Category Archives: Environment

Kwakiutl: “We are going to start fighting”

Tue, 13 Feb 2007

Victoria, BC: Kwakiult First Nations and supporters rally for land rights. (Photo: Dani Rubin)

First Nations chiefs put the government on notice

“Our world is falling apart,” Basil Ambers, a hereditary chief of the Kwakiutl First Nation, warned the crowd. “Everything we hold dear is gradually eroding away.”

“We are putting you on notice that we are going to start fighting for those things.”

The Kwakiutl and their supporters gathered in Victoria, BC on February 12 , 2007 to protest a government-approved land transfer. The deal between Western Forest Products and the province would take private land out of three Tree Farm Licenses on northern Vancouver Island, including over 1400 hectares claimed by the Kwakiutl. Almost a hundred people, most of them native, filed into the traditional longhouse outside the BC Museum.

After building a fire in the longhouse, two dozen people in tribal regalia lined up to beat drums, dance and sing traditional songs. The drummers led the crowd to the steps of the Legislature, where the Kwakiutl held a press conference.

It was a slow walk, the sun was mild and the breeze was balmy. But Andrews looked grim as he addressed the crowd: “It seems like we always have to get together because of things the white folks have done to us,” he said. “This is not the first time for our tribe, or the first time across Canada. They have been doing too many things to us that we can’t ignore.”

The hereditary chiefs, band councillors and elders, along with some of their children and grandchildren, drove from Port Hardy to Victoria to make a statement about aboriginal rights on their land. Despite promises from BC Premier Gordon Campbell about a “new relationship” with First Nations, they say nothing has changed.

In the 1850’s, the Douglas Treaties secured aboriginal rights for First Nations on Vancouver Island. The treaty declared First Nations could continue hunting, fishing, and gathering plants on their traditional territory, and that village sites would be respected.

But the Crown breached the treaty when it made land grants to private individuals, the natives say. Until now, some of the private lands claimed by Western Forest Products, a giant logging company, were managed under a provincial Tree Farm Licence. Western Forest Products has applied to take the land back in order to log it and sell it off to developers. The province has quietly agreed to transfer 28,000 hectares (70,000 acres.)

Western Forest Products plans to sell an undisclosed amount of the property for housing and recreation use to help pay off its roughly $200-million debt.

“The prime driver and the prime reason why we’ve been looking at doing this is the company has a high debt level and we still have a very high interest rate on that debt,” company president and CEO Reynold Hert told the Victoria Times-Colonist on January 31.

Western Forest Products stands to make millions on the “log it and flog it” deal. But the natives get no economic benefit from the resource extraction on their land. And according to Rupert Wilson, a Kwakiutl Band Councillor, the Kwakiutl have nowhere to go.

“The whole treaty area – a lot of it has been given away by government. We are surrounded on all sides in Port Rupert,” Wilson said. “There’s no land left. There’s no economic development and people are having a hard time.”

“It’s time we really look at land claims, and not stop until we get some justice.“

Removing the land from the Tree Farm Licence means the company has less stringent environmental and logging regulations to deal with, according to Ken Wu, campaign director for Western Canada Wilderness Committee. The transfer will allow it to cut more trees and ship raw logs out of the province in three years, he noted in a release February 1.

But the law may be on the side of the Kwakiutl, at least as far as holding the government to high standards of consultation and accommodation, So far, the Supreme Court has not returned any land to the natives, but several rulings have sided with First Nations when they could demonstrate that the government failed to meaningfully consult with them.

The Kwakiutl Band Council says that the government sent letters about the application, but it did not consult the band, which is still waiting for official notice of the January 31 decision. The Kwakiutl learned the land transfer was approved through news broadcasts.

“They said they consulted with us,” Ambers said. “That, I have to say, is an absolute lie.”

A strongly worded letter to Forest and Range Minister Rich Coleman on February 5 blasted him for allowing the forest company to “blatantly disregard their obligations by your ‘watchdogs’ to notify First Nation communities of their harvesting plans.”

“We can only surmise that the Kwakiutl First Nation’s rights and title have effectively been removed from the tracts of land that are now Western Forest Products’ private lands,” the Band Council wrote. When Coleman did not acknowledge the letter, the band released it to the press.

Coleman defended the Ministry’s decision on CBC Radio February 12. “I sought the legal advice that was necessary,” Coleman told CBC. “I looked at the files from the right perspective. I felt the proper consultation had taken place. There are remedies for the band.”

But the only remedy for the band now is a lawsuit – one the Kwakiutl can hardly afford. Nevertheless, the North Island Gazette reported February 7 that two options were proposed at a community meeting: filing for an injunction, and holding “nation actions” like road blockades.

The Kwakiutl have resorted to peaceful civil disobedience in the past, when they occupied Deer Island to assert their territorial claim.

“We got together for Deer Island to prove to ourselves how strong we can be when we get together,” Ambers said. “We won the fight for Deer Island, now it’s ours.”

“What this government does is make deals before consulting with First Nations, to hamstring your community from getting what it deserves,” NDP forest critic Bob Simpson told the crowd assembled at the Legislature building.

“How many court cases will it take before [the BC Liberals] realize they have to have meaningful consultation and hear your voices before a project goes ahead?” he asked.

“The meaning of consultation and accommodation has to be more than letters and telephone calls,” said Albert Robinson, the Kwakiutl’s senior administrator. “It seems to me the BC government is able to define ‘oppression’ but it’s having a difficult time defining ‘consultation’ and ‘accommodation.’”

While the legal battle looms, the Kwakiutl are struggling to take stock of the land they are about to lose. The area in question includes old-growth coastal rainforest and a network of lakes, wetlands, and rivers on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. The cedar, Douglas fir and hemlock forest supports populations of bears, deer, salmon, and marbled murrelets, along with berries and edible plants. The community drinking watersheds for the town of Port McNeill and the Kwakiutl’s Cluxewe Reserve may also be affected by the logging.

Across much of Vancouver Island, over-logging and development have decimated wildlife and plant populations, disrupted soil hydrology and inflicted erosion and stream damage.

“As it stands now, if we do nothing, Western Forest Products can do anything they want with that land,” Robinson said.


Filed under Environment, Politics

Shaking the tree: an eco-defender’s ordeal

Thu, 25 Jan 2007

Sims Creek in the Elaho Valley. Photo: Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

“This is precedent-setting for any environmental direct actions in Canada in the future.” Dennis Zarelli sounds stunned by what’s happened.

The thirty-year-old activist (and comrade of mine) was convicted of obstructing justice in December 2006. A BC Supreme Court judge refused to believe police endangered his life in a tree-sit one hundred and fifty feet off the ground. He is facing nine months in jail at his sentencing in February 2007.

“Even had someone died six years ago, it seems the courts would have found that it was our own fault.”

The Douglas firs in the upper Elaho Valley are some of the biggest in Canada. Photo: Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

As the battle raged six years ago, it looked like the old-growth forests of the Elaho Valley were doomed. Eighty percent of the area had already been logged. A priceless grove of record-setting trees was about to fall. Wilderness advocates from the coast and across the province pledged to help defend the area. Hundreds visited and fell in love with the canyonlands along the Elaho River in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains near Whistler.

But International Forest Products (Interfor) kept marching on. Each year, chainsaws and bulldozers chewed through whole mountainsides full of cedar, fir and hemlock, leaving massive scars on the steep slopes and filling fish streams with silt.

Repeated appeals to the government and Interfor failed, so forest advocates took to civil disobedience and peaceful protests to stop the logging. I was with Zarelli and other forest defenders on the frontlines of Interfor’s logging operations for months at a stretch. We built a protest camp at the end of the road from downed trees and tarps, and took turns cooking communal meals, hauling water, and playing cat-and-mouse games with the loggers. By the end of July, two dozen people were camped at the road’s end.

We were holding the line to protect thousand-year-old firs and cedars north of Lava Creek. The previous year, contractors had punched in a logging road over fierce resistance and incredibly rough terrain. The battle front shifted to the new bridge over Lava Creek, which was the only way to access the upper valley.

The blockade on Lava Creek Bridge, July 2000. Photo: Zoe Blunt.

Using peaceful civil disobedience in this case meant putting our bodies on the line in such a way that the workers would have to risk killing someone to carry on with the logging. Normally, it’s an effective method for stopping traffic. But years of confrontations in the Elaho Valley taught us that blocking the road on the ground invited certain disaster. Loggers for Interfor had a deep and abiding hatred of tree-huggers, and they expressed it with death threats and violent attacks on protestors whenever they could.

In September 1999, a hundred loggers descended on the camp to make good on their threats to get rid of us once and for all. I was in Whistler that day, and others were in court. The eight remaining campers tried reasoning with the mob, but to no avail. Loggers beat and choked three people, who were teken to hospital after the attack. They burned the camp to the ground, destroying $30,000 worth of equipment, gear and personal belongings. Police took six hours to respond to 911 calls, and once they arrived, they arrested the tree-sitter and let the thugs go.

