Category Archives: Logging and Forests

Trumplandia vs. Clarklandia: How BC stands to lose on LNG, lumber and trade



Part one in a series by Kevin Logan

February 17th 2017

As the faux populist facade fades and the new reality show “Trumplandia” begins to emerge from the ruins of the Democratic elite’s embrace of hedge funds and wall street masters, one thing is crystal clear: Big oil and gas is now in the driver’s seat and Trump is just a hollow front man with a small army of propagandists and zealots hellbent on reshaping the world.

In Trumplandia, Hillary’s replacement for Secretary of State is none other than the CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex “don’t frack my backyard but yours is fine” Tillerson.

Such a raw front bench display of state capture by this industry is remarkable, especially after having been subjected to a so-called populist campaign full of “I feel your pain” rhetoric designed to appeal to the bottom half of the American populace who have been cut loose by the major parties and no longer have a voice.

Masters of the Universe like Tillerson have dominated the globe by crushing and fleecing nations, people and the environment. As a result, anyone expecting something other than a petro-dictator in the Secretary of State’s chair is clearly detached from reality. See Canadian Arch Conservative David Frum’s ominous warning outlining how the new Trump Administration will set the world on fire in a relentless bid to establish The Donald as the richest most powerful autocrat on earth.

Why this matters to BC

The current government hung most of its political capital in the last election on developing a new LNG industry. With grand designs to shoot from nowhere to first and compete with Qatar and Australia, the BC Liberals embarked upon an ambitious agenda scouring the coast for any exploitable opportunity to set up shop and fleece BC of its stash of gas.

BC's gift to the world- Premier Christy Clark
Premier Christy Clark at a recent conference, working hard to build an LNG industry for BC (Flickr CC Licence / BC Govt)

Most of the plays are riddled with shenanigans and BC Liberal insiders as the now retiring Energy Minister himself claimed, “There is lots of wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes.”

Since the last election, BC has been mired in conflict as Clark’s oil and gas agenda set about a process that many claim is akin to legalized bribery, or in the least a good old fashion greasing of the skids.

Much of the enabling deals have been done with untold millions of taxpayers’ dollars. Though the agreements with relevant First Nations and stakeholders are not publicly available, it does not take long for one to realize that the fleecing of the BC Taxpayer by this industry is already well underway.

This has left coastal communities, First Nations and the rest of BC tattered and torn with the rise of a small, new petro-class emerging as the most influential in our political dialogue, despite being a terribly insignificant contributor to BC jobs and prosperity.

Gas sector a burden on BC treasury

A fracking drill near Dawson Creek in northeast BC (Two Island Films)
BC’s gas sector is highly subsidized by the government (Two Island Films)

In fact, since the last election, the BC gas industry alone has cost the provincial treasury hundreds of millions of dollars. A far cry from the much-vaunted 100 billion dollars in revenue to fill a so-called LNG “Prosperity Fund” promised by Clark. Which, by the way, she recently filled with 500 million of your tax dollars in a brash bid to prove her Government has “delivered” on the prosperity promised last election.

In so doing, Clark simply adds insult to injury. Such bald faced lies and politicking with taxpayers dollars is nothing new for the BC Liberals, but Clark has brought the thing to a whole new level.

Clark’s Crony LNG capitalism hurts communities

One of the most audacious LNG proposals being stick-handled by the Liberals’ former Attorney General Geoff Plant is the Vancouver Island play, Steelhead LNG, that would see both a floating LNG terminal and a huge land-based terminal straddle the entire southern Island with a pipeline that, after coming under the ocean from the US, would make its way from Brentwood Bay to Sarita Bay.

And the proposal comes with all the trimmings of any major oil and gas initiative. Community infiltration, data mining and surveillance of stakeholders both for and against, as well as the typical onslaught of petro-propaganda. In addition to, “legalized bribery,” add community unrest, controlled opposition and political infiltration.

The Island is no stranger to fleecing by major industries, however the oil and gas agenda playing out in BC is unprecedented and its implications will alter the very fabric of Island communities by putting us on a path we have never before traveled.

How Trumplandia threatens Clarklandia’s LNG plans

A quick google of “Trump LNG” reveals the following headlines on the first page of results:

Trump’s America-first energy policy looms as LNG threat

Will Trump make the US the top LNG exporter?

Trump’s energy policy shake-up could threaten Australian LNG

How Trump Could Change LNG Markets

LNG Exports: US to Overtake Australia

Feds Deny LNG Export Through Oregon Developer Turns to Trump

When asked in November if Trump would deliver for his coal company supporters and look to exporting LNG rather than displacing domestic coal power generation, his response was “What is LNG?”

While this clearly underscores the notion that he is simply a front man, void of any real understanding of domestic energy complexities, let alone the very real and strategic geo-political implications, he has stacked his deck with energy zealots who do. That said, we can glean from his “America First” rhetoric some potential outcomes.

In order for him to deliver for his coal supporters and the domestic natural gas industry, it’s very likely Trump will pursue both with great vigour, as the more LNG exports the US embarks upon, the less potential for domestic displacement of coal-generated power.

If Trump decides the US should be the top LNG exporter, as one of the above headlines claims, then LNG in Canada will be officially on notice, and the audacious Steelhead proposal for Vancouver Island would be the first on a very short list for the Trump Administration to review due to the fact they intend on exporting American gas through Canada.

Softwood & LNG: BC’s low-hanging fruit for Trumplandia

Raw Canadian logs for export (Paul Joseph/Flickr CC Licence)
Raw Canadian logs for export (Paul Joseph/Flickr CC)

The Steelhead proposal, much like the Softwood Lumber Agreement, is low-hanging fruit in the new Trumplandia. No doubt, both are up for review in a bid to reflect the strongman’s election rhetoric and “prove” that he was right about how all the countries are “ripping off America” and “stealing good jobs.”

