Calling Bullshit on Island Timberlands

Cortes Island
Photo by Island Light

Action Alert: Island Timberlands is preparing to log the forests of Cortes Island, near Campbell River.

As Michael Tippett notes, Cortes Island is a “birthplace of the green movement,” a cradle for Greenpeace in its early days, and home to the influential eco-wellness institute Hollyhock. And Island Timberlands is owned by a Wall Street investment firm.

The green movement vs. Wall Street? This fight is going to be epic.

Island residents have repelled invaders before, but this time it looks serious. For decades, corporations have labeled the forests on Cortes Island “socially inoperable” because of local opposition. Now they’re ramping up the pressure to get the timber out.

Cortes is home to sensitive wetlands, rare species and wild animals, who, through no fault of their own, live on private forestland. That land is now owned by Island Timberlands, which in turn is owned by Brookfield Asset Management, a Wall Street investment company.

In 2011, the good people of Cortes Island hosted a weekend workshop to get together and strategize. It was announced weeks in advance in the island newsletter. That’s how Island Timberlands got wind of it. The company quickly set up a public relations schmooze-fest to try and preempt this community gathering.

But things didn’t go quite as planned.

Island Timberlands office Nanaimo
Island Timberlands office, 65 Front Street, Nanaimo. Photo: Google

When the corporate manager arrived by ferry, a sixty-person “welcoming committee” greeted him at the dock with a noise parade, improvised instruments, and lot of “cheering.” The poor schmuck I.T. sent was so undone by this display of free expression that he called the RCMP, who arrived shortly after. (There were no charges, except to the taxpayer, and the RCMP soon departed.)

The schmuck in question – operations dude Wayne French of Nanaimo – was completely unprepared for the “public relations” part of the job.

Wayne French, operations manager
Saturday morning’s walk and talk was set up as a casual getting-to-know-you thing. We met on a dirt road, an easement into I.T.’s private forests. The temperature was mild, the atmosphere was relaxed, and the residents were chatting and joking. Except poor Wayne, who seemed a little tense.

Twenty of us were standing around talking when Wayne freaked out. “You can’t film here!” he barked at a young man with a camera. Everyone turned to look.

“There are people who can’t be here today, seniors and disabled people, and I’m filming it for them,” the young man said. He looked Wayne right in the eye and held the camera steady.

Wayne got louder. “This is private land and I’m telling you, you can’t do that here,” he hollered.

“But you invited the public,” someone piped up. “Yep, public events can be filmed,” agreed another.

The younger man kept the camera’s glass eye aimed at Wayne. “I’m making a record for the people who can’t be here.”

Wayne got red in the face and he gestured violently. “Turn that off, I’m telling you!” The islander didn’t move.

Wayne wound up for another blast, stomping and flailing, and he accidentally set off the alarm on his truck. Two dogs were locked inside, and they started barking and howling and jumping at the windows. Wayne couldn’t shut off the alarm. He aimed the key fob like a TV remote, frantically pressing with his thumb, but it kept sounding. Finally, he had to get in the truck and start the engine. Then the klaxon fell silent and the dogs sat back. Wayne shut off the motor and climbed out.

We all stood there looking at Wayne. He looked around at us, and there was a long awkward silence, which I broke.

“Of course you don’t want to be filmed today, because I.T. doesn’t want to be bound by anything you tell us. Because you guys want to be able to change your minds and do something else if you want,” I said.

“Yes, that’s right,” he replied sharply.

So there you have it.

It was just so much bullshit, although no one said that to Wayne’s face, because we are too polite.

The young man continued to film.  The public relations disaster was just beginning.

People had questions that Wayne mostly evaded with vague answers, like you’d give to a demanding pre-schooler. “That’ll be up to the faller,” he kept saying. “We’ll see what gets decided.”

Several people pressed him to talk about the wetland, ringed by big cedars. There, he did come up with a definite answer: A buffer zone would protect it. “The riparian zone is marked,” he told us. This meant there would be no logging next to the marsh and the watercourses.

We were prepared to ground-truth his statements, so we trooped through the woods and across the streams and down through the towering cedars into the swamp. Once we got there, the flagging tape told a different story. Residents saw the riparian zone markers fluttering in the marsh and realized this wetland wasn’t even on the map. The flagging tape and the maps said the big cedars were going to fall.

The residents turned to Wayne for an explanation. He backpedaled furiously. “This is not the final map,” he blurted. “It’s taken from a twenty-year-old ortho photo.”

