Clayoquot Science Panel

(Originally published in November/December 2016 issue of Watershed Sentinel)

As I struggled to hoist myself up onto the monumental stump of an ancient red cedar, I wondered how it had come to this. Why, in 2010, were trees like this being cut down in Clayoquot Sound? A place where valley after valley of ancient forests never ravaged by chainsaws undulates downwards from the snowy peaks, to surf rolling in on mile-long sandy beaches.

Although Clayoquot Sound covers less than a tenth of Vancouver Island, it is home to the largest swath of unlogged rainforests left—some protected in parks, some open for logging. Although the total area is smaller than the Great Bear Rainforest on the North Coast of BC, the big trees grow more densely in Clayoquot, due to the southern location. There are no intact valleys on Vancouver Island to the south of Clayoquot, nor are there any south of the US border.

Resistance to clear cutting in Clayoquot Sound began in the early 80s, when Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations joined with Tofino locals and allies far and wide to prevent the logging of Meares Island. A series of blockades began in 1988 to protect the rest of Clayoquot. By the early 90s, there was broad-based public support for the idea of protecting all of Clayoquot Sound.

Plan to log two-thirds of Clayoquot Sound
Back then, I was a conservation representative at the Vancouver Island Commission on Resources and the Environment (CORE) Table—a multi-sector negotiation tasked with developing recommendations towards a Land Use Plan for Vancouver Island. Right in the middle of our year-long deliberations, the BC Government announced plans to log two-thirds of Clayoquot Sound, sparking Clayoquot Summer—the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Bitter jokes abounded that the core old growth area on Vancouver Island had been removed: we had been CORE’d. As environmentalists, we decided against staging a dramatic walkout—it was too predictable—and opted to remain at the table.

What happened next surprised everybody. Commissioner Stephen Owen put forward a list of ten conditions. If his conditions were not met, he would walk from the table and scuttle the negotiations, putting the government in a terribly embarrassing situation.

One of his demands was the establishment of a blue ribbon science panel to develop promised ‘world-class logging standards’. Government moved quickly to meet his demands, and the Clayoquot Sound Science Panel (SciPan) was established. It contained a good balance of disciplines, with a mix of scientists focussed on conservation and resource extraction.

Hishook-ish-tsawalk—everything is connected
The SciPan was unique in that the co-chair was indigenous—Dr Richard Atleo (Umeek) from Ahousaht First Nations, a respected academic, elder, and hereditary leader. He brought to the discussion the Nuu-chah-nulth concept of hishook-ish-tsawalk—everything is connected.

The fatal flaw of the Science Panel was that there were two questions that needed to be answered: 1) should Clayoquot be logged, and if so, 2) how should it be logged. The decision to log had been made without scientific input, and without looking at the broader regional context (which CORE had been tasked to do). Now the scientists were being asked to figure out how to log these globally rare ancient rain forests without destroying them.

Over a period of two years, five reports were released, the final one containing 170 recommendations. The SciPan recommendations were expected to turn logging on its head. Traditionally, resource managers looked for the best trees to cut, and based logging plans on that. Wildlife, recreationists, and rivers were expected to make due with whatever was leftover—a woefully inadequate way to log. The SciPan recommended planning the set-asides first, then the logging companies could have whatever wasn’t needed to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem.

A new way of logging?
The other major breakthrough of the SciPan was to develop an alternative to clearcut logging. This was called ‘variable retention’ logging. The idea was that within a given cut block, certain trees would be retained—for eagle nests, along stream banks, etc. The amount of trees retained could vary—all the way down to 15%.

However, at the end of the day they were only recommendations and the devil would be in the details. Nearly a thousand people had been arrested to end the logging of Clayoquot Sound, not to make the logging better. Nonetheless the government created a Science Panel Implementation Team (SPIT) which began work on logging plans for the Sound.

That took ten years, and by the time the plans were announced in 2006, the political landscape had changed entirely. Logging giant Macmillan Bloedel no longer existed, and that tenure was held by local First Nations. The government was no longer progressive, and very much wanted to get fibre flowing out of Clayoquot again. The annual cuts of the early nineties—around a million cubic metres a year—had been reduced to tens of thousands.

There were several attempts to begin logging the intact valleys, but a coalition of groups including the Wilderness Committee was able to head that off. Ecotrust Canada tried to help Iisaak survive by financing a ramp-up of logging to new heights. Barges loaded with raw logs leaving the Sound became a common sight again, and locals became very concerned.

Some members of the SciPan had argued from the get-go that Clayoquot Sound was not a large enough area to sustain industrial scale logging. Political realities further constrained the logging land base. There are intact valleys on the books for logging, but companies have steered clear of those areas for fear of sparking another Clayoquot Summer. So they continue to hollow out the fragments of old growth left behind from the 80s.

Government wasted millions of dollars
In 2010 my partner Bonny & I hiked up into some SciPan cut blocks to check them out (that tine blue speck in top left of photo is me). What I saw horrified me. The cutting was being done by contractors and it wasn’t pretty. The scene I surveyed from atop that stump looked a lot like the clear cuts of the bad old days—just smaller. Many of the ancient cedars had shattered when felled, and there was an incredible amount of waste wood. There had been a spill of oil, and we were concerned that oily water in the ditch would make it’s way to a nearby salmon stream. I remember thinking, if this is what hishook-ish-tsawalk looks like, then I would have a hard time explaining what that means to the many animals who used to live here.

In October 2015, the hereditary chiefs of Ahousaht announced an end to industrial scale logging in their territories, stating “For the past 20 years the two main Tree Farm Licenses in the area…have been accessing old growth timber within the increasingly constrained areas of Clayoquot Sound often creating conflicts with Ahousaht traditional values and highly prized internationally recognized conservation interests.” Their goal is to “protect a traditional way of life while supporting a continued transition to a modern diversified sustainable economy”.

It’s a shame our governments wasted so many millions of dollars on the Science Panel. That money could have been used to learn how to log second growth in a manner which restores ecosystems to their former functioning states. In 2016, the Union of BC Municipalities passed a motion to formally oppose old-growth logging on Vancouver Island. Clayoquot Sound is home to one of the world’s finest examples of big tree old growth temperate rainforest—a globally rare ecosystem. Surely we should start here.

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

Clayoquot Action's Dan Lewis, protest against Kinder Morgan, Burnaby Mountain, BC. Marnie Recker Photography

Ready for Clayoquot 2.0

By approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has either failed to understand who voted for him and why, or he would appear to be a fraud.

During the election he presented himself as an alternative to Stephen Harper—a leader who had weakened environmental regulations, vilified environmentalists as ‘enemies of the state’ and pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Treaty. Justin spoke of the need to restore environmental protections, for true reconciliation with First Nations, to address the climate crisis for the sake of young people, and a return to science-based decision-making.

How could he betray all this? Why would he go to the Paris climate talks and boast “Canada is back”, then accept Harper’s carbon targets as his own? Why would he agree to a pipeline which was approved by a flawed NEB process which he had promised to fix? Why would he spend his summer vacation in Tofino, then put the beautiful west coast of BC at risk of a major oil spill? Continue reading

No pipelines, no tankers, no problems!

The Carnival Marching Band was belting out tunes last Saturday as we began marching from City Hall. Five thousand people flooded the streets of Vancouver in advance of Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion plans. As we crossed the Cambie Street Bridge a massive chant rose up: “Hey hey, Trudeau, Kinder Morgan’s got to go!” It was exhilarating to be together with so many people who are determined to ensure that this pipeline is never built.

Coastal communities on the frontline
A Clayoquot Action contingent made our way down from Tofino to join this massive pipeline protest—because coastal communities like Tofino, Esowista, Ahousaht, and Hot Springs Cove are on the front lines. Long Beach is less than 50 kilometres from the proposed tanker route. This places Clayoquot Sound outside of K-M’s designated Enhanced Area of Response, which means if a spill were to occur, no assistance would be coming for the first 72 hours. Continue reading

MiningWatch heads into the Williams Lake court

Legal action over Mount Polley disaster

On October 18th, Clayoquot Action joined MiningWatch Canada in Williams Lake to support their launch of private prosecution against Imperial Metals and the BC government for the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster.

This legal action is supported by more than a dozen non-profit organizations including Wilderness Committee, Amnesty International, First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining (FNWARM), Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, Kamloops Area Preservation Association, and Sierra Club.

Largest mining disaster in Canadian history
The 25 million cubic metre spill near Likely was the largest in Canadian history. The sheer volume and velocity of the spill instantly killed fish, destroyed a 9 km section of Hazeltine Creek, filled both Polley and Quesnel Lakes with tons of toxic slurry mine waste, triggered drinking water bans, and significantly affected downstream livelihoods. Continue reading

Big summer for wild salmon!

It was a big summer for wild salmon. Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society donated their vessel, the R/V Martin Sheen, to BC biologist Alexandra Morton. Operation Virus Hunter was launched! The goal was to track farm salmon viruses and audit salmon farms along the Fraser wild salmon migration route.

Things ramped up in August when the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw chiefs (pictured above at a Vancouver rally) issued an eviction notice to all salmon farms in their territory, including Cermaq, the same Norwegian company operating in Clayoquot Sound. The Nation has been opposing salmon farms in their territory for decades. This summer Band Councillor Melissa Willie instructed by Chief Willie Moon to climb aboard a salmon farm to request a sample of the farm fish for testing. Their request was denied. Continue reading

Mining threat looms over Kamloops

(Editor: Imperial Metals, of Mount Polley infamy, is considering two mines in Clayoquot Sound. If they ever actually apply for a mine development permit, the clock begins ticking—local communities would have 6 months to participate in an Environmental Assessment process, which in BC has never refused a mine permit. Clayoquot Action invited Kamloops resident Dr. Ross Friedman to describe her experience with the EA process.)

KGHM Ajax Mining Inc. (a Polish-owned corporation) wants to dig a huge, noisy, dusty open-pit copper and gold mine near Kamloops, BC, a city of 90,000 people. The mine would be within 1.4 kilometres of the nearest residences, and within 2 kilometres from the nearest elementary school. Continue reading

Tore Bongo presents Alexandra Morton petition to King of Norway

Alta reflections

The indigenous people of northern Europe are called Sami. They are known for herding reindeer on the tundra. What we learned while in Norway is that the coastal Sami culture centres on wild salmon, much like coastal Natives in what is now called British Columbia. These two species, with their predictable migration patterns, provided the protein on which a rich culture was founded—the Sami.

The Alta River in northern Norway is famous. The stretches downstream of Northern Europe’s biggest canyon teem with big salmon, and have been a mecca of sports fishing for many years. The reindeer herds also come to the banks of the headwaters to calve in the rich pastures.

A major dam on the Alta River?
Back in 1970, the Norwegian government announced plans to build a major hydroelectric dam on the Alta River. Questions about the reindeer, the wild salmon, or interference with Sami rights were not even considered. What became known as the Alta Controversy began as a conflict between the Sami and the Norwegian government. The Sami village of Masi was to be flooded, and people rightly feared extensive disruption of the environment. Eventually the resistance morphed into a People’s Movement which became a nationwide flashpoint for a growing awareness of the need to protect the environment and uphold indigenous rights. Continue reading

Mass die-off at Clayoquot farms

The call came in at the end of a busy day last week: ‘Cermaq is experiencing a mass die-off at two of their farms in Clayoquot Sound’. By early morning the next day we had assembled a volunteer boat driver and photographer, sourced a donated water taxi, and raised the funds to fuel the boat and hire a videographer complete with drone. We set off in anticipation.

The first farm we got to didn’t seem to have any unusual activity, other than the whole Herbert Inlet was a weird murky turquoise. An employee boated over to photograph us, and a polite exchange followed. ‘We’re not sure what this colour is’, he said. ‘We’ve been seeing it for six weeks—could be Chryso’ (shorthand for Chrysochromulina, a species of algae).

The second farm we reached was the Millar Channel farm, just kilometres north of the site evicted by Ahousaht First Nations, after it was occupied by the Yaakswiis Warriors last September. There was a hum of activity: workers tossing dead salmon into totes, which were lifted and dumped into semi-trailers designed to haul away animal remains. The tubes sucking the dead fish (morts) from the pens were getting plugged up with the sheer numbers, and divers were in the pens unplugging them. Continue reading

Break Free 2016!

When I heard the call-out for Break Free 2016!—a global day of action against fossil fuels—I knew we had to go. The plan was to surround Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, with marchers on land and ‘kayaktivists’ on the water.

Kayaking is the whole reason I am an activist—a 1990 circumnavigation of Vancouver Island shocked me into realizing how little old-growth forest was left, and that Clayoquot Sound is the Last Great Rainforest on Vancouver Island. This led to my involvement in organizing the Clayoquot Summer 1993 blockades—and the rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading

BC Auditor General slams mining

Auditor General Carol Bellringer issued a scathing report after completing a two-year audit of mining regulation in British Columbia, writing “Almost all of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program were not met. The compliance and enforcement activities of both the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and the Ministry of Environment are not set up to protect the province from environmental risks.”

Bellringer’s report identified water contamination as the major risk to the environment from mining activities. This is especially critical in British Columbia, where water often supports populations of wild salmon. While government enforcement has been declining, the risk can only increase as lower grade ore bodies are mined, creating larger quantities of waste rock, which must be stored safely in perpetuity. Continue reading