Days when environmentalists and natives stood shoulder to shoulder on logging protests are gone. A backdoor argument has emerged over the fate of Clayoquot Sound’s iconic rain forest, Mark Hume reports

Globe & Mail – August 2, 2008
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VANCOUVER — In Clayoquot Sound, where a towering rain forest has achieved iconic global status, the first logging protests saw environmentalists and natives standing shoulder to shoulder.

At Meares Island, Sulphur Passage and Atleo River, natives and non-natives faced arrest at blockades more than 20 years ago, while forging an alliance that would go on to change the face of British Columbia.

But in that tangled, temperate jungle, where deer ferns stand waist-high and giant trees blot out the sky, environmentalists are now threatening to block a native-owned logging company from cutting trees.

The alliance of natives and environmentalists not only brought a halt to logging on Meares Island in 1984, but in 1993, after a massive protest that drew international media coverage, it celebrated a resounding victory – the stoppage of clear-cutting in Clayoquot Sound.

Is that powerful partnership now over?

On the surface it might appear so. But nothing is ever as it seems in Clayoquot Sound, where dense fog banks can suddenly drift in from the Pacific to completely obscure the rugged, green mountains on Vancouver Island’s west coast, near the resort town of Tofino.

The split between environmentalists and natives emerged two years ago when ForestEthics, Greenpeace and other groups attacked two logging companies – native-owned Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd. and Coulson Forest Products, of Port Alberni – for cutting in pristine areas.

[CORRECTION: Iisaak Forest Resources has not yet logged in "pristine areas" and in fact ForestEthics and Greenpeace are publicly supportive of the company and have been careful not to mix it up with the Mamook-Coulson forestry operation which is not FSC certified. Here’s what Greenpeace says about Iisaak: "Forestry can also play a roll (sic) in the conservation economy – Iisaak is a Nuu-chah-nulth logging company that offers only Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, ensuring that their impacts on the rainforests of Clayoquot Sound are minimal." Correction by Eric Enno Tamm, Ecotrust Canada.]

The dispute has simmered in backroom negotiations since then, but last week it boiled over as environmentalists threatened blockades and international market boycotts if logging isn’t stopped.

"The situation is very serious, and very sensitive," said Valerie Langer, spokeswoman for ForestEthics and a veteran of the 1993 blockades, which resulted in more than 800 people arrested and saw the band Midnight Oil playing to a dancing crowd in a clear-cut.

Ms. Langer refused to comment on the dispute, saying several environmental groups, Clayoquot Sound chiefs and forest company heads have agreed to a news blackout for 10 days, while talks proceed.

But Vicky Husband, an independent environmental advocate and one of B.C.’s leading conservation voices, said environmental organizations were on the verge last week of pulling out "the big clubs" – blockades and international boycotts – they used in the past against industry giants.

That the target this time would have been a small, native-owned company is not surprising, she said, because native bands all over B.C. are getting increased control over land and resources, leading to inevitable conflict with environmentalists.

Ms. Husband said environmental groups continue to work with native groups, as they are now in northern B.C. in a fight against coal-bed methane gas development north of Smithers and Terrace, and hope to get things back on track in Clayoquot Sound.

"People say to me, ‘Why would you trust first nations?’ And I reply, ‘Well, they are like all communities. There are people who are very conservation-minded and some who aren’t, and we will challenge the ones who aren’t and we’ll work with the ones who are,’ " Ms. Husband said.

Joe Foy, a director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, said he isn’t upset by the spectre of environmental groups clashing with natives. He noted that WCWC recently fought against a Tsawwassen First Nation plan to withdraw farmland from an agricultural reserve to facilitate a Vancouver port development, and against a proposed hydropower development on the Pitt River supported by the Katzie First Nation.

"I think it’s a healthy thing to see environmental groups involved and speaking out and negotiating, whether it’s with a first nations government, a federal government, a provincial government or even a government of another country," Mr. Foy said.

"We want a place where ideas are spoken about and we collectively try to get to a good place. That’s why the prospect of disagreeing with a first nations government doesn’t concern me. … I’m not freaked out at all. I think this is a healthy situation."


One of the ironies in Clayoquot Sound is that the native company now fighting environmentalists was saved from financial collapse two years ago by Ecotrust Canada – a leading environmental group.

Ian Gill, president of Ecotrust, said a 20-month management agreement with Iisaak ended just this week, with the company now financially strong enough to go it alone. Like the others, he is not surprised by the enviro-native clash.

"The allegiance of first nations and environmental organizations over the past 25 to 30 years has frankly been a bit of an uneasy one," he said. "You know it hasn’t always been one where there is an absolute congruent goal. I think what that relationship has been historically based on is a common agenda … of [seeking] environmental justice and social justice."

Mr. Gill said environmental groups and native bands often joined forces with different end objectives, with one seeking to stop logging to save the forest and the other wanting to stop logging to preserve future options on land subject to treaty claim.

"It’s probably up to academics to peel apart whether environmentalists have piggybacked on a set of communities that have had no power, and now that they have power the worm has sort of turned," Mr. Gill said.

"There is something changing. … There’s definitely a power shift that’s occurred," he said. "But I don’t think that’s the death knell for environmentalism, and I don’t think it means there aren’t agendas in common between environmentalists and first nations."

Mr. Gill’s organization favours some logging in Clayoquot Sound, but he openly admits he doesn’t know how much is sustainable.

