Konrad Yakabuski's examination of the ongoing debate about the future of Clayoquot Sound's forests is timely and important. His story in Report on Business (ROB) magazine does an excellent job of capturing the remarkable complexity of issues that continue to defy easy answers. (Click to read Yakabuski’s "Woods War II." )

It is true, as Konrad writes, that the ground has shifted a great deal since the 1980s and 90s, when First Nations and environmentalists were natural allies in the battle to beat back industrial forestry in the sound. Now that First Nations have the whip hand over development in their territories, including the fate of the “pristine” watersheds, that alliance is being severely tested.

This is not unique to Clayoquot. I have just returned from Australia, where there is much talk of the erosion of the old “black-green” alliance between Australian Aboriginal people, and enviros. (Click to read blog posting from Down Under.) Again, the convergence of interests when industry is the enemy seems less assured when Aboriginal people themselves are in control of access to resources.

There is no easy answer to this, but I do think it is a bit simplistic to characterize what's going on in Clayoquot as a total breakdown of the alliance that helped make the space for Iisaak Forest Resources to even exist in the first place. The fact is, there is still huge potential for Iisaak and the enviros to create something of tremendous mutual value in Clayoquot – and to create a model that can translate to the rest of the BC coast. A lot of Nuu-chah-nulth people and a lot of environmentalists are committed to try to do just that.

Does it all, then, depend on the "pristines"? The ROB article suggests that Iisaak will need to log old-growth in the "pristines" when it runs out of options elsewhere in the sound. This is portrayed as a kind of do-or-die scenario for the company, but it actually misses the point that other values might be more important – and economically lucrative – than just logging old-growth in the untouched watersheds. This is a point that is being argued by the environmentalists, and with good reason.

Emerging markets for ecosystem services – including, but not limited to storing carbon – mean that Iisaak and its owners might yet derive value from leaving the "pristines" unlogged. Ecotrust Canada is undertaking analysis right now to try and put a price on what the market would pay for the ecosystem services provided by Clayoquot's unlogged watersheds.

The ROB article leaves the impression that Iisaak can only succeed if it gets to cut in the "pristines" (and thus seems to imply that Ecotrust Canada just naturally agrees that this is the only option open to the company). In fact, Iisaak's chances of succeeding will be dramatically enhanced if it isn't driven into the same corner (and the same mantra) that killed off all the major forest companies on the BC coast – “we need to cut more to make more.” It is in the interests of everybody who cares about Clayoquot – its forests, and its people – to help Iisaak avoid the trap of industrial logging, and to become an exemplar of the conservation economy. That's a discussion that everyone needs to show up for – Iisaak included.

Or should I say, that's a “conversation” we all need to have. Keen-eyed readers will note that the ROB mistakenly referred to Ecotrust Canada's mission as building a “conversation economy.” We actually aim to build a conservation economy, but a conversation about what that means might not be a bad place to start!

IAN GILL
CEO, Ecotrust Australia
Founder, Ecotrust Canada