Environmentalists, Pro-Timber Forces Clash in Media Glare

HOW did a land-use decision erupt into an international media event? The decision was intended to set an example for the nation as a carefully drawn community-based process of negotiations.

To the timber company MacMillan Bloedel and its supporters, the daily displays of civil disobedience are an attempt by environmentalists to do an end run around talks in which they took part.

``We've been talking for four years and they've had every opportunity to participate fully,'' says Mike Morton, head of Share British Columbia, a community organization that supports continued logging in the area.

The environmental representative on a 21-person ``shared decisionmaking'' commission on land-use walked out in frustration in 1991.

The commission also included representatives from timber, fishing, and other industries, local towns, and government. In the end, mining, tourism, and one local town were at odds with the commission majority, leaving the government to make a decision on its own.

Scott Alexander, a spokesman for MacMillan Bloedel, says the controversy is ``all about whether we will allow a [negotiating] process to come to fruition.''

But it is also about political and media savvy - and the determination of environmentalists who say the ``process'' was stacked against them.

In addition to its widely publicized civil-disobedience campaign, environmentalists and native peoples have been visited by environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr., son of the former United States attorney general, and the Australian rock band Midnight Oil.

Both events generated press coverage.

The pro-timber forces, feeling jilted by the media, fought back last month with a ``rendezvous'' that drew about 5,000 people to the small town of Ucluelet.

Timber boosters sport yellow ribbons on their car radio antennae, and a bumper sticker reads: ``Hug a Logger. You'll never go back to trees.''

While both sides try to garner favorable press coverage, sending spokespeople to each morning's blockade, both also have chinks in their image armor.

The environmentalists' ``peace camp'' boasts its share of wide-eyed students, many of whom seem to be relatively uninformed about the issues at stake. One young man from the other side of the island says he was attracted by the ``good people.'' He added ``and the cause'' as a half-hearted afterthought.

MacMillan Bloedel stands to lose from the vast clear-cuts that mar the region's landscape. Though company officials insist this is a thing of the past (new rules mandate smaller clear-cuts), a poster on MacMillan's branch-office wall still bears the slogan: ``We came. We sawed. We conquered.''

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