Nearly 1,000 people, including NDP MP Swen Robinson were arrested and charged with criminal offenses in what would become known as the 1993 “War in the Woods.” Who knows where this all would have ended except that publicity around the arrests and the accompanying portrayal of the beauty, existential value of Clayquot Sound garnered a great deal of public attention. Within the next two years, Macmillan-Bloedel, the company trying to log the Clayquot watershed, lost– at least– $200 million in pulp, paper and wood contracts due to its Clayquot notoriety.
Now I remember why I so publicly burned my BCNDP membership card in 1993. I was fed up with a NDP government that, under Mike Harcourt, promised meaningful reform in BC forestry policy, however, once elected, quietly assumed most of the policies of the Socreds. That was enough to discourage me from voting NDP again(soon) but the decision to proceed with criminal prosecutions of peaceful protesters in Clayquot Sound was the spark that ignited my decision to publicly burn my BCNDP membership card. No Social Credit government had dared to lay criminal charges against peaceful civil protesters seeking to promote civil and environmental justice.
This kind of resistance forced the company and the government to the table. July 1995, the first significant change in government policies occurred, when all 127 recommendations made by the, BC government appointed, scientific panel on Clayoquot Sound were accepted by the Harcourt government.
After the Clayoquot Sound protests, the Harcourt government set aside dozens of intact valleys and reformed BC’s forest practices under the Forest Practices Code. An independent Forest Practices Board with real teeth was established to oversee the implementation of the new Forest Practices Code.
Who knows where this might have gone but in 2003, the BC Liberals (by then mostly disenfranchised Socreds) were elected ushering in the return to dark years for B.C.’s forests. The Liberal government set about deregulating the forest industry. Within a year of their election the Liberals replaced the Forest Practices Code with a farce called the Forest and Range Practices Act. BC forests were, once again under siege as forest management was outsourced to professionals paid by industry. Even the job protecting requirement that to log public timber companies would have to create milling jobs in local communities was summarily tossed out the window.
Given the vast excesses of the Liberal Party in just about everything, I drifted back into an uneasy support for the NDP. I was delighted when the 2017 election put the NDP in power only with the support of the Green Party that won three seats.
Many say we would not be seeing logging protesters hauled off to face criminal charges if we still had a Green Party holding the balance of power. AND that is just OBVIOUS! Given a clear majority in the BC legislature, the NDP is back to its old tricks: talk green values during the election; start throwing people who stand up for those values in jail when the election is over. I don’t have a BCNDP membership card to burn this time around—but it would be ashes if I did!
In granting authority to arrest logging protestors in Fairy Creek, the court was told that the impact of the blockades is causing the logging company irreparable financial harm. The court doesn’t consider the “irreparable” existential harm the logging is causing to these few remaining intact old growth cedar forests.
An independent study published last year has found that these highly productive, intact ecosystems total just 415,000 hectares – less than 1 per cent of the province’s remaining forests!
Déjà vu, with the Green Party no longer holding the balance of power in the legislature, the RCMP, have begun arresting more people for standing up for the preservation of old growth cedar forests in the Fairy Creek drainage near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island.
My friend, retired forester, Frank Hovenden, was among those arrested. I will let his letter to our MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard tell the story from here.
The RCMP have, now, arrested more than 170 people, including Frank, for blockading logging roads in the Fairy Creek valley.
Dear Ronna-Rae Leonard;
I returned from the Caycuse watershed yesterday where I witnessed the RCMP flexing their muscle in a show of force which I interpret as an attempt to intimidate lawful protesters on behalf of the government that you represent. The RCMP set up a road block on a public road Caycuse Main preventing access to all except select workers. This included excluding the press who were only allowed in yesterday (May 18) with a large police escort. I understand the press association will rightfully be challenging this in Court on Friday. A Police helicopter flew over while large numbers of heavily armed police went up to the protest camp to make arrests.
As you may know I worked in the forests of Vancouver Island for over 30 years and hold a Bachelor of Science in Forestry. I have a unique perspective and memories of the timber industry some of which I am sure we share. I would like to expound on some of these.
Firstly I would like to challenge many of the arguments that you government has made to defend liquidating these last small stands of old-growth timber. Firstly there is the jobs argument. We have both witnessed the continual downsizing of the work force in the timber industry over the last 40 years. Sawmills and pulp mills have been closed one after another on Vancouver Island. Where I worked, I witnessed the closing of the three large sawmills in Tahsis as well as the paper and pulpmill in Gold River. Closer to home in Campbell River we witnessed the closing of Elk Falls pulp and paper mill, Timberwests Sawmill, and Raven Lumber. Here in Courtenay Interfor shut down the Fields Sawmill. These were due to economics which translates into it being cheaper to mill wood elsewhere.
On the woodlands side of things the workforce has also been slashed and deunionized. It wasn’t too long ago that the IWA had three union locals with offices in Courtenay. Its successor the United Steelworkers currently has one. This is directly related to a shrinking unionized workforce. The timber industry has largely made the transition into logging second-growth stands. These smaller trees are much more amenable for mechanization. This results in smaller work force. Timber harvesting on the South Island is now mostly in second-growth plantations, and therefore removing and protecting the old-growth component will have little impact on the workforce which will continue to shrink due to technological change.
The old-growth forests which I would like to see protected are extremely under-represented in our protected areas in the South Island. This was confirmed in the Provincial Overview and Status Report (BC government) of April 1996. The importance of these old forests for biodiversity can not be understated. The timber industry is harvesting second-growth stands at between 50 to 80 years so they are not making old-growth forests ever again. Once it is gone, it is gone for good! With it goes the biodiversity that is unique to old-growth forests.
Your government has failed to keep its election promise to protect our old-growth forests.
Meanwhile the government’s own BC Timber sales has failed in protecting old-growth values in the nearby Nahmint Watershed. This was recently reported by the government’s own Forest Practices Board.
The actions of your government are increasingly alienating the citizens of British Columbia. Here in the Comox Valley all three municipal Governments have made motions calling for an end to old-growth logging. It is time for you to listen to your constituents and science. Represent them not the timber industry.
On a personal note I am sure you knew the late Ruth Masters and the late Melda Buchanan. These strong women were both fierce defenders of the environment and I hold them as heroes. Please let their memory guide you to do the right thing and stop all old-growth logging on the South Island now.