Cracking down on softwood and LNG would fit The Donald’s political persona to a T. They are also deliverables he could manage in fairly short order, just as we have seen with his approval of both Keystone XL and DAPL through executive order.

One way for The Donald to deliver on that style of rhetoric is to disallow the export of American Gas through Vancouver Island and instead channel it to other proposals that have been wallowing under the Obama administration along the US West Coast.

This is very important to consider, mostly due to the fact that Russia is obviously more influential in the new Trumplandia. Putin would clearly prefer North American gas be exported to places like Japan versus Eastern Europe or even China.

Indeed, with the deathblow Trump delivered to the TPP, he clearly intends on renegotiating trade deals and that will be the death knell to some LNG proposals in BC, as Japan (and even Petronas from Malaysia, who has traditionally supplied Japan) had hoped to secure our gas resource for generations with the TPP deal.

But The Donald is having none of it – no more “dumb deals!” Instead, Trump is just gonna one-off nations with bi-lateral agreements designed to deliver for Americans. And that is where your softwood lumber fleecing kicks in and LNG development in BC is threatened.

Clark outmatched

All of this runs up against the Clarklandia fairytale of a BC First LNG utopia, or even a restoration of the moribund forestry industry, as no doubt The Donald would rather see America continue fleecing us of our resources and exporting them from the US so he can deliver on his jobs and prosperity promise.

Clearly, this new realty is finally settling in among Clarklandia cohorts. Clark, who first dismissed The Donald’s influence over the BC Economy, softwood lumber and things like LNG, recently flip-flopped and it’s now her “first priority” to set up a dream team to deal with The Donald.

This could include a new office in DC for Clark’s newly-appointed Trump Czar David Emerson, or maybe even in the Trump Towers in a bid to get his attention and ensure the Trump Train does not displace her government’s economic prosperity mythology with the new and brutal America First reality.

Oil and gas, forestry and other cross-border trade relevant to the success of Clarklandia are all up for grabs. And this is where it gets tricky.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC Licence
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC Licence

Does The Donald care about Clarklandia’s economic mythology or her re-election? I doubt it, but no doubt Clark and her party’s rabid right-wing core have some appeal as they have handed the Republicans Billions in the past by dismantling Forest Renewal BC and sending those Billions – that once stayed in BC – over the southern border, which helped fund the re-election of the likes of George W Bush.

So when one considers the billions of dollars up for grabs with trees and oil – and now the new play with gas – one understands why the current Clark Liberals are very interested in sitting down and striking a new deal with The Donald that will see our resources fund his re-election campaign, like her predecessor Gordon Campbell did with the “W.” All in a bid to continue BC Liberal rule of this province and avoid the wrath of an America First protectionist president.

If the dream team is successful in their bid to hold power, the ‘Wrath of The Donald’ will most certainly be delayed until after the re-election of the BC Liberals in May, but after that, all bets are off.


Fate of BC’s ancient forests is a question of “values”

Craig Pettitt of Valhalla Wilderness Society in the Incomappleux Valley (Image: Damien Gillis)
Craig Pettitt of Valhalla Wilderness Society in the Incomappleux Valley

How do we value wilderness? What metrics should we apply to an 1,800-year-old tree, or the tiny lichens that make their home on it? What numbers do we input into our calculator – ecosystem services rendered, tonnes of carbon sequestered, cubic metres of merchantable timber, jobs created? These are the questions that came to mind while filming my latest documentary, “Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux”, deep in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains in BC’s Kootenay region.

The Incomppleux's intact ancient forest
The Incomppleux’s intact ancient inland temperate rainforest

Depending on the metrics, one can arrive at starkly different answers as to the fate of our few remaining old-growth forests. After decades of clearcuts have made a checkerboard out of BC’s wild places, the Incomappleux is left in a rare category: one of the last truly intact stretches of temperate rainforest here or anywhere – growing continuously since the last Ice Age, forgotten by human time and imprint. To walk amongst its 25,000 hectares of ancient cedars and hemlocks is to get lost in nature in a way that was likely normal to First Nations inhabiting this land for the past 10,000 years, yet all but unknown to today’s British Columbians.

I had the unique privilege of entering the Incomappleux – no easy feat as access roads and bridges have been washed out by Mother Nature – to document a team of scientists and conservationists, led by Valhalla Wilderness Society, and their work to protect this place through a provincial park that would encompass a grand total of 156,000 hectares.

The result is a new 20-minute film premiering tonight (Nov. 23) at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, with a repeat showing tomorrow (Nov. 24) at UBC’s Forest Sciences Centre (detailed info below). I hope it will provide audiences with even a small sense of the awe and wonder this place inspired in me.

Numbers game

But these feelings, and the demonstrated psychological and health benefits from spending time in wilderness, are hard to quantify in dollar terms. Nevertheless, it is difficult to deny that our present-day society, through its growing disconnection with nature, is losing something essential to the human experience.

But let’s deal for a moment with the metrics we do understand – as they have been drilled into us by countless industry op-eds, “position papers” by right-wing think tanks, and, broadly speaking, our mainstream media. Many of us have come to accept certain assumptions about the importance and nature of our “resource economy” – which are often incorrect.

A “decadent” forest

Let’s look at the Incomappleux as an example. It is currently covered by Category-A cut blocks owned by international forestry giant Interfor. Under a true “free market”, it would never be logged. This is because ancient trees hold little value as merchantable timber – they begin to rot from the inside out, even while they’re still standing.