Peaceful civil disobedience is a real challenge in these circumstances.

But the violence by loggers – and what was seen as complicity by police – only made the protestors more determined to use peaceful means to stop the destruction.

“Everything we were doing kept getting more escalated,” Zarelli says. “We didn’t want to block the road for just a day or two.” He and three friends set out to create a hard blockade that would keep the road blocked for a couple weeks. They devised a system to block the bridge, put themselves in harm’s way, and stay out of reach of the police, all at the same time.

Lava Creek Bridge is wood, concrete and steel, 120 feet long and 12 feet wide, spanning a rugged canyon. A hundred feet below, the creek roars and foams. At the north end, high up in a pair of gigantic firs, Zarelli and three others perched on small platforms attached by ropes and conduits to a barricade on the bridge twelve stories below.

Two platforms, 150 feet up in the tree at left, are difficult to see from the ground. A yellow gear bag hanging below the canopy is more visible. Photo: Zoe Blunt

The tree-sit blockade was a calculated risk. The four tree-sit platforms were suspended from ropes anchored to the treetops and to the bridge blockade. The ropes ran from the top of one tree, down to the bridge, through a pipe wedged under the pickup truck, out the other end of the pipe, and up to the top of the second tree.

Click on the diagram for a full-size image. A traverse line (not shown) connected the two trees like a high wire, allowing the tree-sitters to move from one tree to the other. Source: Elaho Valley Anarchist Horde: A Journal of Saquatchology.

The truck itself was filled with rocks, piled with logs and wrapped in barbed wire. Two signs warned that tampering with the structure would cause the platforms to drop, and the tree-sitters could fall to their deaths.

When the tree sits and bridge blockade were set up, the area was under a court injunction and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were keeping a close eye on the protest site.The tree-sitters were confident the RCMP would heed the signs and be very cautious when they moved in to make the arrests.

They were mistaken.

From July 26 to August 2, dozens of RCMP officers laid siege to the blockade. An Emergency Response Team was mobilized, and footage of rifle-toting sharpshooters storming over the bridge was broadcast on national television for a week. But as the days wore on, the cops grew visibly frustrated that they could not evict the protestors in the trees.

They took it out on anyone within reach. From his perch in the tree, Zarelli watched three officers drag me by the neck from the woods, twist my cuffed hands up behind my back, and throw me headfirst into a police trailer. I ended up with damage to my arms, shoulders and neck. (The cops told a judge later that I injured myself, and she took them at their word.)

Zoe gets busted. Photo: Daniel Gautreau

By July 28, officers had partially dismantled the blockade on the bridge. Then, without any warning, Insp. Bud Mercer used a pruning rod to cut the ropes supporting the platforms. What happened next became the focus of police investigations and court battles for six years.

RCMP Cpl. Darik Schaap dismantling the blockade. Photo: Zoe Blunt

When the lines were cut, the platforms suddenly tilted. The tree-sitters panicked when they realized the main support lines were no longer holding them. A witness reported:

The platforms drop, catching in lower parts of the canopy. One of the sitters is hanging from a branch screaming at the cops until helped back up. The action on the line is frantic, the goons with the big guns are off in the bush, police climbers start to climb the connected trees to cut off traverse points. The climbers move slowly, another cop on the ground yells instructions through a megaphone. (Journal of Sasquatchology)

Philippa Joly, another witness on the ground, watched in horror as the lines were cut.

“I remember seeing them cut the rope and then there was this slow-motion feeling – everything slowed down,” she recalls. “I saw the rope fall out of the tree. It came falling down. I saw other things falling from the tree. We were all holding our breath, waiting to see what would happen.”

The four young people remained in the treetops, clinging to the now-unstable platforms.

Metal rebar and a 55-gallon drum cut in half prevented police from climbing this tree. Photo: Zoe Blunt

Later, the police climbers assaulted the tree-sit in earnest. As the climbers started up the un-armored tree, the two sitters in that tree scooted across the high-wire traverse line and joined their companions in the armored tree. The climbers backed off and did not try to pursue the protestors.

“It was like living in a war zone,” Joly says. A police helicopter circled and hovered overhead. “[The police] were totally insane, with full-on camouflage and sniper rifles. Then they disappeared into the woods. And we’re like, what’s going on? Are our friends safe?”

The standoff that followed lasted five more days before the four protestors climbed down and gave themselves up to be arrested. They later pleaded guilty and were sentenced to time served – one day.

Dennis Zarelli under arrest after nine days in the tree. Photo courtesy of Dennis Zarelli.

The shock of watching the officer cut the rope was too much for Zarelli to just let it go. In September 2000, Zarelli filed a complaint against Insp. Mercer, and a justice of the peace laid four criminal charges of aggravated assault against the RCMP officer.

It’s rare for police to face charges for acts they commit on the job, and Zarelli didn’t expect much to come out of it.

“I wanted to basically see attention drawn to the RCMP acting recklessly at the blockades,” he explains. “They were working with Interfor.” Officers stood by while a forest worker drove an excavator into the legs of a tripod that was occupied by a protestor, he says. The rest of us had witnessed similar incidents.

Protestors were hauled off and charged over minor acts of peaceful civil disobedience at the request of the company. But when loggers threatened us with guns and violence, we couldn’t even get the cops to take a report.

Two forest defenders were sentenced to a full year in the pokey just for standing in the road. Not one of the thugs who beat the campers and burned down the camp spent a day in jail.

Zarelli felt he had the potential to turn the tables and use the legal system to hold the police accountable, for once. But the charges against Insp. Mercer were stayed a month after they were filed. When the Crown prosecutor reviewed the police videotape, he said there was no evidence Zarelli’s life was in danger.

Then the harassment started: phone calls to Zarelli’s parents, his friends, and their employers from people identifying themselves as agents with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). His house was under surveillance for months.

Finally, the penny dropped. Word came that the RCMP had issued a warrant for his arrest – the Crown was charging him with obstructing justice for filing a false police report. (The perjury charge was added later.) Zarelli turned himself in.

The court drama that played out in December 2006 was surreal, Zarelli says. The Crown lawyer argued the protestors were trying to entrap the police. The blockade and the connected tree platforms were an “elaborate ruse,” according to Crown prosecutor Ralph Keefer. The claim that they were using civil disobedience to stop the logging was a charade, he said. The four forest defenders just wanted to get the cops in trouble on national television. The prosecutor accused Zarelli of planning the whole thing just so he could lay false charges against Insp. Mercer.

Incredibly, BC Supreme Court judge Sunni Stromberg-Stein agreed. In her reasons for judgement, she stated, “This was not an act of civil disobedience; this was a criminal act.”

Joly attended Zarelli’s trial because she wanted to witness the proceedings. “It felt really important to be at court because I was there when it happened.” She says the cops all told the same story, but on examination, their testimony actually underscored Zarelli’s complaint that they were negligent.

“All the cops said they couldn’t see how the ropes were set up,” Joly tells me. “All the cops gave statements affirming they couldn’t see the ropes from the ground, but the reaction when the ropes were cut led them to believe the setup was a ruse.”

“But the fact that they cut the ropes without knowing if it was safe to cut them just showed their negligence – which was Dennis’s original complaint.”

“The Crown was trying to show we hate the police,” Zarelli says. “He was bringing up stuff from ten years ago, things that happened in the Walbran [Valley] and Clayoquot Sound. I wasn’t even at those protests.”

Joly finds the Crown’s arguments unbelievable. “They were playing up this thing about us having a vendetta against Bud Mercer. Until that day he hadn’t even been there. We didn’t even know him.”

Zarelli was convicted of obstructing justice. He escaped a perjury conviction on a technicality, because the original complaint against Insp. Mercer was not taken under oath. Zarelli faces nine months in jail at his sentencing February 20, 2007.

Zarelli says the trial’s outcome is deeply disturbing, and not just for him.

“If people put their lives on the line to protect the environment, and the cops come in and take them out with reckless regards to their lives, the cops will now be able to refer to my case saying that environmentalists hate the cops and will lie in court for their cause,” he says bitterly.

The view from Lava Camp. Photo: Jeremy Williams, Wilderness Committee.

Today. the thousand-year-old firs and cedars still stand north of Lava Creek. Facing beatings and brutality, long prison sentences and death threats, the forest defenders held the line. We were forced out and hauled off in handcuffs, but we would not give up, and we kept coming back.

Interfor finally began serious negotiations with the Squamish Nation and a moratorium on logging in the Elaho Valley went into effect in 2001. The logging rights to the whole watershed now belong to the Squamish Nation, and the area north of Lava Creek is set aside as a Wild Spirit Place – to be protected in perpetuity.

Update: In February 2007, Dennis was sentenced to time served and probation – no jail time.


