One of the last remaining intact old-growth Douglas Fir groves on Vancouver Island is slated to be logged today, following an injunction last week against protestors who halted an earlier attempt to commence work. The forest, near Nanoose Bay, is known in logging parlance as DL33 and is home to red-listed Coastal Douglas Fir.
The issue is pitting environmentalists against the local First Nation, as the company doing the logging, Snaw-Naw-As Forest Services Ltd, is aboriginal-owned. But conservationists were shocked to learn at the BC Supreme Court this past Friday that the First Nation has already got a buyer lined up to purchase the logs – namely Timberwest.
A spokesperson for the Mid-Island Chapter of the Wilderness Committee slammed Timberwest’s involvement in a recent press release. “Timberwest is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) – which says on its website that: SFI labels are recognized globally and provide a visual cue to help customers source responsibly managed forest products,” said the Wilderness Committee’s Annette Tanner.
“And we also note that Timberwest’s website states that: ‘Protection of biodiversity is a key element of sustainable forest management and TimberWest continually strives to improve efforts to sustain key habitat for plants and wildlife. This endeavor is not only part of delivering on our social and environmental license to operate, it meets the increasing market demand for products from timberlands that have been independently certified as having high standards of environmental management,'” said Tanner.
Having successfully obtained an injunction against the protestors who interrupted early work at DL33 several weeks ago, it is expected the logging will commence today.
The Wilderness Committee and its supporters are focusing their attention on the would-be buyer of these old-growth Douglas Fir logs in a last-ditch effort to save this rare forest. An offer from Timberwest to purchase the logs, obtained by the Wilderness Committee, was dated October 24, suggesting the purchase agreement was likely the catalyst for this logging to commence.
It remains to be seen whether this negative publicity for Timberwest has any effect on the planned work or whether cancelling their contract with the First Nation would prompt its logging company to reconsider the project.
The following is a press release from the Wilderness Committee:
Wilderness Committee, Mid-Island
Wednesday, November 9, 2011 – for immediate release –
Nanoose Bay, BC — Residents of Mid Island communities rushed into Nanoose Bay’s DL33 Forest this morning to the sound of chainsaws after the Wilderness Committee Mid Island Chapter, learned that logging roads have been pushed in through private property to access the highly threatened and endangered Nanoose Bay Forest , a public owned rare Coastal Douglas-fir forest that has been identified by government scientists as containing forest and wetland ecosytems that will become extinct.
“The Wilderness Committee Mid Island Chapter has been actively working with the local communities and with the support of local and regional governments to find solutions to logging this remnant east coast forest for the past year and we will not give up fighting this criminal Clark Government blunder,” said Annette Tanner, Wilderness Committee, Mid Island spokesperson.
A scant 10 minute walk off a logging road near the BC’s West Coast town of Port Renfrew is Avatar Grove, a stand of old cedars so majestic, powerful and gnarled that T. J. Watt said he and his colleagues from the Ancient Forest Alliance “were running around like kids in a candy store” when they found it in 2009 (Globe & Mail, July 23/11).
Watt, along with the co-founder of the Ancient Forest Alliance, Ken Wu, had been searching for just such an iconic stand of trees, one that would dramatize and catalyze enough awareness of old-growth forests to prevent further logging of the tiny remnant that still exists on southern Vancouver Island. Avatar Grove, as this stand was named, just might accomplish such an ambitious feat. Indeed, the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, the BC Ministry of Forests and the company that had the right to log Avatar Grove, Teal Cedar Products Ltd, all concurred that the stand was so sensational that it should be protected.
But it nearly wasn’t. Watt and Wu found a cluster of 20 huge stumps nearby that had been logged the year before. These 900 year-old cedars may have been even more spectacular than the standing trees that were saved. “This would have surpassed Avatar Grove in grandeur – had we found it in time,” said Wu. And shortly after Watt found Avatar Grove, timber cruisers surveyed it for logging, hanging the ominous ribbons of plastic tape that marked a cutting boundary. After 1,000 years of growing, Avatar Grove came within a hair’s breadth of the chainsaw’s bite.