The industry and government refer to these forests as “decadent”, which means “decaying” and “self-indulgent” – in other words, “How dare this tree be so selfish as to put its own existence ahead of what would be a much more economically productive monoculture tree farm.” This has been the way things are done in BC’s forests for decades: mow down and remake these “decadent” old-growth forests in humans’ image and to our exclusive, commercial benefit. What other reason could this forest have for existing, other than to serve our immediate needs?

A typical nurse log
Nurse log in the Incomappleux

But that “decadent” tree is providing many invaluable services to its ecosystem and the climate – by sequestering large volumes of carbon, which does very much concern us humans. When it keels over, this tree’s rich nutrients will seep back into the soil, feeding millions of organisms. New trees will sprout upon its back. I filmed one red cedar in the Incomappleux that was up to 1,500 years old when it died. Its corpse – very much still kicking around today – has a 300-year-old tree growing out of it. That puts the nurse log’s origin roughly at the time of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius or his son Commodus (as depicted in the film Gladiator). Surrounding this tree are myriad lichens, fungi, mosses and insects, all benefitting from this one “decadent” tree.

The lichen-caribou connection

One of the Incomappleux's 300 or so lichen species (Photo: Jason Hollinger)
One of the Incomappleux’s 300 or so lichen species (Photo: Jason Hollinger)

The lichens are of particular import as they feed endangered Mountain Caribou in winter months, when higher elevation slopes are out of reach. Those caribou are in free-fall (36% decline throughout the region since the provincial government’s 2008 recovery program was instituted).

This is chiefly attributable to habitat loss (not the frequent scapegoat, wolves). So if we keep logging these valleys, we will preside, sooner than later, over the extinction of a marvellous species. How does the value of caribou survival fit into our economic matrix?

Subsidizing old-growth logging

A clearcut near the Incomappleux
A clearcut near the Incomappleux

Back to those cut blocks. Not only do these trees hold little commercial value, but the valley’s remoteness means the cost of harvesting is high. Combine that with the fact that many smaller, local mills which used to create jobs for communities in the Kootenays have been shuttered in recent decades, in favour of larger, more centralized, often foreign-owned mega mills. That means greater trucking distances = greater cost. Ergo, the Incomappleux is highly uneconomical to log.

That’s where our “free enterprise” government intervenes in the market, offering steep corporate handout discounts on stumpage fees to incentivize logging in these uneconomical places. A rate that can be as high as $20/cubic metre falls to as low as 25 cents. What should have fallen short when evaluated by our economic calculator is now magically viable for logging.

Ancient forests still on chopping block

Clearcuts in the Klanawa Valley on Vancouver Island (Photo: TJ Watt)
Clearcuts in the Klanawa Valley on Vancouver Island (Photo: TJ Watt)

That’s not to say that Interfor will log it tomorrow, but this is how it could very easily happen. And it is happening around the province as we speak. On Vancouver Island – where 9,000 hectares of old-growth are still logged each year – at a place called East Creek, stumpage has been as low as 27 cents/cubic meter. This is, sadly, not particularly uncommon amongst hard-to-access old-growth forests on the coast and in the Kootnenays’ inland forests.

Bear in mind that these are public forests (private lands in BC carry no stumpage fees and even less regulation and oversight). Public forests are a crown asset and when our government gives away timber for pennies on the dollar, that is revenue that isn’t going to schools or hospitals – let alone being reinvested in regulating or modernizing the forestry sector. When local mills are closed in favour of bigger, central ones and logs are shipped overseas for processing, we are losing thousands of jobs in the bargain.

Raw deal

Raw Canadian logs for export (Paul Joseph/Flickr CC Licence)
Raw Canadian logs for export (Paul Joseph/Flickr CC Licence)

On that note, here are some more numbers that should give us pause: Last year alone, we saw 7 million cubic metres of wood leave this province in the form of raw logs – that’s enough lumber to frame 165,000 new homes in BC, according to researcher Ben Parfitt. All this, combined with other examples of mismanagement, has meant a steep decline in forestry jobs in BC – from 100,000 or so at the 1995 peak to around 65,000 today. So out-of-whack is the BC situation that as of 2012, according to Stats Canada, it took 1,312 cubic metres of harvested wood to create one full-time forestry job in BC – compared with just 292 cubic metres for the same job in Ontario.

Let me be clear: My family has worked in BC’s forestry sector for a century or more. I take very seriously the jobs the sector has provided to the province’s workforce. But there are many intelligent ways, through improved management and innovation, that we could bring jobs back without sacrificing the few remaining bits of true wilderness we have left. Not to mention a whole new economy out there in the form of clean tech, the creative sectors, value-added manufacturing and Supernatural BC tourism that we’re forgetting about.

A different calculus

Biologist Veera Tuovinen taking stock of the Incomappleux's biodiversity
Biologist Veera Tuovinen taking stock of the Incomappleux’s biodiversity

Moreover, standing in the heart of the Incomappleux, towering cedars swaying overhead, the mists welling up from Battle Brook below, moistening the mosses and hair lichens, it strikes one that there just may be deeper values than jobs, stumpage fees, and cubic metres of harvestable timber. Unfortunately, I can’t hope to do this revelation justice with my camera or mere words. Proud though I am of what we captured on this journey and excited to share it on the big screen, nothing can come close to the experience of being there. In that sense, I fear, numbers will always win out.

If that’s the case, then here are a few more figures to tabulate:

• 0.5% – the total of the planet’s land surface that these temperate rainforests covered, at their peak

• 10% – the amount of old-growth left on Vancouver Island today (1% if you look deeper into specific species like Douglas Fir on Southeast Vancouver Island)

• One tonne – the amount of carbon a single ancient tree is capable of storing

Seeing the forest for the trees

The Incomappleux River
The Incomappleux River

Alas, I suppose I’ve fallen into a trap in recent years. Hungry for credibility in the eyes of mainstream media, government and industry, I’ve sought to confront difficult conversations about resource projects based on the terms laid out by their proponents: i.e. engaging with claims of jobs and public benefits, questioning economic studies from the Fraser Institute and the like.

Meanwhile, my old pal and co-founder of this publication, Rafe Mair has often preferred to talk about the spiritual dimension of these issues. He speaks of wild salmon and free-running rivers as the soul of our province. Perhaps I didn’t get it, until now.

But there was a time when I did. When I was 10 years old, my aunt Vivian – a lone environmentalist amongst 5 brothers in the oil and gas industry (my mother, as a teacher, got a pass from both camps) – put me onto a campaign to protect the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island, where I grew up. I took the petition around my school and neighbourhood and was proud to sign up a few dozen names. My bedroom wall was graced by a poster of the valley, staring up at four iconic sitka spruce, sun glittering through the needles of the canopy. I never went there, but even that picture instilled a sense of peace in me growing up.

Then I forgot all about it and went off into the world to make money.

Mosses on the branches of the Incomappleux's ancient trees
Mosses on the branches of the Incomappleux’s ancient trees

Going to the Incomappleux reawakened in me that sense of calm and wonder at the natural world. And I understood Rafe’s point. There are some values that can’t easily be quantified. Call it quaint or naïve in this complex modern economy, if you will. But there is a soul in those trees and lichens – and, perhaps, in us too. Who are we to decide whether they exist or disappear forever into the annals of human time?

Yet, unlike many environmental battles in BC’s ancient and recent history, the story of the Incomappleux need not have any villains or losers. There is only this: a place so perfect and rare that once lost it can never be recreated; a company that could easily be compensated for relinquishing its tenures, which, without government intervention that would make Karl Marx blush, have no economical value; and a chance to leave a splendid legacy for the caribou, the lichens, the cedars and hemlocks, and our own children and future generations. So one day, my son or your granddaughter can have the opportunity to stare up at that canopy, feel the cool breeze on their cheek and forget all about the facts, figures, and petty concerns of our man-made world.

Sign Valhalla’s Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park petition here – and see  “Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux” at two Vancouver screenings:

• Tonight (Wed, Nov. 23) @ Vancouver’s Rio Theatre – 7:30-10PM (doors open 6:30). Part of VIMFF’s “Back to the Roots” night – also featuring short films by Daniel Pierce and Darryl Augustine, presentations by TJ Watt and Craig Pettitt and a Q&A with them, Damien Gillis and lichen expert Dr. Toby Spribille. Tickets available online here or at the door.

• Thursday, Nov. 24 @ UBC Forest Sciences Centre (2424 Main Mall – Room 1005) – 6:30-8PM. Featuring panel discussion with Prof. Suzanne Simard (see her incredible TED talk), Dr. Toby Spribille, Craig Pettitt, Damien Gillis and moderator Ngaio Hotte.

BC govt axes tree farm licence changes over widespread opposition

BC govt axes tree farm licence changes over widespread opposition

Fatal flaw in BC govt tree farm licence changes
BC’s botched tree farm licence changes would put large global players ahead of local sector

By Peter Ewart – republished from

It was a victory for the forestry sector as a whole and for all British Columbians. On August 28, quietly and without fanfare, Forest Minister Steve Thomson released Jim Snetsinger’s report on area-based tenures.  Although thanking Mr. Snetsinger for “a comprehensive and professional report”, Thomson noted that the Ministry “will not be proceeding with legislative changes that would enable forest licence conversions in fall 2014 or spring 2015.”

Tsilhqot’in decision played a role ion delay

According to the Minister, the decision not to go ahead with the controversial change to forest tenure at this time (which had as its core the creation of more Tree Farm Licences controlled by a few big companies) was because of the recent Supreme Court Tsilhqot’in decision and “requests from forest companies and communities to focus on key immediate priorities.”

Indeed, many came forward in the forest sector and forestry-based communities across the province to express their opposition to the proposed changes, whether at public meetings such as those organized locally by the Stand Up for the North Committee, or in written and oral submissions to the Snetsinger review panel.

Putting global giants ahead of local forestry operators

This is the second time in two years that the government has put forward the TFL conversion idea. And it is the second time it has been forced to withdraw it because of strong public opposition to what many feel was a further step towards privatization of our forests.  It raises the questions – How did the government get into this muddle?  What is the fatal flaw in its forest policy?

In a nutshell, it is the fact that the government appears to base its forest policy on catering to the interests of a few, increasingly globalized, big companies at the expense of all the other sectors of the forest industry, as well as British Columbians as a whole.

Too often, these other sectors are left out in the cold. They include workers, small and medium companies, independent wood processors, contractors, community forest associations, environmental and wildlife organizations, wood lot owners, forestry scientists and professionals, tourist operators, as well as, in the broader sense, First Nations and forestry-based communities.

Even Canfor speaks out against change

With this most recent attempt to impose more TFL conversions, the provincial government really botched the job as it didn’t even have all the big companies on board, rather only a small faction.  That was clearly illustrated when the CEO of Canfor Corporation, Don Kayne, spoke out against the proposed TFL conversions, charging that the government was “forcing unwanted tenure reform” that “brings the risk of serious repercussions for our sector” and “unfairly advantage some companies over others.”

BC needs real plan for forest renewal

So where do things go from here? The government, of course, has left itself wiggle-room to bring in TFL legislation in the future.  But the forest minister says that, for now, the focus will be on immediate priorities.

