Clear-Cutting of Rain Forest Faces Restraints
CLAYOQUOT SOUND, B.C., AND TORONTO — THE mountain was once covered with ancient rain forest. Now many locals refer to it as Kojak after the bald-headed television character.
Scenes like this one on Vancouver Island's western shore have spawned a worldwide campaign to save what remains of British Columbia's temperate rain forest.
Environmentalists won a major victory toward that end on July 6 when the province's government approved wholesale reforms of logging practices in the area that has become the center of the controversy - Clayoquot Sound.
"There's no question Clayoquot has a symbolic power globally," says Jerry Franklin, a forestry expert from Seattle's University of Washington who sat on the scientific panel that recommended the reforms.
The new practices will not end logging, but the rate of cut appears sure to slow dramatically in an effort to protect the forest's biodiversity, ranging from rare plants and animals to salmon-bearing streams and microorganisms in the soil.
But there are already signs that the battle over Canadian forests is far from over. Sharon Chow of the Sierra Club of Western Canada says greater protection of Clayoquot Sound, though a big step forward, is not enough.
"We have to apply this technique to the whole of British Columbia," she says. Green groups have dubbed the province "the Brazil of the North" because of its comparable rate of deforestation - 75 million cubic meters of wood annually. (Clayoquot Sound represents less than 3 percent of that.) The province's major forest-products firms, such as MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., insist that the new practices were designed specifically for Clayoquot Sound and are not intended to spread provincewide.
Even in the sound, conflict may be brewing again. Valerie Langer, leader of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, says "we might be blockading" if negotiations with MacMillan Bloedel fail to stop the company from logging in Shark Creek. Ms. Langer says the company should voluntarily withdraw from the area because of the government's July 6 decision. More broadly, she adds, if the new guidelines are not implemented, blockades could follow.
The prospect of more protests is frustrating to many local residents, who have grown tired of the tension between loggers and conservationists. Major standoffs with timber companies occurred in 1984 and in 1993, when protesters were arrested for sitting on an active logging road.
Gary Patrucco, a forester in MacMillan Bloedel's Clayoquot Sound branch, says he is growing tired of being constantly "under the gun" from environmentalists.
He notes that significant changes had been made before the government's adoption of the practices recommended by a scientific panel commissioned two years ago to come up with a plan for the sound. The industry's current maximum size for clear-cuts is 100 acres - far smaller than "Kojak." And a new provincewide forest-practices code strengthens protection for streams.
Some loggers sympathetic
Looking over a small clear-cut from atop a pile of slash, logger Bill Critchlow says, "In 10 years time, it'll look like that piece up there." He points to a hillside covered by young green trees.
The MacMillan Bloedel worker sees a dialogue with the green groups as healthy. "They do have some valid points. The companies have been getting their way for too long," he says. The current situation is an industry "opportunity ... to grow beyond the old image" of carelessness. But in the end, Mr. Critchlow worries that critics "live in a dream world," ignoring logging's important role in the province's economy.
"Who's going to pay for all of this [reduction in cutting]?" he asks.
The provincial government is projecting that new practices will be more labor-intensive, so that a lower rate of cut need not mean fewer jobs. The companies logging the sound (MacMillan Bloedel and International Forest Products Ltd., known as Interfor) have pledged to retain current employment levels.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, argue that tourism - already the province's largest employer with 105,000 jobs in 1993 - can only thrive if beautiful scenery is preserved.
Their main argument, however, is over biodiversity, not aesthetics. Second-growth forests (what grows back after cutting) are inferior as wildlife habitat and will have less genetic diversity than old-growth forests, environmentalists argue.
Most of the world's original temperate rain forest has already been cut. Most of what remains is in Alaska and British Columbia, and is being logged rapidly.
"A lot of people in Europe, one of Canada's main markets, are watching what happens here very closely," says Mr. Franklin of the University of Washington.
Last year Greenpeace International conducted an intense campaign directed at European consumers of British Columbia pulp and paper. Environmentalists dramatized their point by dragging along a flatbed trailer with a huge red-cedar stump from Clayoquot called "Stumpie."
In Britain, threats of consumer boycotts have already led the British subsidiary of Scott Paper Company to cancel a $5 million contract with MacMillan Bloedel.
In the United States, Greenpeace and other groups have taken aim at consumers in the publishing industry, including the New York Times and telephone-directory makers GTE and the Pacific Telesis Group. Such pressure on the financial bottom line may explain the muted public reaction from companies affected by the adoption of the panel's 120 recommendations.
"We intend to meet the challenge" of the new standards, said Bob Findlay, MacMillan Bloedel's chief executive officer, after the government's decision. The new practices offer hope to the logging companies that the environmental-boycott push will end. But green groups are likely to keep the tool in their arsenal.
"It's not government pressure keeping these companies at the table discussing these issues. It's financial pressure," says Vicky Husband of the Sierra Club of Western Canada.
Political pressure also has played a big role in Clayoquot Sound, others say. Marilyn Burgoon of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee says she remembers well the provincial political impact of the "Clayoquot summer" of 1993, when her 18-year-old-daughter, Vanessa, was among the arrested blockaders. It was those arrests, Ms. Burgoon says, that caused the government to appoint the panel, whose report has "vindicated" the protesters.
"If you're in a hole, there's no use digging a bigger hole," adds environmentalist Chow, referring to Premier Michael Harcourt's decision to go along with the panel. He is struggling to regain public popularity with less than a year to go before provincial elections.
Key panel recommendations adopted last week include:
*A planning process focused on which trees should be retained, rather than which will be removed. Site-specific recommendations will take into account biodiversity requirements.
*No logging in pristine watersheds until scientific assessments have been made.
*Restrictions on road construction and stronger protection for streams.
*An expanded role for native tribes in managing forests. Indians make up half the sound's population but currently control only 4 percent of the land.