Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, the 450-member band that lives across from Tofino on Meares Island, signalled their new militancy by inviting Robert Kennedy Jr., the 39-year-old son of the U.S. senator assassinated in 1968, to visit the rain forest. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer with the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council (which played a key role 2 xh years ago in blocking a massive expansion of Quebec’s James Bay hydroelectric project), attracted TV crews and a swarm of reporters when he arrived July 29. Kennedy, accompanied by his eight-year-old son, Bobby, and five-year-old daughter, Kick, said that he was concerned because “logging companies and utilities are going into the last wilderness areas of the planet, destroying valuable ecosystems and the people who have traditionally used those areas.”
After a rain-soaked trek through a section of forest Kennedy and his party arrived at Meares Island in an elegant, hand-carved dugout canoe, which tribal members carried ashore with the arriving party still aboard. (Trotting along behind his father and a group of hereditary chiefs, young Robert Kennedy III displayed a precocious skill in handling the media; when a reporter asked if he was enjoying himself, he replied: “I am glad to be walking
with the chiefs, and that’s all I’m going to say.”) In the island cultural centre, the guests of honor were showered with Indian handicrafts and art in a traditional potlatch gift-giving ceremony. Kennedy received an eagle’s feather, signifying his right to speak in tribal councils, and a beaded bracelet—“so you can wear it around your wrist and look cool,” said Barney Williams, whose tribal title is Keeper of the Beach. Among the outsiders on hand was a group of Cree from Saskatchewan’s Canoe Lake band, who have been trying to halt logging operations on their traditional lands. The logging companies “don’t seem to understand that we want to preserve our land for our children and their children,” said 72-year-old Cecelia Iron of Canoe Lake. “All they think about is money.”
In theory at least, the new rules for Clayoquot Sound allow for both profits and preservation. Under the provincial regulations, no logging will be permitted in 33 per cent of the region, while only selective logging that protects scenic and recreation areas and wildlife habitats will be allowed on 17 per cent of the land. In most of the remaining territory, clear-cutting will be permitted on areas of no more than about 100 acres, a sharp reduction from past clear-cuts that sprawled over as many as 250 acres—the equivalent of about 200 Canadian football fields. As well, forestry companies will be required to take greater care to protect the environment. Instead of dragging felled trees across the land, which can cause soil erosion, choke rivers with debris and damage the spawning grounds for salmon, loggers will have to use helicopters, balloons and other less damaging methods to carry logs away. While the forestry companies calculated the added costs involved in the new style of logging, many environmentalists rejected Victoria’s prescription as a fraud that will not save the forests. According to critics, the protected areas in the plan include beaches, swamps and other virtually treeless areas. Half of the protected area is already in a provincial park. As a result, they say, about three-quarters of the rain forest is still designated for logging. Other experts reject the notion that a rain forest’s diverse ecology can be preserved by permitting limited areas of clearcutting. “There is evidence to suggest that to have a genuine rain forest system, it must be large,” says Darling. “Once an area is reduced beyond a certain point, the natural biological diversity changes and the number of species declines.” With the new logging practices, Darling says, “they may screw it up better than before, but they’ll screw it up.”
As the struggle over Clayoquot Sound continues, nearly all the parties to the dispute agree that a profound lack of trust has poisoned the atmosphere. Environmentalists complain bitterly that a three-year consultative process, in which local communities, forestry companies, environmentalists and government officials participated, was stacked against them from the start. Their suspicions about the government’s intentions deepened earlier this year when, with a decision on the Clayoquot logging issue expected any day, the Harcourt government announced that it had invested $50 million in MacMillan Bloedel, becoming the firm’s largest shareholder. “We could see the handwriting on the wall,” says Garth Lenz, director of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound. Last week, a British Columbia Appeal Court justice ruled that there was no wrongdoing in the government’s decision to permit logging in the Clayoquot region after buying shares in MacMillan Bloedel.
Forestry company officials, while vowing to do better in the future, admit that their past practices left much to be desired. “When different practices were acceptable,” says Dennis Fitzgerald, MacMillan Bloedel’s manager for environmental communications in the region, “we simply had a cavalier way of dealing with the land. Our way of logging across streams was definitely inadequate and damaged the fish habitat. The size of our clearcuts amounted to an esthetic offence.” Because there is considerable mistrust of the industry, says Fitzgerald, “it would be stupid for us to just stand up and say, Trust us.’ ” For that reason, the provincial government has announced plans to establish a citizens’ monitoring committee to oversee forestry operations in the area. As for the anti-logging protests, Harcourt, asked on the eve of Kennedy’s visit if his government might reconsider its Clayoquot decision, replied simply: “No chance.”
About 30 km south of Tofino, a scarred tract of roadside land stands as an unsightly monument to traditional forestry practises. Logged during the mid-1980s and then burned to set the stage for natural regeneration, the area is known locally as the Black Hole. It is there, in a landscape littered with charred tree trunks, that the youthful protesters make their camp.
Under a bright midday sun, camp residents man a roadside information booth while others prepare meals from locally donated food. Some are awaiting trial after being arrested at the blockade; their cases are expected to be heard starting Aug. 30. (One protester, convicted twice before on the same kind of charge, has already received a six-month jail sentence.) Among the campers is Kevin Pegg, a 21-year-old native of Richmond Hill, Ont., who has lived in Tofino for about a year, supporting himself with whatever work he can find. Pegg says that he joined the logging protest because he is concerned about “preserving one of the last stands of temperate rain forest. We have destroyed so much, but we have one gem remaining here, and we should save it for future generations.” It is a simple, unvarnished statement. But it sums up the prevailing sentiment in the Black Hole, and it is likely to keep loggers passing protesters as they go about the business of cutting down the old trees of Clayoquot Sound. □