What will these priorities be? Will it be renewing our forest industry and bringing our forests back to health, as many argued for during the Snetsinger consultation process?  Will it mean developing mechanisms for more First Nations and community involvement in forestry decisions?  Or will it mean something else?

Whatever the Minister’s intention, the lesson from all of this seems clear: We need a plan for renewal of our forests which addresses the needs of all sectors of the forest industry, and which has the support of First Nations and communities.

Not half-baked schemes to enrich a few big globalized companies and their financial backers.

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

New study shows Canadian industrialization in graphic detail

New study shows Canadian industrialization in graphic detail

New study shows Canadian industrialization in graphic detail
A visualization of industrial impacts across Canada as of 2010 (Global Forest Watch)

A national study suggests that Alberta has disturbed more natural landscape than any other province.

The analysis by Global Forest Watch adds that Wild Rose Country also has two of the three areas in Canada where the rate of disturbance is the highest.

“There were at least three major hotspots, two in Alberta,” said report author Peter Lee.

The report (download here) combines government data, satellite imagery and cropland maps to look at human intrusions in the last decade into all major Canadian ecozones. Those disruptions included everything from roads to seismic lines to clearcuts to croplands.

“We took all the available credible data sets that we could find and combined them all,” said Lee. “We ended up with what we believe is the best available map of human footprint across Canada.”

Alberta leads in the amount of land disturbed at about 410,000 square kilometres. Almost two-thirds of the province — 62 per cent — has seen industrial or agricultural intrusion.

Saskatchewan, at 46 per cent, is second among the larger provinces. Quebec comes nearest in area with 347,000 square kilometres.

The Maritime provinces actually have the highest rate of disturbance. The human footprint in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is 94, 85 and 72 per cent respectively of each province’s total area. But those provinces are so relatively small that the actual amount of disturbed land is dwarfed by totals elsewhere.

When Lee compared the current map to one developed about 10 years ago, he found two of three areas where the rate of development was highest were in Alberta as well —​ one was in the oilsands region; the other along the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

The third area is in a heavily logged part of northern Quebec. New intrusion in northeastern British Columbia, where there is extensive energy development, is almost as heavy.

Lee said development in the three top zones is pushing into previously untouched land at the rate of five to 10 kilometres a year.

The report’s calculations include a 500-metre buffer zone, which corresponds to the distance animals such as woodland caribou tend to keep between themselves and development.

Duncan MacDonnell of Alberta Environment said the government has plans to set aside about 20 per cent of the remaining boreal forest, which covers the northern third of the province.

That includes about 20,000 square kilometres in the oilsands region. MacDonnell said Alberta plans to eventually combine old and new protected areas to create the largest connected boreal conservation area in North America.

Those plans haven’t been implemented and all are the subject of controversy with area aboriginals.

MacDonnell said the province is developing land-use plans for the entire province which are intended to balance pressures on the landscape.

Representatives from the federal government were not available for comment.

Lee notes his findings come at a time when Canadian and provincial policies on development are being increasingly scrutinized, whether they involve forestry, energy or agriculture. He said this sort of basic, common-sense data-gathering should be done by Ottawa.

“It’s those sort of general questions that the person in the street asks,” said Lee. “Where are all the disturbances in Canada? Where are the pristine areas?

“This is a simple monitoring analysis that should be done and could very easily be done by the feds … (but) they’re not doing it.”

Logging BC's coastal treasures

Logging BC’s coastal treasures


 Logging BC's coastal treasures

Exasperation is the tone of the full page ad placed in a March edition of Victoria’s Times-Colonist newspaper by the Discovery Islands Marine Tourism Group, a coalition of businesses associated with an ecotourism industry employing over 1,200 people and generating $45 million for the local economy. Their problem is logging, specifically in areas where they have established a strong and burgeoning economic foundation to replace a forest industry that has essentially deserted the region.

“The Discovery Islands,” explains the Group’s spokesperson, Ralph Keller, “have become a world class destination worthy of protection. We’ve become the second most important marine wilderness destination in BC, behind Tofino/Pacific Rim, yet the government is managing the forests here like it’s 1956. They’re treating us like bystanders instead of major revenue producers and employers” (Discovery Islander, “Tourism Businesses Slam BC Liberal Forest Policies”, Mar. 22/13).

The source of this problem has two components. The first is the elimination of appurtenance, the stipulation that once linked logging of Crown land with the local processing of logs. This traditional arrangement generated lucrative employment in the manufacture of lumber, pulp and paper products. When appurtenance disappeared, so did most of the mills which were part of a broadly based forest industry that had economic relevance and social respectability. “The once great forest industry,” Keller notes, “is now just a logging industry acting with impunity, completely insensitive to our needs. They degrade our operating environment then send the timber not only out of the region, but out of the country” (Ibid.).

This points to deregulation, the second part of the problem. “We’re not against logging,” Keller explains, “but when the government revised the Forest Range and Practices Act in 2003, they gave all the power to the logging industry and left everyone else out of the planning process. We find out about forest development plans when we start to see trees being felled. We’re being misled about forest industry intentions and have no meaningful way to influence cut block design. When we complain to government, they tell us to go talk to the licensee… . Who’s writing the rules here? Whose forests are these?” (Ibid.).

Keller has a valid complaint. The particular forests of concern in the Discovery Islands are not privately owned — they belong to the people of BC. They are licenced to logging companies for the benefit of the larger community. If that benefit is no longer being served because of changed circumstances, then companies such as TimberWest have lost both their actual and moral legitimacy as key economic drivers. Indeed, in many cases, their logging becomes a net liability to the larger interests of the community. TimberWest, therefore, should conduct itself with a respectful deference to the other economic interests that are superseding logging in importance — ecotourism being a prime example.

A sampling of ecotourism’s problem with logging in the Discovery Islands occurred in 2012 at Boat Bay on West Cracroft Island — the solution to this problem is presently postponed rather than solved. A logging company with the cutting rights on a Tree Farm Licence — the public’s land — intends to cut 60 hectares above and around a kayaking base camp across from the world-famous Robson Bight. Such logging would ruin the aesthetic attraction of the base camp, isolate a nearby forest reserve, and create a visual eyesore for one of BC’s most important scenic marine corridors.

The kayaking company did an illuminating economic analysis. It calculated that the economic value of the 60 hectares of timber to be logged was $3,600,000. Since the regeneration cycle meant the area could be cut only once every 60 years, the yearly economic value of the timber was $60,000. The economic value to the kayaking company, however, was $416,000 per year, or $24,960,000 for the same 60 year period. In stark contrast to the approximately 300 person-days employment from logging the 60 hectares just once, the kayaking company provided 20,160 person-days of employment during the 60 year cycle. And this simple economic analysis didn’t include the employment and earnings for the 40 other ecotourism businesses using the same area. These calculations suggest that logging, when it is in conflict with high-use ecotourism areas, is economically and socially indefensible.

A more current example is evident on Sonora Island. Several cut blocks containing old-growth trees in the Discovery Islands are to be logged by TimberWest this summer — even though TimberWest contends it is not cutting old-growth because of its rarity. “Yet in one block alone,” wrote a concerned islander in her letter to the editor of the Discovery Islander (“TimberWest Has No Plan Except Cutting Until It’s Gone”, Ibid.), “we recorded 160 tall, straight, beautiful, old growth trees, mostly Douglas fir, the rest red cedar, about 700 years old.”

These remnant pockets of old growth forests should be treated as ecological treasures. They are all that’s left after the incessant logging that has almost obliterated the magnificent lowland stands which were once the hallmark of the Gulf of Georgia. For the ecotourism industry and for our collective human legacy, these few remaining pockets should be places to visit, not opportunities to log. They are nature’s temples where people from around the world can come to honour some of the largest and oldest living things on the planet. Any but the most venal of intentions would understand that these are sites for preservation and pilgrimage, rare opportunities for visitors to encounter the unimaginably slow time of primal forests and to lose themselves in silent and reverential awe. That screaming chainsaws should be allowed to desecrate such places is, frankly, a moral, aesthetic and economic obscenity.

Old growth trees should be sacrosanct. The butchery of clear cuts that scar green hillsides can be avoided by open consultation, thoughtful silviculture and sensitive logging. TimberWest has the professional skills and the social responsibilities to do better than affront Discovery Islanders and raise the hostility of the 120 tourism businesses that depend on the scenic grandeur of this treasured coast.

Correction: Alexandra Morton was very quick to note — she seems to be fastidious about accuracy — that the sushi from farmed salmon referred to in last week’s column, Salmon Confidential, was not tested for ISA. She concurred with all the other material in the column.


Wild Forests


Real forests are wild. The forests of human contrivance are tree farms, plantations, monocultures, timber supply areas. Such clusters of trees may superficially appear to be real forests, but they are less complex, less organic, less living and therefore less enduring. And they were handicapped by their beginning. Instead of originating and developing by the creative randomness of biological chance, their growth was guided by a defined purpose. They are not real forests because they are not wild.

Even real forests can lose their wild quality if they are disturbed by human influence. The enchantment provided by the wild is rare and delicate, sometimes violated by a word or a breath. Maybe this is why real forests invite the same quiet reverence as cathedrals, temples, or those sacred and holy places which countenance nothing less than silent awe.

A person in a real forest is in the presence of the wild, of something so profoundly important and so deeply primal that it only speaks to our bones — because, as Robert Bringhurst writes in The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology, “it is what-is” (Counterpoint, 2008).

In Bringhurst’s thinking, the wild is the essence of “what-is”, a conviction — better still, an insight, an awareness, a knowing — he explores in the chapter, “Wild Language”. As a linguist and typographer, Bringhurst is looking for the wild in language and typography, the same wild that is in real forests.

Not surprisingly, he admits failure. “Wild typography isn’t something I’ve achieved; its something I’m always trying to reach. It is typography in which each form is as well made and as well placed as the wildflowers blooming in an alpine meadow in the spring, deerprints in a rain-soft stretch of game trail, the feathers in a varied thrush’s wing, or the miniature forest of moss and lichen spreading over a stump.” In other words, the wild is a spontaneous rightness that happens of itself, an unfolding perfection and a continuing completeness that is powered from within.

The wild cannot be made by us. “People accustomed to orchards, farms and gardens,” writes Bringhurst, “very often think of the wild in opposition to the domesticated or tame. The garden, they say, has greater order than the wild. But it’s the other way around. The order of the garden may be easier to see, but it is fragile and superficial. It is artificial and unnatural in a very convincing sense: it cannot take care of itself. The order of the wild is self-sustaining, flexible and deep.”

This brings us closer to the meaning of wild in a real forest. In Bringhurst’s words, such forests are “a living, ever-changing shrine to timelessness”. The wild contains a level of ordering that transcends human influence and control. “The wild is by definition unmanaged and unmanageable, and in some sense unconfined by those who would manage it.”

This begins to explain why real forests — wild forests — are so special. They provide something far greater than human planning and intention, something even more complex and permanent than the civilizations we think are so sophisticated and durable. Indeed, as Bringhurst rightly observes, “Forests are also highly developed civilizations.” But they do not “need or want our managerial interference.”