“We can all agree this is a wetland though, right?” one woman insisted. Standing ankle-deep in the marsh, Wayne agreed, carefully.

Island Timberlands owns big sections of Cortes Island. I.T., in turn, is owned by Brookfield Asset Management (BAM), a Wall Street investment firm. Coincidentally – or not – BAM also owns Zucotti Park, the site of the original Occupy Wall Street camp. Yes, these are the same 1%ers who evicted people from the park. They are corporate raiders out to liquefy any assets they can, including old-growth forests.

In exchange for clearcutting the island, the corporation is dangling the possibility of a few short-term jobs. That’s it. That’s all. No parkland, no amenities, nothing. I’m betting local people will not get those jobs.

Artwork for I.T.

The residents of Cortes Island have pushed back every time the corporate dudes showed up to tell them the forest was going to be logged. The dudes got sent off with a message: don’t try it.

This time, though, the pressure is mounting. Cortesians fear that the company won’t back down and they will have to put themselves on the line.

Local environmental group Wildstands has tried every reasonable path to preserving the big trees and watercourses. It opened negotiations to purchase the land (I.T. won’t sell, not even for double the market value) and launched a petition that already has almost 5000 signatures – not bad for an island of a thousand people! Next, they’re calling for people to come and bear witness.

Meanwhile, another group is recruiting and training legal observers. Island Stance emphasises that observers aren’t protestors; they monitor human rights in encounters between the public and the police.

Who owns the land? Or does the land own us? Will everyone who loves Cortes Island obey the corporate managers? Or will they obey their conscience? Will they give in to authority, or stand up for their island’s wildlife and ecosystems?

We’ll find out. See you there!

WildStands at Occupy Wall Street, January 2012


As of spring 2014, Island Timberlands has not started logging its holdings on Cortes Island. The company has quietly withdrawn – until next time.


Filed under Environment, Zoe Blunt

18 Responses to Calling Bullshit on Island Timberlands

  1. David Williams, President, Friends of the Nemaiah Valley

    Well done, Zoe. We have lived on and owned land on Cortes for many years. It is a special place deserving of better treatment than it gets from robber baron corporations like Island Timberlands. Of course, much of the root of the problem is the wholesale shipment of whole logs offshore. time to put an end to this. Time. also, to put an end to foreign ownership of our forest lands.

  2. Becky Knutson, Cortes Island, BC

    Thank you so much, Zoe, for such a great post. I really love the video clips! It gives just a glimpse of our beautiful home and the many wonderful, conscientious people here. I wasn’t able to be there that day, so I am grateful there was documentation both so I could see it but it also bears witness. Thank you for coming to visit our island and thank you for your spirit! Great workshop facilitator, as well.

  3. Thank-you for furthering this cause. Your voice is so important to me and others that can’t be there. Cortes is my home and always will be even though I’m on the other side of the world.

  4. As a third generation Cortesian I had to move away to support my family. Actions like these are unsustainable, especially on a small Island like Cortes. Your actions online are noticed and noted.

    I hope to move back some day in the future and fully support the restricting of large clear cuts.

    -Jake Sherlock

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  6. How does one connect with Cortes Islanders to help? I’m located in Nanaimo and have lots of friends who would just love to turn up to any event in Nanaimo and some who would be able to travel to Cortes

  7. Thank you for all your comments. This is kind of going viral, so please pass it on!

    Sarah: The links are in the article.

  8. Brett

    All the best to you Cortes – may you rid yourself of Island Timberland – we are needing to deal with them in our own community here on the Sunshine Coast. It seems the same story wherever they are…..

  9. As investors begin to feel the effects of the financial ‘crash’ they will do anything to maintain the material properties of which they feel is their right, monies that they have not truly earned, but acquired through the artificial transferring of stocks, bonds and other nebulous forms of currency. Wetlands are the lungs of our earth. Let’s breathe together with the bogs and marshes and maybe those humans who don’t understand this intrinsic connection yet will feel the wind of change and decide to let go of their stuff and start loving the earth instead of money.
    In the meantime, please keep me posted. I want to support all actions you do towards protecting Cortes forests and wetlands.