Filed under Environment, Politics, Zoe Blunt

Great Bear Rainforest: The Clearcut Truth

Mon, 04 Dec 2006

Kermode “Spirit” Bear

Groups say Big Greens brokered a bad deal, and now ramped-up logging is devouring coastal old-growth.

In February 2006, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and other groups celebrated a historic agreement with government and industry to bring an end to the “war in the woods” in the Great Bear Rainforest area of coastal British Columbia. Less than a year later, observers say the agreement may be unraveling. Timber companies have ratcheted up the rate of clearcut logging to unprecedented levels, and guidelines for sustainable logging are not being implemented.

Ian McAllister of Raincoast Conservation Society says the sudden increase in logging on the Central Coast is “unprecedented in fifteen years.”

“It’s unbelievable,” McAllister says. “It’s still just cut and run.”

“It’s talk and log,” says Qwatsinas (Ed Moody), hereditary chief of the Nuxalk Nation. “It is not a victory; everyone loses.”

What’s at stake is the largest intact coastal rainforest in North America – home to thousand-year-old red cedar forests, grizzlies, wolves, moose, mountain goats, black bears, and rare white spirit (Kermode) bears. Protected from logging and development by formidable mountains, this wild and rugged coastline stretches hundreds of miles from the tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan panhandle.

The ice-capped peaks rear up from the ocean, cut by fjords and salmon streams and covered with majestic cathedral forests. Whales and orcas swim through the channels and inlets, delighting tourists. First Nations communities fish, hunt, and gather berries, as they have done here for thousands of years.

The Great Bear Rainforest, we were told, is a wilderness legacy for our children and our children’s children.

How did this success story turn sour?

Twelve years of campaigning

It was members of the Nuxalk Nation who first invited non-native environmentalists to their traditional territory to witness large-scale clearcut logging in 1994. The following year, Greenpeace teamed up with the Nuxalk and other environmental groups to launch the campaign to save the place they named “the Great Bear Rainforest.”

By 1997, Nuxalk members and their allies – Greenpeace, Forest Action Network, Bear Watch and People’s Action for Threatened Habitat – were blocking logging operations on Roderick Island, King Island and Ista, which is sacred to the Nuxalk as the place where the first woman came to earth.

At dawn on June 6th, 1997, workers for International Forest Products (Interfor) arrived at Ista as usual to cut trees. Thirty protesters – including Nuxalk chiefs in full regalia – greeted the workers with a blockade and a huge tripod towering over the middle of the road. One protestor was locked down to a cement anchor buried in the road, while two more were perched at the apex of the tripod.

In total, fifty-five people took over the road and shut down Interfor’s logging operation for nineteen days. Twenty-four people, including six members of the Nuxalk Nation, were arrested when police arrived to enforce a court injunction. Qwatsinas was one of those arrested and convicted for blocking the road.

“I am charged with contempt of court,” Qwatsinas – a large, handsome man in his prime – told Justice Vickers at his sentencing in 1999. “Yet there is continuous contempt of our culture, our heritage, our lands and our rights. Logging companies coming to our land without our consent show contempt of our laws, our land, our people.”

Indigenous people in Canada are known as First Nations, and unlike their counterparts in the U.S., most First Nations in British Columbia retain legal rights on their traditional land for hunting, fishing, gathering medicine, and decision-making about resources. Recent high court decisions uphold these rights. But court challenges can take years, and when faced with the imminent threat of “illegal” logging or development on their traditional territory, many First Nations in B.C. have resorted to acts of civil disobedience like blocking logging roads.

In the 1990’s, massive industrial clearcutting was already taking place – without the permission of First Nations – under the auspices of the province, which also hosted a process called the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Plan (CCLRMP). The process was widely condemned as a “talk and log” exercise, until Sierra Club and Greenpeace set their sights on the planning committee. The groups won a moratorium in 1998 to suspend logging in intact rainforest valleys in the Central Coast while they participated in the CCLRMP process.

Meanwhile, environmentalists organized an international markets campaign to lobby buyers of B.C. wood products around the world. As the boycott campaign picked up steam, companies like Home Depot and Ikea dropped their B.C. wood contracts, and the pressure was on to find a compromise.

“Customers don’t want to buy their two-by-fours or their pulp with a protester attached to it. If we don’t end it, they will buy their products elsewhere,” Bill Dumont, chief forester at Western Forest Products, told the Vancouver Sun in May 2000.

Also in 2000, Greenpeace, ForestEthics, Rainforest Action Network, and Sierra Club of Canada – known collectively as the Rainforest Solutions Project (RSP) – made a decision that changed the course of the campaign. According to Qwatsinas and others close to the Great Bear Rainforest, it was a serious strategic error.

While negotiating the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, the RSP formally agreed to end their protests, blockades and markets campaigns. For the duration of the agreement, there would be no more high-profile blockades of logging operations on the B.C. coast, no lobbying international wood buyers, and no hardball criticism of the process to the media.

But did the environmentalists give up their only bargaining chip?

“They made the Central Coast an environmental-protest-free zone,” Qwatsinas says. “We can’t go out and blockade or protest. We’re neutralized, really. They [participating groups] are handcuffed. How are you going to set forth your demands at the table when your will is broken?”

The Big Greens kept their promise to keep the peace with good faith and due diligence. It remains to be seen whether the timber industry and the provincial government will do the same.

As a hereditary chief with a sworn duty to protect the land, Qwatsinas has been on the front lines of this battle for more than fifteen years. Now, watching clearcuts chewing up habitat for salmon and bears, he can’t understand the enviro groups’ concessions. “They’ve given away too much. It takes time to get the market campaign, the boycott campaign going again. Think about those strengths that were given up – the power that they had in making demands, but it’s gone now. What else can they use?”

Victory through Compromise

RSP forged ahead with negotiations about how much land to protect and how to log the rest. With the Joint Solutions Project, the eco-groups collaborated with industry, government, labor groups and First Nations to establish interim agreements, logging moratoriums and other small victories.

Since the parties had pledged to base the outcome on the best independent science available, the province requisitioned a scientific review of the Central and North Coast flora and fauna to make recommendations about habitat protection. Seventeen scientists comprised the Coast Information Team, and their findings in 2005 stated that setting aside a minimum of 44 to 50 percent of the land area would be necessary to save ecosystems and wildlife.

In 2006, the final agreement was announced with fanfare by a provincial government eager to paint itself green after years of cutting parks budgets and opening wilderness areas to development and logging. But the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement only commits to a “conservancy” designation for 32 percent of the land, part of which is open for mining, and all of which may be open to roads, hydroelectric projects, tourism, and other uses.

Sierra Club campaigner Lisa Matthaus admits the amount of protection was inadequate. “The protected areas alone are not sufficient, but this is a political compromise. You need to have a lot of parties in agreement.”

“We wanted to meet the recommendations of the scientists [on the Coast Information Team],” she told The Martlet in 2005, “but we couldn’t.”

The quantity and quality of the protected areas greatly concern conservationists in the region. They cite the lack of connections and wildlife corridors between small, widely scattered conservancies. Worse, wolves, a key predator, were simply left out of the habitat surveys.

McAllister estimates that eighty percent of salmon streams are outside the protected areas, along with seventy percent of grizzly bear habitat. He notes that even inside the conservancies, trophy hunting will be permitted

In May 2006, the B.C. Legislature officially designated 24 conservancies in the Great Bear Rainforest. As of December 2006, 61 more were still awaiting legal recognition.

Although they recognized that the agreement didn’t meet minimum standards, environmental groups hoped more habitat might be saved through special forestry practices known as ecosystem-based management (EBM).

Boom and Bust

If one-third of the land base of the Great Bear Rainforest is protected, according to the deal, then two-thirds will be logged. How it will be logged is still the subject of debate.

The logging industry, environmental organizations, communities, labor unions, First Nations and the B.C. government agreed to phase in new EBM logging practices by 2009. The Rainforest Solutions Project website describes “lighter touch practices” that would “protect old growth, wildlife habitat, sensitive watersheds and salmon streams.”

Instead of starting to adopt these gentler practices, it appears some – if not most – timber companies are stripping the land as fast as possible before the 2009 deadline.

Ian McAllister sums up the current logging practices: “Clearcutting. Everywhere on coast it’s the status quo, clearcutting. It’s no different than what you’d see thirty years ago. In some places they may be doing something different, but the vast majority is status quo logging.”

Raincoast Conservation Society has conducted research and education about the Great Bear Rainforest since 1990. “I’ve just returned from a month of exploration on the coast, looking at recent logging practices. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m not hopeful. They’ve had years – decades really – to get their act together and agree to basic principles of forestry. They’re still not adhering to those principles,” McAllister said.

“They’ve been told that will change in 2009, so they’re just trying to log as fast as they can, and get roads into as many valleys as they can. There’s no interest in community employment or long term sustainable logging jobs.”

