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”.
Over 90% of Vancouver Island has been clearcut, leaving Clayoquot Sound as the Last Great Rainforest. It is the southernmost big rainforest left on the Pacific coast. There is a large area of old growth forest in the backcountry, the area known as iiḥmis (pristine valleys)—places like Sydney Valley, Pretty Girl Cove, Ursus River, and Flores Island. These unprotected valleys are contiguous with the Megin and Moyeha River, which are protected. Part of what makes Clayoquot Sound unique is not just the size of the rainforest, but the presence of valleys which have never seen industrial logging or road-building. These watersheds are hydrologically intact, and continue to function the way they were designed to by Nature. They provide critical habitat for large animals such as timber wolves and Roosevelt Elk, who need room to roam.
Wild salmon habitat
These wild rivers create spawning and rearing habitat for wild salmon, which in turn provide the nitrogen missing in the shallow, post-glacial soils. The salmon are spread through the forest by over a hundred species, collectively known as the salmon guild. Wildlife such as bears, eagles and even tiny wrens are all part of the salmon guild. This marine-based nitrogen is the secret ingredient which causes the monumental cedars to grow so big.
The Ahousaht Nation has recently launched a community Land Use Visioning process which intends to produce a set of management values designed to protect a traditional way of life while supporting a continued transition to a modern diversified sustainable economy. Ḥawiiḥ Tlaakiishwia, John Keitlah, stated “We must now sit down with all levels of government and find a solution that creates a truly prosperous sustainable future for our people”.
In these times of climate crisis, protecting ancient forests is an excellent way to store carbon over the long term. Logging accomplishes the exact opposite, releasing large amounts of carbon quickly. One can only hope that world leaders at the Paris climate summit in November will be as forward-thinking as the Ahousaht people.
Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.