  10. RBreyer

    First off I’ve lived on Cortes most of my life …. This is not an OLD GROWTH FOREST. Its second and third growth trees Many of which are severly diseased. The Campaign is about some wealthy americans who want to purchase the private land for their personal estates. The Land is ZONED FORESTRY and cannot be developed. Having a forest management plan thats spread out over 100 years is not forest liquidation. Its Sustainable Forestry that includes restoration work on unhealthy forest patches. The proof is on the ground…. A forest is still standing After 70 years of a logging and replanting by yes a forest company.
    There’s nothing sensitive about the wetlands or forests on Cortes Island.
    It is a resiliant environment. Just look for the ancient stumps in the regrown forest…. your pretending to save….
    Alot of Money is being spent on this HATE campaign. Alot of DISHONEST information is being produced….
    Where’s the transparency of the campaigners?

    [Editor’s note: Full disclosure – I did get paid for my travel to Cortes Island in 2011. I got $50. Other than that, I’m a volunteer, same as everyone else. I sent a note to asking what his connection to the industry is. He’s been slandering us all over the internet, and we’re wondering why. ]

  11. fred

    Hey there RBREYER ! No hate campaigner here… actually there is a lot of compassion and understanding being shared by many of the people involved . As for the old growth, you are partially right . Most of the private forest quarter sections are 70 to 120 yrs old depending on preemption and the families that did the clearing but many quarter sec. have small pockets of old growth that were left for what ever reason . The largest of these ‘pockets’ is close to twenty acres!! Wanna go look? It is really quite lovely to see!! There are some pocket on almost every old home stead… and yes big old so -called ‘diseased’ trees just because they had a fungal infection and were not good for lumber!! If you want to have meaningful dialog please contact me or if you want to walk some forest land just ask around , it easy and talk to any one of the many people here on Cortes who have taken the time to expand their awareness and to do objective research and listen to the history of the islands forestry and then go for a walk ‘n’ talk ! eh! what!? peace!

  12. Philippe Poree-Kurrer

    Is anybody can tell how and for how much Brookfield Asset Management (Chairman Marcel R, Coutu is also President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. and Chairman of Syncrude Canada Ltd., both involved in what is called the biggest ecological scandal of our times) takes property of all this land in B.C ?
    How the Crown Land has it become their land? And who zoned it “forestry”?
    Now, RBreyer, can you explain us why some extremly wealthy Canadians would not let some “wealthy americans” purchase the private land for their personal estates ? WHY ?

  13. a forestry student

    my 2 cents…
    this is a good opportunity for Hollyhock, the Buddhist monastery and the Cortes Ecoforestry Society to partner and run a sustainable logging operation, should they ever get the nod to purchase the lands at market value from IT. Check out Windhorse Farm in Nova Scotia for a wonderful example of a forest/holistic center that has been sustainably logged for 160 years, and has a wonderful forest still. Nice folks too!

    Also, IT’s corporate headquarters are out of 555 Burrard in Vancouver I believe. Their main operations come out of a patch of land just outside Parksville. The Nanaimo office is middle management, so you might want to start bugging the folks in Vancouver.

    Lastly, as for riparian zones, the forest company will say they will have riparian management areas marked out, but something to keep in mind is the guidelines for this; They have Reserve Zone where no logging/industry can happen, followed by a Management Zone where logging operations can happen as long as they do not affect the reserve zone in any way. There are guidelines to how big these zones need to be based off the size and type of wetland or stream the zones surround. The important factor though is that the distance is measured as _slope distance_, not _horizontal distance_. This means if you have a stream/river cut deep into a gully which has walls 10m tall, those 10m may be the entire reserve zone, meaning they can log right up to the edge of the gulley. Any logging company not wanting to go to jail though would make sure that therefore the management zone is extended so there’s no risk of affecting the riparian zone. But… who is policing that? I don’t believe the logging company has a third party doing the flagging where they can and can’t operate, so we just have to trust how they assess these sensitive riparian areas.

  14. Conrad

    I can answer part of the question as to how this land became “private”. The Cortes land owned now by Island Timberlands was initially purchased by H.R. MacMillan in the early 1900’s. This is the same MacMillan who was one of the founders of MacMillan & Blodel which has since become part of Weyerhauser. H.R. MacMillan was working as Chief Forester and head of the BC Forest Service for the BC government at the time of this purchase. He apparently negotiated the sale of much crown forest land to his own company for vey low cost. I’m not a legal expert but in this day and age I believe this would be called a conflict of interest?

  15. Lavonne

    Can someone clear up for me the conflicting info that Island Timberlands and Timberwest have been bought from Brookfield Assets Management by bcInvestment Management Corporation, managers of many pension plans, like the BC Teachers’?

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  18. Lee Nielsen

    I am a CANADIAN, which means the land they want to harvest for profit is MINE, and I say NO!

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