The clearcuts are bad enough, but some timber companies are leveling the rainforest and then hauling out only the best trees, mostly red cedar, leaving the rest to be burned as slash or rot on the ground. High-grading wastes millions of tons of wood each year, and it’s universally deplored as wasteful and contrary to sustainable forestry. The combination of clearcuts and high-grading resembles the world’s worst slash-and-burn logging.

“It’s a huge concern,” McAllister says, “because this is the forest species with the greatest economic value, and it’s the rarest species in the temperate rainforest. And it’s being logged at an unsustainable rate.”

“In our October surveys of recent logging operations on the Central and North Coast, all of the cutblocks had hemlock and spruce stacked high ready for burning,” McAllister relates.

The final insult for coastal communities – and loggers – is the destination of much of this high-grade timber: foreign mills.

The Truck Loggers Association (TLA) tackles the problem head-on in a position paper delivered to the province November 22, 2006.

“Today, log shortages are common across the coast,” the paper states. “At the same time, increasing volumes of exports continue to leave the province, while many independent mill-investors are struggling to secure wood in the marketplace to sustain their operations.”

Qwatsinas compares the current logging boom to the one in Nisga’a territory just before a treaty agreement was signed. “They accelerated logging up to five times the rate they were cutting before. Obviously, they’ve accelerated the logging in the Central and North Coast too.”

Even the RSP groups are getting concerned. A press release in September 2006 charges the government has missed deadlines it agreed to in February 2006, including a pledge to legislate EBM measures and fund a scientific oversight group. Also, they note, “some forest companies” still have not begun the eco-logging practices they promised three years ago.

Merran Smith of ForestEthics says: “We stood on the stage and announced to the world a new conservation approach for the Great Bear Rainforest, These agreements are now at risk because a cornerstone of the agreement, ecosystem-based management, is faltering. We are tired of big talk with no action.”

Pat Bell, a B.C. government minister, responded to the RSP’s complaints last month in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, saying the oversight group would be established within weeks, and the initial objectives for ecosystem-based management would soon be available to the public. But Bell was vague about the time frame for “phasing in” EBM.

“There could be components of it in legislation next year,” he said, “but the commitment that I think is really important was full implementation by 2009.”

Those watching the clearcutting on the North and Central Coast are not likely to be comforted by assurances that things may change in a few years.

Division in the ranks

Qwatsinas calls the Great Bear agreement an “empty box.” Essentially, the deal is a framework, with timelines set for the parties to fill in the details later. Ecosystem-based management itself is left undefined. Even when a set of practices is eventually spelled out, the definition will be subject to change.

The David Suzuki Foundation, one of Canada’s largest and most respected enviro groups, wouldn’t endorse the Great Bear agreement for this reason. “There’s no guarantees that acceptable EBM practices will be adopted,” Bill Wareham said. “The agreement does not meet our expectation.”

Several other groups dedicated to the Great Bear Rainforest have walked away from the table, including the Forest Action Network, Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, Valhalla Wilderness Society, and Raincoast Conservation Society.

Valhalla Wilderness Society has been collecting scientific data and working to protect the coast for eighteen years. In a 2004 memo, society chair Anne Sherrod blasted the RSP:

In the future, while logging the unprotected ecosystems, timber corporations on the mid-coast will enjoy the signed agreement of two of B.C.‘s largest groups, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, as well as the U.S.-based ForestEthics and Rainforest Action Network. The groups that will continue working on additional protection on the coast – such as VWS, Raincoast, Forest Action Network and David Suzuki Foundation – will be blocked by the B.C. government and timber industry, using the agreement signed by the RSP groups as a “done deal.”

In the last few years, some environmental groups and activists have lost patience with this. After 15 years of seeing this happen, there should have been more learning, more awakeness to the crisis of what we are losing and how we are losing it. Instead we have the rhetoric and delusion of “win – win” agreements.

First Nations people are also divided in their response to the agreement. Even within the Nuxalk Nation, the band council supports the process, while traditionalists like Qwatsinas and the House of Smayusta oppose it vehemently.

The dissent is further fueled by the fact that the agreement failed to respect a protocol with the Nuxalk members who first invited Greenpeace to their territory in 1994. The protocol between Greenpeace and the House of Smayusta stated no deals would be made without the approval of the First Nations partners.

“It was a bold move for Greenpeace Canada to ignore the protocol and make the [Great Bear] agreement without our approval,” Qwatsinas notes. “The sovereignty of Nuxalk lands and rights in our sense took a back seat.”

Elsewhere on the coast, the Kitasoo Nation has signed the deal and now hopes to reap the benefits – by logging Green Inlet, part of its traditional territory. Although almost half of Kitasoo land is protected, and Kitasoo Forest Products is cutting trees selectively instead of clearcutting, the project has brought the wrath of Simon Jackson, founder of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition. Jackson says opening a key area to logging could threaten the future of spirit bears.

“Everybody thought the white bears were protected with that announcement,” he said. “A lot of great steps were taken . . . but it didn’t protect the spirit bear.”

Simon says the Green watershed is needed as a genetic buffer zone.

“What’s happening now is that if logging occurs in the Green, bears will be displaced from their homes and the likely forced migration route they’ll take is over to Princess Royal Island, where they’ll dilute the gene pool and render the area thus far protected useless.”

Grant Scott, a Kitasoo representative, disputed Jackson’s facts, pointing out the area being logged is not prime black or spirit bear habitat.

“We talked to him about this. We said, ‘Simon, this isn’t spirit bear country,’ but he apparently doesn’t agree,” Scott says.

B.C. lands minister Pat Bell says that logging in spirit bear habitat is no problem, as long as “the operation is in keeping with the February agreement, which protected key spirit bear habitat, while leaving other areas open to ecosystem-based logging.”

The coalition says the agreement has protected only two-thirds of the spirit bear’s crucial habitat and that the province is back-pedaling on its commitment to protect the rest.

Now that logging has begun in the last third, the small spirit bear population – estimated at about 200 animals – faces an uncertain future, said executive director Salimah Ebrahim.

Action and collaboration

The announcement of the final agreement set B.C.’s environmental community abuzz with debate over tactics and strategies in the Great Bear Rainforest. Clearly, Greenpeace has switched its focus from confrontation to cooperation, no doubt to stay in line with the changing priorities of a protest-weary public. Similarly, “finding solutions” and “building consensus” have become the catch phrases of foundations funding the large eco-groups in the U.S.

The evolution of Greenpeace from a rag-tag band of protestors to a multinational bureaucracy may explain its newfound commitment to collaboration with industry and government. Ingmar Lee, a journalist and old-growth forest activist from Vancouver Island, says the group has adopted the corporate model it once deplored.

“This is exactly what happens to forest protection activists who graduate from the frontlines into paid positions and begin working themselves up the ladder,” Lee says. “Once they’re into the $60,000-a-year bracket, they just quite simply cannot relate to anyone in the movement, but they can sure hobnob with the corporate logging executives. They begin to see how the ‘real world’ works, and they begin to understand that if they cooperate, they will start to get some of that power.”

By seeking closer relationships to government and industry, Sherrod says, environmental organizations can become alienated from their actual power bases: solidarity with other environmental groups, widespread public support; and the reality of what is happening in our environment as documented by science. “I really don’t think it’s a problem particular to big environmental groups or rich ones,” she says. “I’ve known lots of little ones to do this. And some large groups play positive roles in the movement.”

The Valhalla Wilderness Society has campaigned tirelessly for the Great Bear Rainforest, but it never participated in the negotiations. “We think decisions on public lands should be made by open public process, and certainly in conjunction with First Nations and in full accord with their rights,” Sherrod says. The Society did work with the planning table, contributing its scientific surveys of potential protected areas, for example, but eventually there was a split between the environmental groups.

“I think the real problem is that negotiations with industry bring about a fundamental incompatibility in working methods,” Sherrod continues. “How can colleague environmental groups have solidarity when some of them are having meetings with the logging companies behind the backs of the others, making decisions that will affect everyone, and keeping them secret until there’s nothing that can be done about it?”

Dani Rubin, secretary of B.C. Pathways, says the exclusionary process inflicted “collateral damage” on the entire B.C. environmental movement. “I remember Don McMillan of Interfor telling me that the industry had a plan for us [environmentalists],” he says. “It’s pretty clear now that the corporate strategy was to divide the environmental movement by electing to negotiate only with the ‘pragmatists,’ leaving the rest of us out in the cold.”

Rubin says in the rush to get to the table and make a deal with industry and government, Greenpeace, ForestEthics, and Sierra Club swept aside pre-existing agreements with several environmental groups. Not only that, but an “umbrella of silence” has stifled open discussion about the deal and how it’s being implemented.

Many observers report that one of the conditions imposed on those who joined in negotiations was a ban on any public complaints or criticisms aimed at the process or any of the participants. Of course, the parties involved are not disclosing details about any such restrictions.

Qwatsinas suggests more groups should be speaking out about the agreement’s shortcomings, but “I don’t think they can. Some of their hands are tied and the gag order is in place.”

