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The Politics of Big Timber in British Columbia Vancouver Island's Dwindling Ancient Forests

Vancouver Island’s Dwindling Ancient Forests


It was heartening to see the strong show of support for Vancouver Island’s dwindling old growth forests at the rally over the last weekend in March as some 1300 citizens showed up at the B.C. legislature to protest the ongoing eradication of the Island’s remaining wilderness.

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee should be commended for some incredible grassroots organizing in staging the event. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Clayoquot Sound campaign veteran Valerie Langer’s assessment that "it’s a sign of a growing, active movement that we haven’t seen for a long time" is indeed true.

Standing on the road at the blockades in Clayoquot Sound almost 15 years ago, I couldn’t help but feel an expectation of real change on the horizon, and that hope for a different future for the Island’s old-growth forests was pulsing and alive.

But in 2008, looking back, absolutely nothing has changed with regard to the management (or rather mismanagement) of the Island’s forests. Successive governments, regardless of party affiliation, have continued to facilitate the liquidation of the Island’s extant old growth, as their lack of vision has translated into enormous swaths of denuded wilderness, trashed salmon streams and degraded habitat for carnivores and their prey.

The Ministry of Environment has acknowledged that the Island’s cougar and wolf populations have been in decline as a result of a drop in the deer population, which is linked to the clearcut logging of old-growth forests and accompanying habitat loss and fragmentation. Scientific studies published by the United States Forest Service in the temperate rainforests of southeast Alaska have shown that "short-rotation clearcut logging of old growth forests … will reduce habitat capability for Sitka black-tailed deer. This conclusion is supported by an extensive body of research spanning thirty years on forest succession following logging, silvicultural practices, deer-habitat relations and nutritional ecology of deer."

If you want to get a real perspective on how devastated this island’s forests are, fly up the spine of Vancouver Island in a small plane. The long parade of clearcuts stand as a grim testament to the avarice of the corporate logging industry and the venality of the Ministry of Forests. But the entity that might be most responsible for this devastation is arguably the Association of British Columbia Professional Foresters. The association cannot escape complicity; their silence has been deafening as the destruction continues to roll along. "Professional forester" has to rival "sustainable development" as the definitive oxymoron of the last two decades.

The heart of the Island’s rainshadow, the Douglas fir and Garry oak ecosystems, already logged into museum-piece status, are on the verge of becoming "ghost forests" as they are further reduced by commercial and residential development to a minute fraction of what they once were. Throughout the Island’s coastal rainforests western red cedar is being targeted, high-graded and mined to meet international market demand, primarily in the United States where close to 80 per cent of B.C.’s red cedar ends up.

According to WCWC, LandSat satellite photos from 2004 show about 75 per cent of Vancouver Island’s old-growth forests have already been logged. And as we all know, the clearcutting hasn’t stopped during the intervening years. Anyone familiar with the mostly hammered landscapes of Oregon and Washington can see that the logging on Vancouver Island is as bad or worse as anything to be seen in the American Pacific Northwest. The so-called second growth "wall of wood" promised for the Island by industry and government spin doctors has never materialized. Did anyone ever actually believe in such a far-fetched pipe dream or was it simply another cynical platitude deliberately injected into the debate in order to pacify and bemuse the public?

As the wasteland of battered ecosystems is being flipped for development, tracts of clearcut wilderness have become lucrative real estate as they morph into paved-over subdivisions. The Ministry of Forests appears keen to enable this conversion as witnessed by their push to "delete" 28,000 hectares of land from tree farm licences on the Island and opening it up to real-estate speculators. The "Californication" of Vancouver Island is well underway. But maybe that was the hidden agenda all along.

The scars on the land are proof that the mechanisms for managing the Island’s forests are broken. The rally at the legislature identified steps to halt the systemic dysfunction; ban raw log exports, move to an ecologically based second-growth forest economy and most importantly, stop logging Vancouver Island’s remaining old-growth forests. Hopefully, someone in that big grey building was listening.

CHRIS GENOVALI is executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Society and can be reached at: