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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.

Ahousaht logging moratorium

On October 28, the ʔaahuusʔatḥ ḥawiiḥ (hereditary chiefs of Ahousaht) announced a moratorium on industrial scale logging in their ḥaaḥuułi (traditional territory), effective immediately.

There are two main Tree Farm Licenses in the area, TFL 54 and 57. Over the past 20 years the logging of ancient rainforests within these TFLs has often created conflicts with Ahousaht traditional values, and with recognized conservation interests. Tyee Ḥawiiḥ Maquinna (Lewis George) announced that “the end has come to the large scale logging operations of the past that leave much to be desired in the way of long lasting environmental footprint and very little community benefit”. Continue reading

Still logging Clayoquot Sound

I never expected to end up in maximum security prison when I moved to Tofino in 1988. I had just finished my fourth season of tree planting—I knew what would happen to Clayoquot Sound’s rainforest if something didn’t change, soon. People often ask what brought me to Tofino. “My Volkswagen van,” I quip, but really it was the big trees, which I had fallen in love with as a teenager back in 1979. Continue reading

Meares Island Big Tree Trail near Tofino

Lights, Camera, Clayoquot Action!

Clayoquot Action was stoked to host and coordinate logistics for filmmakers Jacob Wise and Rebecca Billings from Ithaca, New York. The pair are working to create two feature-length documentaries about the ancient rainforests of Vancouver Island.

The first film will be an investigative piece about the rainforest and associated environmental issues. The second will be a nonverbal documentary that evokes the wonder and beauty of this sadly endangered environment. The two films will work as companion pieces to each other.

In March, they spent 17 days on Vancouver Island gathering footage, and are currently back to complete the task. While in Tofino they were able to join a traditional dugout canoe tour with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations member Tsimka Martin. They also attended Clayoquot Action’s Clayoquot Summer 20 Years After presentation, joined a whale watching tour, and got to fly over Clayoquot Sound on a classically beautiful summer day! Continue reading

Leanne Hodges’ Clayoquot Wolf

When Clayoquot Action began looking for an artist to design our logo this spring, our high dream was to ask Leanne Hodges, a signature member to the Artists for Conservation Society, if she could help out. Leanne is a talented artist, naturalist, and wild salmon warrior. With characteristic enthusiasm she agreed, and asked what sort of image we were thinking of.

One image kept surfacing—a coastal wolf with a wild coho spawner in its mouth. Leanne has worked as a fisheries guardian in Clayoquot Sound. She first witnessed wolves teaching their pups to eat chum salmon while stream-walking in Mosquito Harbour on Meares Island Tribal Park—a memorable experience! Continue reading

west coast kids near tar sands

Ocean Beaches, Tar Sands


John Rampanen is a member of Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations. He lives with his family on the land in Clayoquot Sound. They are currently visiting northern Alberta.

I come from a world away. Pristine waters cascade down scarred mountainsides into seemingly endless ocean waters. I am Nuu-chah-nulth. My people have forged a life on the bountiful western coast of Vancouver Island since time immemorial. Recent history has introduced a plethora of environmental concerns stemming from the over-exploitation of natural resources. Forestry, fishing, mining… these are the profanities uttered unto our land that have continuously caused audacious destruction to the land, waters, animals and peoples.

Today, I am in a foreign land. A visitor that has retraced the steps of my wife’s Cree lineage to the marshy woodlands of northern Alberta. My home is on the ocean-side but her roots run deep throughout this territory. Together we seek out knowledge and truth from a way of life that is nearly forgotten. As we walk upon this strange and altered land we pick up little bits and pieces of a world that was once full of life and beauty. A way of life that was once in tune with the surrounding environment. We quickly discover that these two worlds are not so different.

Our arrival in Northern Alberta is ushered in with torrential downpours of rain. A blessing for us, as it reminds us of home and the ocean, but in this far off land it is an omen and is met with fear and uncertainty by the locals. As the waters rise, so too does our consciousness. Tarsands development, profit before land and people, destruction of the lands and waters comes at an unexpected price. Earth Mother has a way of reminding us that we are not always in control. There are powers beyond our measure… powers that have the means to correct manmade mistakes… and that power has awoken.

naas-a-thluk “takes care of the day”
(John Rampanen)
Spring/Summer 2013

http://www.healingwalk.org. On July 5-6 people will come together from coast to coast to join First Nations and Metis in the Healing Walk, a gathering focused on healing the environment and the people who are suffering from tar sands expansion. 
#IdleNoMore #INM #SovSummer #HealingWalk

Run the WildSide

Run the WildSide

Clayoquot Action had a blast on the WildSide 10 km walk on Flores Island. Tara Atleo, Ahousaht First Nations member and WildSide Trail manager, describes the event. You don’t need to wait until next year’s Trail Run to enjoy the WildSide. Head up to Ahousat this summer! wildsidetrail.com 

On June 22rd, 2013 the 2nd Annual Run the WildSide trail run was hosted in the Ahousaht village of Maaqtusiis.  The events this year included a 10km run/walk, and a newly added 22km half marathon, which took runners across the entire length of the WildSide Trail. Sixty seven runners took part in both events, with a higher number participating from Ahousaht and Hesquiaht thanks to some community training programs leading up to the events.

The idea to host a run on the WildSide Trail came in 2010 when the office was first opened as a community development project aimed at creating a cultural eco-tourism industry in Ahousaht.  The idea didn’t come to life, however, until 2011, when well-known Ahousaht athlete and runner Travis Thomas joined the WildSide staff and was asked to spearhead the event coordination for 2012.  The First Annual Trail Run brought 65 participants, 54 of which were from outside of the community. The event was a success, and the feedback from participants gave us confidence to continue planning it as an annual event.

The main goal of this event is to share the trail and territories with visitors in a new way, as well as promote health, wellness, and use of the trail in the community.  The success of the events could not have been achieved without the help of the volunteers and sponsors, who helped us to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all participants.  We are grateful for all of the support, and look forward to seeing everyone again next year!

Tara Atleo
WildSide Trail Manager
@wildsidetrail

Clayoquot Sound sea kayakers in Tofino harbour. Sander Jain photo.

Introducing Clayoquot Action

Joe Foy, the Wilderness Committee’s National Campaign Director, has been the driving force behind many of their campaigns, including the Stein and Carmanah Valleys. Joe’s passion for the wild is inspired and informed by the thousands of hours he has spent exploring BC’s wild places.

There are few places on the planet that vibrate with an awe-inspiring abundance of life in the way that Clayoquot Sound does.

Moss-hung ancient forests grace the land, with some trees as tall as a skyscraper, as wide as your living room and as old as a European cathedral. Clayoquot’s many bays and inlets team with fish, seabirds and whales. Black bears roll rocks on the beaches, looking for tasty seafood snacks.

When European traders first sailed into Clayoquot Sound in the 18th century, Nuu-chah-nulth villages had already been there for many centuries.

Several decades ago, the Nuu-chah-nulth people launched a successful court challenge to prevent logging that threatened the forests of Meares Island. Around the same time the Tofino-based group Friends of Clayoquot Sound was formed to counter the push by multi-national logging companies who wanted to clearcut the region.

The 1990s saw the largest anti-logging protests in Canadian history happening in Clayoquot Sound.

Today, new threats stalk Clayoquot. Oil tanker traffic, salmon farms and industrial mine proposals threaten to undo the good work of generations of Clayoquot defenders.

But now, 20 years after Clayoquot Summer 1993, a new local group – Clayoquot Action – has been formed to help face these new challenges head on. Clayoquot Action’s founders, Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck, were key organizers of those 1990s protests. For the past 25 years they have lived in Clayoquot Sound as keen kayakers, naturalists and ecotourism operators. Dan and Bonny know that although environmental challenges are global by nature, the best place to bring about change is locally, at the community level.

Clayoquot Sound is such a special place. And with the help of Clayoquot Action – may it ever remain so.

Please support Clayoquot Action’s efforts generously through the giving of your time and/or donations.

For the wild…
Joe Foy
Wilderness Committee National Campaign Director