Besides the forest, the wildlife, fresh air and clean water, a substantial financial package is at stake for the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement participants. $120 million has been raised or pledged by foundations and the government, and it’s earmarked for First Nations sustainable economic development and conservation projects. (Not to mention the cost of the planning process itself.) And the Big Greens’ high-profile campaign, with the spirit bear as its mascot, has served them well by raising their public relations profiles and expanding their donor bases.

Lee says a cost-benefit analysis of the money spent on the Great Bear Agreement comes up short. “We’ve found organized, institutional environmentalism [in B.C.] has failed over the last four years to accomplish anything,” he complains. “The successes have come from individual grassroots efforts that have basically bypassed the entrenched, bureaucratic, environmental institutions that have been sucking up the enviro-buck and just not getting the kind of accomplishments we need.”

Lee is not surprised that the RSP groups are getting “stabbed in the back” by government and industry apparently reneging on the spirit of the agreement.

“I just believe that we should be working together against these incorrigible forces of destruction rather than working together with them,” he says. “I have always advocated a broad spectrum of environmentalist effort, but the grassroots activist community has been excluded from the project from the start.”

Lee understands the need for no-compromise action; as a key member of the campaign to save Cathedral Grove from a misguided parking lot, he spent over two years helping to coordinate a campaign of road-blocking and tree-sitting that ultimately forced the province to back off.

Qwatsinas also makes a distinction between the efforts of grassroots groups versus the Big Greens. “I’m glad there are some out there, groups like Raincoast, trying to make an honest effort, protecting the environment, who are not handcuffed by the process.”


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Obit for a Spotted Owl

Sun, 12 Nov 2006

A northern spotted owl found injured on a BC highway two weeks ago may be the last nesting female in Canada.

On October 28, a work crew driving through Manning Park in southern BC came across an owl sitting in the middle of the road, alive but unable to move. The workers stopped, put the bird in a box and delivered her to an owl rehabilitation centre in Oliver, BC.

Weighing just one pound when she was rescued, this female spotted owl was starving.

Sherri Klein, founder of the South Okanagan Rehab Centre for Owls, was astonished to find the bird in her care. In 20 years of caring for sick and injured owls, she had never seen a northern spotted owl. This past spring, researchers estimated 17 owls were living in old-growth fragments of BC’s heavily-logged southern forests.

Experts believe the owl is the female of the pair nesting in Manning Park. Spotted owls are territorial and monogamous, staying with one mate for their whole lives.

The owl was too weak to stand or eat, and she was initially force-fed by SORCO staff, who also treated an internal eye injury with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. The eye injury may have been responsible for the bird’s condition, as she had apparently been unable to hunt for some time.

“Just the procedure of force feeding the bird causes stress upon it and this alone can kill a weakened bird also. The owl is so weak that it cannot stand. This is always a bad sign, for once a bird is down, often death follows even when the best of care is given,” reported Klein.

After two days, the owl was eating on her own at times and staff were hopeful she might recover. But she did not gain weight and never recovered the strength to stand.

“The reality of it was that it was so badly emaciated that its organs had probably already started to shut down,” Klein said.

“The warmth of the food and the nourishment we gave it helped it hang on a little longer. It just prolonged its inevitable death. That’s the sad reality of it.”

The owl died at 5 am on Tuesday morning.

“This is a great loss indeed and it has left us wondering if there was something we could have done better,” Klein writes.

Andy Miller, a spotted owl expert with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, documented three active spotted owl nests in BC early this year. Since then, each nesting pair has suffered terrible setbacks.

First, a windstorm blew down a tree and nest in spring, killing a nestling. In the summer, Cattermole Timber logged out much of the forest at the second nest site, apparently destroying that nest. (See this GNN report.) The death of the female of the third breeding pair marks a devastating year for the spotted owls.

Eleven individual owls, isolated from each other by clearcuts, terrain and development, are estimated to be living in BC.

For years, experts have been warning of the spotted owl’s imminent extinction in Canada as logging continues in the last pockets of owl habitat in BC’s southwest corner. The BC government has played an active role in the logging by selling timber rights to small businesses.

Canada’s endangered species legislation, the Species At Risk act, contains no provisions to protect habitat on provincial land. The provincial Ministry of the Environment is mulling over a proposal to attempt captive breeding of spotted owls, a completely untested strategy. Conservationists point out captive breeding, even if successful, will not lead to the owl’s recovery if its habitat is wiped out.

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Going Feral in the Backcountry

Wed, 6 Sep 2006

Sun-baked, wind-swept, we’re struggling to the summit, panting and squinting, and suddenly the plateau stretches below us, a line of emerald and sapphire lakes and pools linked by tufts of gnarled firs, shimmering in the merciless heat. Kicking off sweat-soaked shorts and boots, we run down the bank and dive naked into Mist Lake.

Whooping with shock and pleasure, backstroking and dog-paddling in circles, laughing and hollering. Clambering out again, streaming cold water, hot shale crumbling under bare feet, we turn to view the peaks, the icefields, behold the silver spines of mountain ranges marching north and south from the pass and the forbidding glaciers glowering from the east and west. The breathless hush, the blinding sun, the azure sky and the peaks surrounding us echo a silence that rings and rings.

The plateau

Looking down, the valley where we climbed is hidden between the toes of the mountains. The canyon where we camped is a dark thread in the shaggy carpet of old-growth forest. From here, we can see the last clearcuts in the valley. The last, because this is where we stopped them.

Seven days in the backcountry, seven days clearing the tangled trail on this overgrown hiking route. We tramp for miles through the steep, broken terrain of the canyon lands cutting brush, building bridges, bypassing giant cedars fallen across the trail, and sleeping under the stars.

In the darkening violet of dusk I renew the pledge I made years ago in this place. And the spirits in the forest answer: remember, and never give up.

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Underground? You could be on national TV!

Attention secret eco-warriors: the CBC wants to interview you for a program on the Earth Liberation Front.

Wed, 4 Oct 2006

Producers Tim Sawa and Theresa Burke of the fifth estate are keen to talk to a real, live ELF saboteur, and they’re prepared to go to great lengths to protect the identity of anyone willing to go on camera.

The fifth estate (spelled in lower-case letters) is a one-hour investigative news journal broadcast weekly on Canada’s public-funded television station. Last month, the show’s producers in Toronto dispatched Sawa and Burke to Vancouver on a mission to track down and talk to anyone connected to the Earth Liberation Front

They found me instead. I came home to a voice mail message: “Hello, Zoe? This is Tim Sawa of the CBC. I want to talk to you about eco-terrorism.”

He looks serious, but fifth estate producer Tim Sawa is a charmer. And very persistent.

What a surprise! I had to call back and ask how he got my number.

Apparently Sawa searched the web for “Earth Liberation Front” and found my article on GNN. There was no contact info there, so he went through my blog looking for clues. Long story short, Sawa hunted down a campaigner I know who gave up my home phone number.

Sawa said he needed my help for “deep background” on the ELF. I wouldn’t appear on camera, they wouldn’t quote me or use my name. What a relief, I said.

Since then I’ve been trading calls and emails with Sawa and Theresa Burke, the other newshound on the case. It’s been a bit of a tussle. I was hostile to the idea of talking with them. Sawa was persuasive, responding to my criticism of mainstream media and its treatment of the ELF and individuals associated with it. The fifth estate is better than that, he said. The segment was a whole hour and he was dedicated to getting “our side” of the story, not just the sensational secret underground terrorist cult angle.

But a quick web search of my own turns up a fifth estate segment that ran a few years ago. “Sensational” doesn’t begin to describe it. “Venomous,” maybe.

January 26, 1999
CBC News and Current Affairs

FRANCINE PELLETIER: Welcome to the fifth estate. We begin tonight with a shocking report about a love that goes beyond all reason. Most of us take it for granted that when it comes to living things, humans are tops and animals, love them though we might, are a distant second. But for some people animals hold a far higher place in the scheme of things and must be protected from any and all harm.

In Britain that urge to protect animals has taken a violent turn, with attacks on property, arson, bombs, and even death lists. Tonight we go inside the British animal liberation movement, with an animals rights campaigner who became horrified by the extreme nature of what his allies were doing. Wearing a hidden camera, he penetrated the secretive upper ranks of the movement. What he found was a shocking disregard for property and human life, a disregard taken for granted all in the name of love.

(Full transcript here. Warning: It’s an appalling example of fascist journalism. The hidden camera footage was turned over to police to prosecute those implicated by the reporters’ sting.)

Sawa was apologetic but unapologetic. “Yes … I’ve read about that. That was a programme that the fifth [estate] bought from the BBC and ran. It wasn’t produced by us. But we did run it. What can I say other than I didn’t produce it.” He insists the segment they’re working on now will be much, much better.

There was no way I could give Sawa and Burke what they wanted – details about the secret lives of individuals indicted for ELF actions and info about two fugitives on the run from the FBI: Rebecca Rubin and Joseph Dibee. Rubin lived in the Vancouver area and the two are rumoured to be hiding in Canada.