Finding agreement on logging in Clayoquot is difficult because the forest that is left is the last 7 per cent of old growth remaining on Vancouver Island. For Steve Lawson, that forest is a sacred trust, and increasingly he has come to believe the only logging allowed should follow native tradition, where falling even one tree is a rare and special event.

Mr. Lawson is native, though not a member of any local tribe, and national co-ordinator of the First Nations Environmental Network, an organization linking indigenous people nationally and internationally on conservation issues.

From his home on Wickaninnish Island, just off Tofino, he sees the Clayoquot conflict not as non-native versus native but as a clash of values. "[It’s] this conflict between economic development that is sound and has a future, and the short-term destructive approach," Mr. Lawson said.

He thinks there is too much cutting in Clayoquot Sound, and that a scientific logging plan that was drawn up following the big protests in 1993 is badly flawed.

"I honestly didn’t support the science panel [report] because I read it as soon as it came out and I don’t think the environmentalists read the whole thing. There were holes in there big enough to drive 1,000 logging trucks through … and we’re seeing the result of that now," he said.

Mr. Lawson said no matter who wields the saw, it can’t be right when swaths of 800-year-old cedar trees are cut down. Many native people feel the same way, he said.

"There is a split within the native communities. … Everyone isn’t on the same page," he said, although that internal conflict hasn’t emerged publicly. "It takes a lot in a native community for people to stand up and go against their leadership."

But he thinks that may happen because Clayoquot, a UN biosphere reserve, is facing increased development pressure with a proposed open-pit copper mine on Catface Mountain, a proliferation of salmon farms in the protected inlets, and proposed dams on two rivers.

"Things are going to hell right now. … This biosphere thing is not working. It’s been hijacked [by development interests]," he said.

Mr. Lawson would like to see natives, environmentalists, government and industry working together on a vision for Clayoquot.

"People have to look into their hearts to make it really work," he said. "It’s not about political manoeuvring or ego or crusading. It’s about making a connection with the land itself, the way the old people did. Communicating with the land and creating a long-term vision. If it can’t happen here, it’s hard to say where or how it could ever happen."

Few people would disagree with that. But the path to the future may yet be marked by anti-logging protests in which there will be natives and non-natives on both sides of the barricades.


Clayoquot Sound by the numbers

Ocean area – 78,425 hectares

Forest land – 244,150 ha.

Non-forest land – 18,442 ha.

Land in protected areas prior to 1993 – 39,100 ha.

Land in protected areas after 1993 – 87,600 ha.

Parks – one national, 16 provincial and two ecological reserves.

Fish farms – 23

Mines – one under exploratory drilling.

Communities – five, including the town of Tofino and four native reserves inhabited by Nuu-chah-nulth tribes.

Total population of area – 3,000

Sources: Clayoquot Sound Central Region Board; Friends of Clayoquot Sound


Disputed watersheds

In 2006, the Nuu-chah-nulth Central Region chiefs and the province of British Columbia agreed on logging plans for eight watersheds within Clayoquot Sound.

The plans, soon under attack by environmental groups, were developed in keeping with the guidelines of a scientific panel that earlier had been charged with developing a sustainable forest-practices code for the area.

Hesquiaht, at the northern end of Clayoquot Sound, is one of the disputed watersheds that environmentalists don’t want logged.

The plan for Hesquiaht proposes several different kinds of reserves to protect forest values. It would set aside more than 4,000 hectares to protect land around water and 3,000 ha. of unstable or sensitive soils.

To protect biological diversity, 3,000 hectares would be off-limits to logging because of endangered plant species and 1,300 hectares would be reserved in seven marbled murrelet areas, to protect the small bird that nests in old-growth forests.

There are about 19,000 hectares of old-growth forest in the watershed, and about 10,000 of that would be protected. Land outside reserves is designated as the harvestable area.

The total watershed covers nearly 24,000 hectares – of which about 13,000, or 54 per cent of the area, would be set aside in reserves.

Environmental groups have not said publicly what amount of logging would be acceptable in a watershed such as Hesquiaht, but generally have said that no cutting should take place in pristine areas.

Source: Clayoquot Sound Land and Resource Management Plan


Logging’s ticking clock


MacMillan Bloedel and British Columbia Forest Products are granted logging rights to Clayoquot Sound.


Clear-cutting, then a government-approved method of logging, spreads in the area.


Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council makes a formal land claim.


Natives and environmentalists stage logging protests at Meares Island, Sulphur Passage and Atleo River.


Provincial government announces a plan to log nearly 70 per cent of old growth. Environmentalists pour into the area in a massive protest that ends with more than 800 arrests, generating international news.


Provincial government adopts the recommendations of a scientific panel appointed in the wake of the big protests to come up with an environmentally sustainable logging plan. Environmentalists complain the panel did not have the option of deciding no logging should take place.


United Nations biosphere reserve established with $12-million endowment trust fund.


Province and Nuu-chah-nulth Central Region Chiefs endorse a plan to log several watersheds, triggering threats by environmental groups.


As trees fall, environmental groups renew threats, giving a July 28 deadline. Blockades and market boycotts are put off at the last minute, to allow 10 days of closed-door negotiations.

Mark Hume

Sources: Western Canada Wilderness Committee; Ecotrust Canada; The Globe and Mail news archives