In reality, they contain a crucial wisdom that we would do well to learn, replicate and internalize. In Bringhurst’s words, “human civilizations actually start to resemble” a wild forest when they begin “to sense and respond to” the same “supple and reinforcing order” that guides its growth. So, “the wild isn’t something to conquer or subdue; it’s something to try to live up to: a standard better than gold.”

If this were all Bringhurst had to say about the wild in forests it would be more than enough. But he has more. “As soon as you think your way out of the wild — as soon as depression or arrogance or some other form of exaggerated self-concern leads you to see yourself as distinct from it — the wild looks like a thing. You might imagine you can carve it up and sell it. You might even think you can redesign it or manage it and do a better job than the wild itself. But of course you can’t. Your only hope, when you are really cut off from the wild, is to rejoin it. The wild is the biosphere: this tiny hollow ball which is the only place in the universe where you and I are free to be what we are.”

So the wild is a teacher, a constant reminder that we can be who we are. We can be ourselves just as the forest is itself. The same spontaneity that grows a wild forest grows the fullness of our own character. Just as each wild forest is unique, so too are we each unique, the organic consequence of a complex unfolding that happens of itself. We each become who we are just as a wild forest becomes what it is. The miracle of our own individual being is mirrored in the wild forest.

This comes close to the meaning of wild. And it comes close to the essential reason for protecting wild forests. They are ourselves as we ought to become and as we ought to be. We find ourselves in them. We can feel peaceful and whole in them because the freedom that makes them what they are is the same freedom that makes us who we are. Entering a wild forest is like entering our deepest selves, like coming home to who we really are. The elusive feeling that pervades a wild forest is the creative power of nature fulfilling itself.

Without the wild we become lost in a contrived world of impositions and manipulations, captives in a construction of conventions and expectations. We lose our character, our integrity, our soul, our essence. We need wild forests as a reminder to both ourselves and to our civilizations that what we seek is not a thing to be but a way to be.

The Business of a Cortes Forest

The business of a Cortes forest

The Business of a Cortes Forest
The old growth forest of Cortes Island. Photo by TJ Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance

In a world of global business connections, faraway is as close as next door. In this case, next door is Cortes Island, a remnant of rural paradise at the northern edge of the Salish Sea — a pocket of ocean in the Pacific Northwest that a mere century ago teemed with an estimated 500 resident whales and unimaginable quantities of fish and wildlife. Little remains of that original marine bounty. And the surrounding majestic forests of Douglas fir, technically designated as CDFmm (Coastal Douglas-fir,Moist Maritime), have been obliterated to less than 1% of their original area. Cortes Island happens to contain one of the last sparse pockets of this once spectacular forest ecology.

But the business connections that link Cortes Island to the rest of the world are healthy and flourishing. They stretch along the edge of the Salish Sea and beyond. The offices of Island Timberlands (IT), which owns the patch of Douglas fir forest on Cortes Island, are situated in Nanaimo. The headquarters of the BC Investment Management Corporation (bcIMC), which have financial interests in IT, are located in Victoria. Wall Street in New York is the home of Brookfield Asset Management Incorporated, the majority shareholder in Island Timberlands. And Beijing may soon be connected to Cortes Island as the China Investment Corporation (CIC) attempts to use a $100 million sliver of its $200 billion capital to buy a 12.5% stake in Island Timberlands, a purchase that would give it influence over the Vancouver and Cortes Island forests that are now owned by Brookfield.

These are the business forces allied against Cortes and the people of Wildstands Alliance who are trying to mitigate the impact of logging in one of their island’s rare and cherished forests — a forest now “owned” and “managed” by a network of business connections so far removed from the ecological reality of trees and the local community that loves them, that the investors might as well come from another planet.

The proportions must be dismaying to the 1,000 rural folks who live on Cortes. Brookfield is one of the largest investment corporations in the world. It owns 51% of Island Timberlands. bcIMC, which owns a 25% share in IT, manages $92.1 billion in pension funds. Island Timberlands, the corporation that intends to log the remnant coastal Douglas fir forest that Cortes Islanders want to protect, is committed to return profits to bcIMC and Brookfield. The corporate expectations are about lucrative returns on investments, not about trees, ecologies or aesthetics. The logging project, if not stopped or moderated, will contribute to the healthy returns paid to investors by bcIMC and Brookfield. And, in a sad irony, most or all of the logs will likely go offshore for milling and processing.

The next chapter in the dismaying saga of the big-and-international vs. the little-and-local is the intention of the Chinese Investment Corporation to buy a portion of Island Timberlands. Under the terms of the federal government’s pending Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, known as FIPA, the fate of this rare stand of Douglas fir on Cortes and 258,000 hectares of forest on Vancouver Island could be decided in secret by a three-person panel appointed by FIPA, if the CIC believes its investment is being unfairly handicapped by federal, provincial or local regulations. This is not an auspicious prospect for Canadians, British Columbians or the stalwart conservation efforts of the Cortes Islanders trying to mitigate the damaging effects of logging on a little remnant of coastal Douglas fir forest.

Their heroic efforts are not supported by the supposedly stringent logging principles of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the guide Island Timberlands uses for its cutting practices. The purported high standards of SFI have been widely debunked by environmental critics as hollow, nothing more than an “initiative” devised and funded by the lumber and paper industry to give the impression of careful ecological management. If credible standards were being used, such as representative ecosystems in protected provincial reserves or the more stringent standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, logging would not be taking place in a maritime forest ecology that has been “managed” to the verge of extinction.

Anyone with a history in environmentalism should be cautious when foresters profess to be “managing” a forest — forests have been successfully managing themselves for millions of years. And when Island Timberlands uses expressions such as “managing our properties”, the coded meaning is even more ominous. It has financial obligations to its New York owners, Brookfield, and to its Victoria investors, bcIMC. These obligations translate as “profit” and have little to do with the sensibilities of Cortes Islanders or the last of the remnant Douglas fir forests ecologies surrounding the Salish Sea.