Instead, I pointed the two reporters to resources like Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkey-wrenching and the Animal Liberation Front Press Office, and gave them a lecture on security culture. I told them no one involved with an illegal action should ever talk to anyone about that action, outside of the members of their affinity group or “cell.” I mentioned that phoning up strangers and asking them where the fugitives are sets off alarm bells.

Sawa didn’t give up, though. More phone calls. “You know, if you change your mind about going on camera, we could disguise your identity. We could change your voice, too. There’s no way anyone would know it was you.”

But what they really want is to interview an actual eco-saboteur. “Maybe you could use your contacts to put the word out to people that we’d like to interview someone who’s in the ELF,” Sawa suggested. “We can set it up so it’s completely anonymous. We wouldn’t even know who they are.” The CBC’s legal team would fight like wolverines to protect their sources, he said, and in any case the police can’t subpeona info the reporters don’t have, like the identiities of anonymous individuals.

From Burke: “There’s a number of possibilities. It’s a question of what they (ELF saboteurs) would feel comfortable with. There’s masks, there’s having someone read their words so they don’t have their face on tape, or the possibility of doing it through some form of written communication. Maybe even a web cam or something like that?” A one-time anonymous webmail account would work, she said.

Sawa and Burke are in a bind – the Earth Liberation Front Press Office has closed down, and the anonymous press officers I interviewed by email long ago are silent. The pressure is on from their bosses to find and interview genuine ELF warriors (and their supporters) on camera.

This is your opportunity to tell your side of the story, they tell me. We’re as appalled as you at the Green Scare.

I’ve declined their offer, since I’m not prepared to go on national television as a spokesperson for “eco-terrorism.” And much as I’d like to believe their assertions that the program will be sympathetic, what television producer can resist the lurid aspects of the case: arson, conspiracy, betrayal, and so on?

Or maybe I’m just chickenshit. Anyone out there with balls – or tits – of steel? If so – if you’re not afraid – step up to the mike. Put on a mask, set up a web-cam, record an interview, zip it and send it via an anonymous remailer to Theresa Burke: theresa.frances (at)

Be careful out there!

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Iskut Hunters Take Aim at Corporate Mining

September 2005: Representatives from the Wet’suweetin and Gitxsan First Nations drum in support of the Tahltan Elders who went to jail in order to protest the Sacred Headwaters. (Photo by James Dennis 3rd)

Today brings the latest installment in the long-running battle between the Tahltan Nation of Northern British Columbia and mining corporations intent on the large-scale, toxic extraction of gold and copper in their traditional territory. What’s at stake here includes the traditional hunting and fishing grounds on which these indigenous people still rely to feed their families.

Despite a court injunction against the natives, the road blockade was on again this week, and police arrested great-grandmother Lillian Moyer of the Iskut Band of the Tahltan Nation for blocking the road and refusing to allow the mining equipment to enter in defiance of the court order

Today’s reports come to us from the Iskut Band press release, the Vancouver Province, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The last piece, by Joel Connelly, includes some sharp and refreshing analysis of the scorched earth politics of BC’s mining industry.

News Release: Grandmother arrested at Iskut blockade
Monday September 11, 2006 12:40 PM

Iskut, B.C. (September 10, 2006) Lillian Moyer, a 67-year-old grandmother, was arrested yesterday at a First Nations road blockade near the Village of Iskut in northern B.C. For two months, the blockade has been preventing Vancouver mining company bcMetals from conducting exploration for a copper-gold mine in the Todagin Plateau area south of Dease Lake.

Community members allege that following the arrest, bcMetals heavy equipment leaked oil into trout-bearing Coyote Creek. They intend to hold the company accountable for the spill under Canadas Fisheries Act.

“Todays oil spill is our worst nightmare coming true,” said Rhoda Quock, a spokesperson with the Iskut elders group Klabona Keepers. “It shows what happens to our lands when development is rammed through without proper

Lillian Moyer, who lives in Telegraph Creek, chose to be arrested on behalf of the Iskut people after RCMP informed blockaders that if arrested, they would be denied access to their fall hunting grounds.

“I am being arrested today for the people of Iskut, for the people of Telegraph Creek, and especially for our grandchildren,” Moyer told supporters. This is from my heart. I believe my ancestors are speaking through me.”

Over 100 people were present at the blockade, including hereditary leaders of the Gitxsan and Wetsuweten First Nations who traveled to Iskut to show their support.

“We are here to support the Tahltan because the rivers that flow from here connect our people, and what happens in these headwaters affect everyone,” said hereditary Wetsuweten leader Alphonse Gagnon.

The Todagin Plateau is a traditional-use area of the Iskut people and home to one of the worlds largest populations of stone sheep. Last fall, nine elders and six others were arrested at the same location for blocking Fortune Minerals access to the Sacred Headwaters the shared birthplace of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine-Iskut Rivers.*

New northern mine worries native

Great-grandmother arrested for joining blockade to stop ‘threat’
Ethan Baron
The Province
Monday, September 11, 2006

A native great-grandmother has been arrested in a bid to stop B.C.‘s first new metal mine in 10 years.

BCMetals Corp. believes the Red Chris mine in northern B.C. contains almost a million tonnes of copper and 1.2 million ounces of gold.

But Tahltan elder Lillian Moyer, 67, who was arrested Saturday, says the proposed open-pit operation south of Dease Lake would violate sacred ground, threaten traditional hunting land and ruin fisheries.

“The land means so much to our people,” Moyer said yesterday. “We don’t want to see any development up there because it is sacred land. I am doing what I can, with great feelings in my heart, to stick up for our rights and for the land, for the future generations of young children.”

Members of the Tahltan set up a road blockade June 16 to keep BCMetals from driving heavy equipment through a fish-spawning creek. On Sept. 1, the company’s application in B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction to remove the protesters was granted.

Moyer said she visited the blockade Friday night and learned that anyone arrested for violating the injunction would be prohibited from entering traditional hunting grounds on the Todagin Plateau, the site of the planned mine.

“I was listening to all this and I said, ‘This doesn’t sound right. Why are we being threatened about our own traditional land that we want to protect?’”

Natives spend a month a year camped on the plateau, hunting, Moyer said.

BCMetals president and CEO Ian Smith has said that “the Red Chris mine has received all necessary environmental approvals from federal and provincial authorities.”

On July 4, the company said it had temporarily suspended movement of equipment to explore the Red Chris site because trout were spawning at a creek crossing on the access road.

On Saturday, when equipment crossed the creek after RCMP arrested Moyer, oil spilled into the creek.

“[This] oil spill is our worst nightmare coming true,” said Rhoda Quock, chief of the Iskut band, part of the Tahltan Nation. “It shows what happens to our lands when development is rammed through.”

BCMetals said the spill amounted to less than a half-litre of grease and other hydrocarbons, which washed off the drilling rig and escaped catchment booms.

The Iskut also worry that toxic copper dust will blow from the mine to their community 18 kilometres away, and that leachate from waste ore will contaminate drinking water and fish-bearing streams.

BCMetals expects the mine will produce 50,000 tonnes of copper and 75,000 ounces of gold annually for the first five years. At current prices, that’s $440 million in copper and $51 million in gold.

© The Vancouver Province 2006

Native hunters up north take aim at corporate greed
Friday, August 11, 2006

ISKUT, B.C. — Like their boomer counterparts across the border in Alaska, British Columbia’s politicians dream big dreams of industrial development, but end up spending taxpayers’ dollars on bridges to nowhere.

A $3 million bridge across the Stikine River was built in the late 1970s for B.C. Rail, even though track laying stopped more than 80 miles away.

Simultaneously, another government agency — B.C. Hydro — was planning a dam that would have put the bridge 300 feet under water.

The severity of the land has turned back the boosters, leaving this wild, gorgeous country with a non-intrusive economy — wilderness tourism and natives’ subsistence hunting and fishing.

“The story of the Stikine has essentially been one of false hopes and would-be developments … of railway lines not quite constructed; grand telegraph proposals that failed … gold mines that petered out; copper and coal deposits that defied development, and on and on,” Alaska Geographic magazine observed in the early 1980s.

Twenty-five years later, gold and copper prices are up and a global economy demands “resources” to keep expanding.

But native peoples, who inhabit the 20,000-square-mile Stikine drainage, worry that sacred places will be used and abused, and that multinational companies will “extract” wealth and then walk away.

“The health of the people and health of the land are directly connected. … Everything that we eat comes from here,” said Gerald Amos, chairman of the Nanakila Institute in Kitimat.

Marie Louie, leader of the Iskut Band, notes that several great rivers rise in close proximity among nearby mountains and meadow-covered plateaus.

“If pollution from development goes into one river, it goes into all of the rivers,” Louie said.

On the American side of the border, do we have a dog in this fight?

