Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


New War of the Woods shaping up in B.C. forests

April 9, 2003

The 2003 version promises to be as fractious as 1993’s, but the outcome is unclear

New War of the Woods shaping up in B.C. forests: The 2003 version promises to be as fractious as 1993’s, but the outcome is unclear

Ten years ago, an estimated 10,000 people showed up in Clayoquot Sound to protest a land-use decision that recommended continued old-growth logging in the area.

More than 800 got themselves arrested for blocking a logging road, and it has since been declared the largest episode of civil disobedience in Canadian history.

There is a real danger that the province might see this again. After a two-year hiatus, environmental groups have served notice that they are now considering a resurrection of global market campaigns against B.C. forest products, in about six months time.

What happened?

Mostly, a 180-degree change in government attitude brought on by an election two years ago. In the words of one veteran industry participant:

“This is completely to be expected. We have gone back in time in B.C., largely because of the behaviour of this government. They now see the issues as ‘the communities, the heartland, and the government — all doing the right thing, creating jobs. And then there’s these environmental wackos….’ “

A veteran on the other side of the fence puts it another way:

“A lot of this has been brought on because of the government’s style. They don’t like the enviros. There are people in the B.C. government who think that in order to protect rural B.C. they should stick their fingers in the eyes of the environmental movement. Ideology begets ideology.”

Welcome to the 2003 episode of the War in the Woods, or the Empire Strikes Back. It promises to be every bit as fractious as the 1993 version, although the issues are much different and the results perhaps not as certain as environmental groups might think.

So far, environmental groups have done nothing more than fire a shot across the bow of the government, and appear to be giving it some time to clean up its act. It’s a bit like a union taking a strike vote in order to speed up negotiations.

But there are two flashpoints, either of which could trigger a return to the fractious climate of the mid-1990s sooner rather than later. One is the future of the Joint Solutions Project set up to deal with issues in the so-called Great Bear Rainforest, the other is the fate of the NDP-created (and Liberal government-threatened) South Chilcotin Park near Lillooet.

The Great Bear Rainforest — legally known as the Central Coast — is under a logging moratorium scheduled to expire in June. But the planning process agreed to in the 2001 truce remains unfinished, and scientific reports on various eco-system-based logging techniques also aren’t finished.

As BusinessBC forestry reporter Gordon Hamilton pointed out Tuesday, the companies are prepared to hold off logging despite the end of the moratorium, and Sustainable Resource Management Minister Stan Hagen has reiterated the government’s commitment to the process.

But is that commitment real, or just lip service? Environmental groups argue that consultation must be more than just “tell us what you think and we’ll go away and make a decision.”

Environmentalists see the Great Bear Rainforest Joint Solutions approach as a good model for the rest of the province. It’s no accident that last week’s announcement said the revived marketing campaign will target the rest of the province, not the coast. If this falls apart — watch for a declaration of war.

The second flashpoint is the South Chilcotin Park. Created by the NDP in its dying days, this park has been a huge target for the mining industry, which has spent a great deal of time and effort trying to convince the Liberal caucus that it must reverse that decision and open it up for mining.

Apparently a majority of the Liberal caucus has been convinced that the miners are right, and only a last minute intervention by senior ministers kept the move to reverse the park decision from going through to a cabinet meeting last fall. Reversal of this decision would be seen by environmentalists as a betrayal of the first order, and the war would be on.

Superimposed over all of this is the provincial government’s new-era forest program which, among other things, talks of establishing a permanent working forest. The term “working forest” is seen as an “in your face” approach to environmentalists, much like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Assuming there is no change in attitude from Victoria, and the war is launched, would environmental groups be as successful this time as they were with the Clayoquot issue?

Maybe not. There are issues that should give the environmental groups something to think about.

First, forest practices in B.C. are light years better now than they were a decade ago, especially on the coast, and there have been significant cut reductions. The old rape-and-pillage arguments don’t hold water any more. Most companies have put their operations through a comprehensive certification process to meet international standards that, although themselves attacked by environmentalists, make it harder to make the Darth Vader image stick.

And the province has set aside about 13 per cent of its land base as parks or wilderness reserves – creating so much extra parkland that the government doesn’t have the resources to properly manage it.

Second, and perhaps most important, customers are much more sophisticated and knowledgeable about environmental issues than they were a decade ago – and they can’t be snowed or intimidated any more.

At a certification conference in Vancouver only two weeks ago, representatives from Staples, Lowes and Time Inc. Paperco laid out comprehensive corporate environmental programs that look at virtually every aspect of their operations from the ground up. So complete were the presentations that they sparked a comment that the customers have actually surpassed the environmental groups in their understanding of the issues and what is required to deal with them.

If things go badly in the next few months, it appears the people of the province will be treated to a battle between a pair of dinosaurs — Brontosaurus Liberal, with a “you’re either with us against us” approach to consultation, versus Tyrannosaurus Green, with its equally ideological reliance on scare-mongering and gross exaggeration.

Trouble is, when dinosaurs roll around in the dirt a lot of innocent bystanders get squashed.