TO many observers, Canada's rich carpet of forests looks vast enough to withstand any amount of logging.
Not to Colleen McCrory. A native of British Columbia, the province that supplies half of Canada's annual timber harvest, she scarcely notices the forests around her for all the missing trees.
This winner of a 1992 Goldman Environmental Prize, who is a single mother of three, says that both her province and her nation are at a crisis point that stems from overlogging and poor forest management.
Canada's rapid rate of deforestation, she says, is now very similar to that of Brazil. Just in British Columbia, she says, some 600,000 acres of trees are felled each year, more than the annual yield from all US national forests.
At considerable personal risk, Ms. McCrory has spent most of the last two decades trying to get more wilderness areas set aside in British Columbia. She urges Canadians everywhere to be alert to the dangers of overcutting their top export.
"I worked on that little dot for eight years," she says, pointing to a small green area on a map of British Columbia during a recent interview here. She says the Valhalla Society, which she helped to found in 1975 and currently chairs, finally persuaded government officials in 1983 to establish Valhalla Provincial Park, the green "dot" on her map. She went on to co-found the National Save South Moresby Committee, which in 1987 convinced authorities to establish a national marine reserve and park 1,000 mi les to the west in the Queen Charlotte Islands. McCrory says the two parks add up to "little shining glimmers of hope for what really needs to be done."
"We have some of the last and most spectacular wilderness areas left in the world ... but we're losing on so many fronts," McCrory explains. "Industry is pushing logging roads into areas we've identified as needing protection. I think our key success so far is in raising public awareness."
She grew up eating deer meat and macaroni as one in a family of nine children in the small village of New Denver in the heavily forested Valhalla Valley. Her environmental concern blossomed in the 1970s when she noticed that vast stretches of side valleys were being clearcut by loggers. "We realized it was only a matter of time before they came to the main valley," she says, recalling the start of the Valhalla Society.
The logging industry reacted strongly to the criticism against them with what she terms a "smear" campaign. Loggers said she and others were extremists bent on destroying jobs. Her children were harrassed. Eventually she was forced to liquidate the small clothing business she owned.
"People quit shopping in my store," she says. "It was a well-organized hate campaign that's been going on for years."
McCrory insists she is not against logging. Indeed, she argues that if forests are felled at the current pace and under present conditions, loggers will work themselves out of a job. "It's a matter of having respect for the forests so you don't destroy the whole ecosystem," she explains.
McCrory also argues that more efficient management of the forests, including further processing of timber within Canada before export, could also do much to save jobs.
Still, in her view, better management is no substitute for the need to preserve more areas of natural beauty as living museums.
"They're taking down too much," she says of the loggers. "We need a balance that allows parts of the ecosystem not to be logged at all."
McCrory's forest interests are increasingly national these days. In the last two years, she has campaigned vigorously against an influx of large new pulp mills across northern Canada.
Recently she helped form an umbrella group of concerned Canadians called the Future Forest Alliance. Her dream, she says, is to preserve 12 percent of Canada's land base as wilderness.