Yes! Three B.C. river systems where major mining development is proposed — the Stikine, Taku, and Unuk — cross the border into Alaska. All have major salmon runs.

Can subsistence hunters bring down a charging multinational company? Or form a united front against corporate tactics of divide and conquer?

It does happen. In the 1950s, Dr. Edward Teller (“Father of the H-Bomb”) championed a scheme to use nuclear weapons to carve out a harbor in Arctic Alaska. Successful resistance to “Project Chariot” united native villages.

In British Columbia, native leaders in ceremonial robes blocked logging trucks on Lyell Island in the Queen Charlottes. The protest helped create Canada’s Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

Haida natives later went to court and won a greater voice in how Weyerhaeuser logs its lands.

The great MacKenzie Valley of the Northwest Territories was slated for a natural-gas pipeline in the 1970s. Native villages took their case to a government inquiry headed by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Berger.

Berger’s scathing report blocked the pipeline. The project is likely to go ahead, three decades later, with far more direct involvement by the valley’s aboriginal residents.

Yet, the airplane flight back down to Vancouver shows the pains of a resource economy.

At sunset, you can look down and see thousands of drowned trees sticking out of the Ootsa Lake reservoir. Ootsa is a natural lake, dammed and vastly enlarged in the 1950s. Its waters were redirected through the Coast Range to power the giant aluminum smelter at Kitimat.

The lands to be flooded were not logged. Thousands of moose, elk and woodland caribou drowned in the debris-filled reservoir. Native subsistence hunters were packed off to farms bought by the government. The result: rampant alcoholism.

At Brittania Beach, en route from Vancouver to Whistler, is a mine that once produced more copper ore than any other site in the British commonwealth.

Anaconda pulled out in November 1974, making no effort to clean up the mine and its chemical wastes.

It left behind the largest source of metal pollution in North America. A $30 million water treatment plant opened in April of this year, more than 35 years after closure of the mine.

It has made strides in environmental management, but the mining industry remains a bossy, reactionary force in British Columbia. Mining is the province’s third-ranking industry, behind forestry and tourism.

It throws its weight around. A pro-business government under Premier Gordon Campbell took office in 2001. The mining lobby began a drive to reduce by more than 90 percent the popular, newly created South Chilcotin Provincial Park, north of Whistler.

The miners backed off only when warned that environmental protests would torpedo Vancouver’s bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Vancouver newspapers love to depict B.C. environmentalists as strident and unreasonable, while putting industry’s plans in the friendliest focus.

With natives, however, the sneering stops.

They’ve been here 300 years, living off a land that has defeated boomers’ big dreams. They stand their ground, once even driving off Greenpeace anti-hunting activists who flew up from Vancouver.

Used to pushing people and governments around, mining companies may be compelled to walk humbly on the land. It’ll be a character-building lesson.

P-I columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or

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Clayoquot Sound Opened for Logging

Logging in Clayoquot Sound, circa 1993
Logging in Clayoquot Sound, circa 1993

The deal that ended mass protests in Clayoquot Sound was fatally flawed. Now the Big Greens are calling foul.
Wed, 2 Aug 2006

In the mid-1990’s. almost a thousand people were arrested for blocking logging roads leading to untouched rainforest on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. What started as a grassroots campaign later escalated to a markets campaign by Greenpeace and ForestEthics targeting buyers of BC wood. The province and the logging companies were forced to the negotiating table with First Nations and environmentalists. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was drafted as a compromise – to protect a small part of Clayoquot Sound in exchange for an end to the protests.

Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS) – the folks who organized the grassroots civil disobedience campaign – didn’t sign the agreement. They condemned it for allowing logging in most of the remaining pristine valleys of the Sound. The criticisism was well-founded: the MoU was a compromise in the worst sense of the word. For seven years, FOCS has been exposing fresh clearcuts in this eco-tourism paradise.

This week the Big Greens are back on the scene, and Tzeporah Berman, now a director of ForestEthics, is “choking back tears” at the prospect of more logging in Clayoquot. But Berman and others were surely aware that Clayoquot was not protected even as they declared victory in 1999.

Mark Hume reports in the Globe and Mail:

Clayoquot opened to logging
Furious environmental groups threaten resumption of B.C’s ‘war of the woods’

VANCOUVER — More than 90,000 hectares of Clayoquot Sound — an icon of British Columbia’s wilderness and site of the largest environmental protest in Canadian history — has been opened to logging.

The decision, by a planning body known as the Clayoquot Sound Central Region Board, has met with angry denunciations from environmental groups who are warning the “war in the woods” that rocked B.C. during the early 1990s could be on again.

“This is unbelievable,” Adriane Carr, leader of the B.C. Green Party, said yesterday. “To me it’s tantamount to a declaration of war. . . . People all over the world believe that the forests in Clayoquot Sound are protected. They will not stand quietly by as chainsaws rip through the heart of Clayoquot Sound.”

It was after the fury of the past environmental protests that the government set up boards to review logging across the province and devise land-use plans. There has been limited logging in the Clayoquot Sound area in recent years, but major activity has been held in abeyance while the central region board pondered land-use options in a vast area.

Rights to log in the area are held by two companies, Interfor [International Forest Products] and the aboriginal-run [partnership] Iisaak Forest Resources. The logging companies now have to present detailed forest stewardship plans to the central region board before any cutting or road building takes place.

Clayoquot Sound, which covers 350,000 hectares of Crown land on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. But development is restricted only in a core area comprising one national park, 16 provincial parks and two ecological reserves. Outside that core, development can take place in buffer or transition areas as long as it meets scientific guidelines.

The new logging is supposed to meet those standards, but Tzeporah Berman, program director of enivronmental group ForestEthics, said key wilderness areas in the middle of Clayoquot Sound will be lost.

“I never thought I’d say these words: Clayoquot Sound is going to be logged. The pristine valleys are now open to having roads blasted into them,” she said, choking back tears.

She said the decision could trigger blockades. “I hope it’s not going to come to that. But this is our worst nightmare.”

During the summer of 1993, Ms. Berman was a key organizer in a protest that drew 12,000 people (850 of whom were arrested) to a logging-road blockade in Clayoquot Sound. With the Australian band Midnight Oil dropping in for a supporting performance, staged in a clear-cut zone known as the black hole, the event became a catalyst for an international movement to save the richly forested area.

The region, which contains the largest intact old-growth rain forest left on Vancouver Island, is one of B.C.‘s major tourism attractions because of its ancient trees, salmon rivers and scenic ocean beaches.

The Clayoquot protest of 1993 was sparked by a provincial government decision to protect some areas by legislation, while opening 62 per cent of the land to logging. Environmentalists demanded that the whole area be saved, and soon thousands of protesters were flooding in to set up camp and use their bodies to block logging crews.

In a search for peace in the woods, the B.C. government later handed the issue to an international panel of scientists, who were asked to come up with a sustainable plan for logging areas not already set aside as parks. That in turn led to the UN biosphere designation in 2000. But that did not restrict industrial activity in a 58,000-hectare buffer zone and a 180,000-hectare transition area.

Jim Lornie, provincial co-chair of the Clayoquot Sound Central Region Board, said a total logging ban was never contemplated by his group.

In a decision last week, the board agreed to open eight major watersheds to logging, including areas environmental groups have long claimed are irreplaceable, such as Pretty Girl Lake, Ursus Valley, Upper Kennedy River, Clayoquot River and Fortune Channel.

Mr. Lornie said the board is seeking a balance between economic activity and environmental protection. “You really have to factor in the interests of first nations here. . . . At some point down the road they are going to want to put treaties in place and they are going to want to have some form of an economy, whatever the scale of it is, to support their people,” said.

It is expected that logging in the area would largely be done by Iisaak Forest Resources.

Francis Frank, President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council — which represents 14 tribes on Vancouver Island, including five that are members of the Clayoquot board — said all logging would have to meet scientific guidelines.

But Mr. Frank agreed the issue could lead to blockades and to divisions within the native community.

“You face the possibility of road action again. . . . That’s coming across loud and clear that if Iisaak was to proceed and get into some of these pristine areas that they shouldn’t be surprised that the environmentalists are out on the logging roads.”

Mr. Frank said that in 1993, aboriginals largely supported the blockades. Would that happen again, even if the loggers were natives this time?

“I’m sure [environmental protesters] would have a level of support within first-nation communities. Now what degree or level, I don’t know, but I’m certain there will be some.”

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“No Threat” to Spotted Owls in Canada?

Northern Spotted Owl nestlings
Northern Spotted Owl nestlings

Despite petitions from environmental groups, the federal Environment Minister won’t step in to save the owl

Sun, 27 Aug 2006

Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose says there is “no imminent threat” of extinction for spotted owls, while experts report the estimated number of remaining owls has fallen from 22 to 17.

Ambrose was responding to an appeal by conservation groups to invoke an emergency provision of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and immediately protect owl habitat in British Columbia. But instead, she shrugged it off. “There is no imminent threat to the survival or recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl at this time,” Ambrose said in a press release August 16.