So the local logging problem on Cortes Island represents a larger problem. Corporations are getting bigger, more borderless and less personal. Trade agreements and investment connections are eroding national, provincial and community autonomy. Although Island Timberlands has 258,000 hectares of Vancouver Island to log, it insists on taking every ounce of the flesh it purports to own, regardless of how treasured and rare it may be.

In the larger perspective, this can only be viewed as an uncaring obstinacy, a blind greed that violates the very principle of proportion which keeps the ecological structure of the planet intact. Locally, it mocks the caring intentions of Cortes Islanders. If the business of business is only reducible to the cold, heartless and inflexible brutality of profit, then little Cortes Island becomes a symbol for the failed prospects of our future on this small and delicate island lost amid a sea of stars.

Trees slashed and burned for Northwest Transmission Line

Trees Slashed and Burned for Northwest Transmission Line

Trees slashed and burned for Northwest Transmission Line
70-foot tall log teepees like this one are being burned all along the NWTL route (photo: Damien Gillis)

Read this story from CBC on the slashing and burning of thousands of trees by BC Hydro for the construction of its Northwest Transmission Line north of Terrace. (Nov. 7, 2012)

BC Hydro is warning people living northwestern B.C. of smoke haze in that area as they cut down and burn hundreds of kilometres of timber to make way for the Northwest Transmission Line.

The utility’s transmission line project connects an existing substation near Terrace, B.C. and a new substation to be built further north, near Bob Quinn Lake, in 2014.

“In clearing the right of way there’s a lot of woody debris that has to be disposed of. And we do have approval… to dispose of that by burning,” said BC Hydro spokesperson Lesley Wood.

Wood said she didn’t know the total volume of the wood being burned, only that it is considerable.

“When you considering that you’re clearing a right of way up to 80 meters worth of clearing for 340 kilometers — it’s a lot,” she said.

Wood says it isn’t economically viable to use the trees for biofuel or firewood, but says the Nisga’a nation, one of the groups contracted to do the cut and burn, may try to sell some of the timber.

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson says the clearing is likely one of the biggest timber cuts in B.C. in 2012.

“This order of magnitude of slash and burn is certainly going to increase B.C.’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. When is this province going to get involved in bioenergy, biodigesting in a bigger way so we never have these circumstances?” said Simpson.

“It’s a misuse of a public resource.”

Sharon Glover, the CEO of B.C. Professional Foresters, said there’s no need to be burning the timber — that some of it is bound to be salvageable.

“To say that the forest , ‘We’ll just burn it because it’s not our problem, it’s in our way,’ we need to think differently. If you just burn it you’re saying that timber has no use to anyone. And we just don’t buy it.

“We suspect in the mix of that timber that some of it is going to be merchantable, usable as saw logs, and other timber might be used for bioenergy, shipped to pellet plants or shipped to biomass projects.”

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BC Liberal Govt. Mulls Logging Old Growth Forests

BC Liberal Govt. mulls logging old growth forests

BC Liberal Govt. Mulls Logging Old Growth Forests
Old-Growth red cedar stump – Browns Mountain, Port Renfrew, BC (photo: Ancient Forest Alliance)

Read this story from the Canadian Press on new plans by the BC Liberal Government to open up old growth forests to logging as conventional forests decline in the wake of the pine beetle epidemic and over-harvesting that has eaten into future timber supply. (Oct. 9, 2012)

VANCOUVER — The B.C. government has opened the door to the controversial idea of logging old-growth forests in parts of the province in an effort to boost the timber supply over the next five to 20 years.

But Forests Minister Steve Thomson says any decisions to cut would be science-based and reached by consensus from all members of the community.

Examining the old-growth potential in central B.C. is one of several actions the province plans to take after a government committee warned in August that measures must be taken to stave off a dramatic drop in timber supply.

Thomson says municipal governments whose economies rely on the forest sector were the first to suggest opening some old-growth areas, though even the industry has reported it doesn’t want such logging to be a priority.

The minister says a framework for revisiting the designation of sensitive areas will be ready in early 2013, and potential pilot projects could eventually take place in Burns Lake and Quesnel.

The government says the timber supply plan is the final phase in its decade-long response to the infestation of the mountain pine beetle, which has decimated forests across the province.

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Blogger Laila Yuile on Auditor General John Doyle's forest mismanagement report

Blogger Laila Yuile on Auditor General John Doyle’s forest mismanagement report


Blogger Laila Yuile on Auditor General John Doyle's forest mismanagement report

Read this editorial from blogger Laila Yuile on BC Auditor General John Doyle’s new scathing report on the mismagement of BC’s forestry resource by the BC Liberal Government. (Feb. 16, 2012)

John Doyle never fails to impress, and his latest report is a scathing commentary of how inadequate the BC Liberals really are at managing one of our most precious assets and resources, our forests…

…The BC government has clearly, and on an ongoing basis, failed to balance economic interests with protection of our forests for future generations, and this is highly visible as you fly over these great lands. Much of what I had the pleasure of exploring with my dad growing up just north of Prince George, is now a vast expanse of dead trees, or vast areas of clearcut.

I’m sorry to say I took it for granted back then, thinking in the innocence of childhood that it would be like that forever.

Nothing stays the same, I know now. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the extent of kill and clearcut driving to Babine Lake on a visit back home a few years ago -nothing could have prepared me for the physical pain  that clutched my chest as tears sprung unbidden to my eyes at the sight of once fertile, old growth forest dead, dying, gone.

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