Given the awesome character of Avatar Grove, who cut down the neighbouring trees? What were the fellers thinking as the teeth of their chainsaws bit into millennium-old wood? What thoughts were passing through the minds of the timber cruisers who flagged Avatar Grove for a similar fate? Are “pieces of silver” so numbing of perception and so corrupting of judgment that people simply do not notice or recognize the miraculous when it is manifest? In another time under different circumstances the only appropriate answer to these questions would have been, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Because the trees in Avatar Grove awaken in us the sense of sacred that we do not usually possess, the work of environmentalists such as T.J. Watt and Ken Wu should qualify them as modern-day saints – a status they would probably reject. With their seeing and their conviction, with their dedication and passion, they open the eyes of the blind, bringing illuminating light into a place of dull darkness. They reveal the evident, proclaim the unmistakable, connect us to a wondrous obvious of which we were previously ignorant. What else explains why some trees are felled and others are saved? Whether or not a crucifixion occurs merely depends on the difference between recognizing or not recognizing, between awareness and unawareness.
Show people and they will see. The tourists who now flock to gaze at the massive trees of Avatar Grove are not so much tourists as pilgrims coming to enter the awe of something bigger and older than themselves, something that communes with the slow passage of eon and transcends the limits of self. These pilgrims are doing the same when they flock to such revered places as Banff, Jasper, the wild trails of Strathcona, or to any seashore, lake, mountain, river, valley or forest. Something primal and timeless lures them out of themselves and connects them to a mystery that is greater than anything they can possess, control or understand.
Saints awaken us to such awareness. They make pilgrims of us all. They show us the extraordinary so we will find it in the ordinary. If we are perceptive enough, we can learn to find the miraculous in any tree, any fish, any frog or any blade of grass. The ordinary is no less amazing than the extraordinary. If we are attentive enough, if we are open and receptive enough, every part of nature becomes a wonder that will reduce the greatest of our explanations to an awestruck silence.
No one can understand the utter magic pervading any of the living things that surround us. They are profound because they give context, companionship and meaning to our very existence – the outside of us that enters the inside of us through the miracle of awareness. Then a special stand of trees may infuse us with a moment by-moment sense of magic.
But a pilgrimage does not have to be a physical journey to Avatar Grove. Every time we watch a nature documentary we are paying vicarious homage to the life forces that permeate our planet. Such programs amaze us with the living vigour of reefs, tundra, grasslands, plains, jungles, and all the plants and creatures than enliven them with incredible and diverse vitality – a living planet that we are despoiling and diminishing with an astonishingly blind enthusiasm.
As the Canadian media guru, Marshall McLuhan, so wisely noted, we move through the present looking through a rear-view mirror at what is behind us – we don’t see what is, we only see what is past, where we have been and what we are losing. This principle applies with profound irony when we consider our current fascination with all the myriad wonders of nature that we revere through documentaries and pilgrimages. Just as we are celebrating and learning of nature’s incredible complexity and intricacy, our industrial exploitation is destroying them with alarming zeal.
This is why Avatar Grove is so important, why Watt and Wu were so invigorated by hope. This small stand of glorious trees is a signal, an icon, a symbol, a sign of what remains that we must not lose. It is a warning announcing that innumerable treasures are slipping into an irretrievable past. But Avatar Grove is also a promise and an awakening, if we can understand its deeper meaning. By honouring the extraordinary, perhaps we can learn to protect the ordinary.
“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats”. (H.L. Mencken)
Those who fought to save the trees at Clayoquot and the tens of thousands of their fellow citizens – indeed environmental defenders from all over the globe – would, if they knew the truth, be appalled and ashamed and fighting mad at what has happened since 1994 when then Premier Mike Harcourt thought he had protected much of the Clayoquot old growth timber.
The battle known as the “War In The Woods” solved little if anything when all’s said and done. In 1993, the war commenced with almost 1000 protesters winding up in jail. The “war” became international with eco-stars like Robert F. Kennedy getting in the trenches. Clayoquot Sound was named a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. An independent panel of scientists got into the act as did the NDP government of the day – but once the fine print was read, the various agreements and legislative efforts following 1993 did little to change things. Tragically, as too often is the case, destitute First Nations – aided by newer, smaller outside companies only too eager to help them harvest and sell Clayoquot’s forests – wound up doing the logging. And they were no better able to do it in an environmentally sound way than were the large companies which left because they couldn’t make money if the new rules were enforced. The bottom line is that whether the area was clear-cut, helicopter logged, or a combination of methods, they could no longer turn a profit, so they left. But the First Nations need money and the forest suffers accordingly.
In the final analysis, Clayoquot Sound is an international symbol of how environmental fights usually end with the environmental groups winning the battle yet losing the war.
In fact, Clayoquot Sound environmentalists resemble a prize fighter who valiantly gets off the canvass only to be knocked down again, for in addition to the forestry battle they thought they had won, they might now be down for the count with several other environmental catastrophes in the ring wielding knockout punches.
Clayoquot Sound is an unbelievable gem in a coast of gems. Famous for its waves which attract thousands of surfers every year, it is, or was, also famous for its salmon fishing. Perhaps most of all, Clayoquot Sound is a place you want to be – a spectacular rain forest close enough to “civilization” to be reachable, yet seemingly remote.
As if the logging weren’t bad enough, there is a proposed copper mine on Catface Mountain, which, if it is approved and brought to fruition, will literally lop off a third of the mountain – and mine deep into its core. The good news is that the test drilling thus far shows low grade copper, calling into doubt its viability; the bad news is that if world prices of copper are high, this means huge open pit mining because extracting low grade mineral means much more rock must be taken for the undertaking to work. As I write this, 22 further holes are being drilled and results will be known by year’s end.
Clayoquot Sound has always been known for spectacular fishing, supporting substantial commercial and sports fisheries. Enter the salmon farmers. Much attention has been paid to the ruinous contact of Broughton Archipelago migrating salmon and the clouds of sea lice from fish farms there. More recently, thanks to the vigorous scientific work by Alexandra Morton, the environmentalist hero of the Broughton tragedy, we now know that sockeye from the Fraser are all but certainly facing the same fish farm-induced perils faced by the pinks and chum in the Broughton Archipelago. While the research into the impacts of salmon farms continues at Clayoquot Sound, every indication is that it’s Broughton Archipelago re-visited, and then some. (See my colleague Damien Gillis’ new film on the salmon farm situation in Clayoquot here).
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is on the matter, but how comforting is that? Will it be the same DFO we’ve come to have contempt for? Will it again be like lying sick in hospital and the undertaker comes to visit with a tape measure in his hand? Unhappily, that’s not all. Tofino dumps its raw sewage into the ocean, sewage that increases as tourists arrive. The mayor and council know the harm this does but say, simply, that with the tax base they must work with they simply cannot provide the treatment that’s needed.
The mayor and council have done their damndest to protect their beautiful unique sound, as have environmental groups, but as long as the situation I’ve described continues, it will be one pace forward, two paces back.
History tells us that DFO, who is supposed to protect wild fish, is mandated to support fish farms by a government of ignorant cretins which hasn’t a soupçon of care for the environment. We also know that the provincial government can’t wait to have private companies destroy our rivers for power and the profits destined for out-of-province shareholders of large international corporations – indeed one private power dam (the industry prefers we call them weirs) is under construction in Clayoquot, with several more to follow.
Clayoquot Sound, the place everyone thought had been made safe for nature, sits on the edge of the precipice overlooking utter destruction while industry – and it must be said some First Nations – and the two senior governments are fighting to see who will give it the last and fatal push.
If we are to have any hope of truly protecting this magical place, it’s high time we hoisted up that black flag again.