Environmentalists reacted with dismay and bewilderment to the announcement that Ottawa would take no action to protect the owl.

Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, asked, “How can the Minister claim that northern spotted owls are not threatened when more and more owls disappear each year?”

“Minister Ambrose has set such a low standard for the Species at Risk Act in terms of its protections for endangered species that the law has been rendered meaningless,” said Devon Page, a staff lawyer with Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

Instead of taking action, Ambrose was content to praise the “commitment from British Columbia to preserve and increase the population of Northern Spotted Owls.”

The Environment Minister’s press release states:

The Government of British Columbia has announced an action plan that includes halting timber harvesting activities in areas of the interior of the province currently occupied by the remaining Owls.

The “action plan” Ambrose refers to appears to be a decision in April to suspend logging in newly-designated owl habitat areas. Conservationists point out, however, that the areas have not yet received any permanent, legislated protection. Given BC’s record of making vague promises and then reneging, environmentalists say they are skeptical.

Currently, what the province calls spotted owl conservation guidelines actually mandate more logging of owl habitat. In designated areas:

67 per cent of forested habitat suitable for spotted owls (i.e. old growth forest) must be retained;

Harvesting must not take place on more than 50 per cent of the land base; and

No forest harvesting is permitted within 500 metres of a nest site.

In other words, up to one-third of the owl’s remaining forest habitat can be logged, along with up to one-half of the land base, which includes non-forested areas.

Only three nest sites were documented by spotted owl researchers in BC this year. One nest tree was blown down by wind, killing a nestling, and another may have been lost to clearcuts by Cattermole Timber in July. Cattermole and the province both denied any knowledge of owls nesting on the site. Studies funded by the province are still attempting to locate any surviving owls in the vicinity.

The B.C. government also announced in April it would spend $3.4 million on a five-year spotted owl recovery program that focuses on captive breeding and releases to the wild.

In 2005, researchers found evidence of 22 owls in BC, with six breeding pairs. Further population audits carried out by conservation biologists this year indicate 17 owls are now living in BC’s southern inland rainforest.

In her decision to wash her hands of the owl’s fate, Minister Ambrose referenced the provincial Spotted Owl Recovery Plan, which is still in draft form and open to public comment online until September 25. The plan is not endorsed by any BC environmental groups.

The authors of the report, the Canadian Spotted Owl Recovery Team (CSORT), had this disturbing summary:

The CSORT recognizes that certain recovery measures (e.g., population enhancement measures) are not well tested, and the outcome of such actions is uncertain. The likelihood that the Spotted Owl will recover naturally (without human intervention) to numbers sufficient to down-list the species is considered to be extremely low, and therefore, active human intervention is recommended. Although the CSORT believes that recovery is biologically feasible, we recognize that the recovery of the Spotted Owl faces several significant logistical, societal and economic challenges, and that even if all these challenges are met, there is no guarantee that recovery will occur over the short term.

Still, the CSORT report is cautiously optimistic that the population can eventually recover, pointing to the success of species like the whooping crane and California condor. But Ottawa and Victoria are signaling that while public relations are important, the loss of an entire species – through destroying the ecosystem on which it depends – does not merit taking strong and decisive action.

On August 19, members of the Sierra Club of Canada gathered on Parliament Hill for a ceremony to mourn the impending loss of the spotted owl from Canada.

“How low must the spotted owl population go before the minister admits that extirpation is imminent?” asked Stephen Hazell of the Sierra Club.

“Canada’s whooping crane population collapsed in the early 20th century, bottoming out at 16 birds in 1941. Is it not embarrassing to all Canadians that the federal government is not prepared to fight for the spotted owl, as Canadian and American governments did for the whooping crane in the midst of the Great Depression and the Second World War?”

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee is considering further legal action to protect the owl.

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Killing Spotted Owls with Chainsaws

26 Jul 2006
Northern Spotted Owl

Has government-approved logging doomed Canada’s spotted owl?

In the race against time to save Canada’s only population of Northern Spotted Owls, a wilderness biologist reports a disturbing setback.

British Columbia conservationists charge the government is handing out permits to log the last remaining habitat for the spotted owl in Canada. BC’s Timber Sales Program grants licenses for small logging operations, allowing local companies to clearcut where Big Timber fears to tread. The timber sales target the valuable remnants of old-growth forest in southwestern BC – the same forest the owls require to survive.

Decades of logging and development have left fewer than two dozen owls in BC’s fragmented landscape, and only two nests have been documented this year. Earlier this month, researchers found a Cattermole Timber logging operation at one of the nest sites.

“It was a sad sight,” commented Andy Miller, a leading spotted owl biologist with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. “With all these small areas of felled trees dispersed over the hillside, I can only hope and pray that the company did not cut down the owl’s nest tree.”

“Why would a logging company purposefully fall trees in an area with a documented nest of one of Canada’s most endangered species?” Miller asked.

In early July, Miller got a close look at the mini-clearcuts in a remote area of the Anderson Valley north of Hope, BC. “It appears that this covert logging operation was not completed, and that the loggers quickly abandoned the site for unknown reasons.” Trees were felled but not hauled out, he said.

The old-growth groves in the Anderson Valley are not accessible by road. The logging crew apparently came and went by helicopter.

Cattermole Timber spokesman Ted Holtby and Chilliwack District Forest Supervisor Kerry Grozier deny any wrongdoing, and a provincial official says logging has been suspended pending more surveys to determine if any owls remain in the area. Kevin Jardine at the Species At Risk Coordination Office said Cattermole Timber was asked in April to voluntarily suspend logging in the area, in return for logging rights in other timber stands.[1]

Holtby is angry with the conservation group about what he calls “misinformation.” Holtby said the company is financially pressured by court delays and the costs of preparing the grove for logging, which have already hit $60,000.[2]

“There’s no way to recoup that money and the government isn’t going to cut us a check,” Holtby said.

Experts have predicted Canada’s spotted owl population will be extinct by 2010.[3] The loss of a nest site this month stacks the odds against new chicks hatching next year and in the future.

The clearcuts at Anderson Creek may prove to be the last step on the path to extinction for Canada’s spotted owls.

Cattermole Timber has a history of government-approved logging in spotted owl habitat. In 2004, the company cleared an old-growth grove where spotted owls were documented near Chilliwack, BC, over the vigorous protests of environmentalists. The district’s Forest Development Plan has already approved more clearcuts at the Anderson Valley and Chilliwack sites.

Endangered species have no protection under BC law, and the federal Species at Risk Act only applies to federal land, not provincial forests. WCWC and four other groups, led by Sierra Legal Defense Fund, are currently pursuing a judicial review in the Federal Court of Canada, asking the Environment Minister to intervene and protect the spotted owl. But it is a faint hope; unless Ottawa invokes the emergency provision of the Act, there is no way to compel the province to save the owl’s habitat.

In fact, provincial officials have tried to spin the clearcuts as somehow beneficial for the owls.

Cindy Stern of the South Island Forest District of the BC Ministry of Forests was responsible for the 2001 decision to allow Cattermole to log in spotted owl habitat. In that decision, and in a subsequent CBC Radio interview defending it, Stern stated the logging might actually enhance the habitat of the owl, and “thinning” the forest could boost the numbers of flying squirrels, the owl’s favorite prey. Further, she said, by logging the owl’s habitat, the province could gather valuable data on the environmental impacts of such logging.

Stern’s reasoning contradicts reality. Spotted owls rely exclusively on forests over 125 years old, and cannot adapt to younger forests, where they are out-competed by other species. Studies^[4]^ on the environmental impacts of logging in owl habitat demonstrate – even with selective harvesting – that habitat loss equals population loss. Conversely, the owls are an indicator species for healthy forests; the loss of spotted owls in southwest BC marks the loss of interior old-growth ecosystems in the region.

After Stern approved the logging plan, WCWC launched a court action to prevent Cattermole Timber from logging the Anderson Creek grove. The BC Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction putting the timber harvest on hold, but in August 2002 the case was dismissed. Justice Shabbits stated in his decision that BC’s forestry laws do not protect the spotted owl from extinction. According to Shabbits’ ruling, “it is currently a matter of speculation or argument whether timber harvesting might improve or enhance owl habitat.”

The ruling disregarded the conclusions of the Ministry’s spotted owl recovery team, which recommended logging be suspended in owl habitat so the population could recover.[5]

Experts question why the province refuses to accept the conclusion of its own scientists, and why it instead chose to fund a logging consortium’s effort to discredit the report. In 2003, the Ministry of the Environment handed out $247,000 to the Fraser Timber Supply Area Cooperative Association to “review” the science panel’s data. The province later shelved the report along with the possibility of habitat protection for the owl.[6]

While logging continues in the old-growth forest, the province has announced a new recovery plan that relies on unscientific experiments rather than habitat protection. Spotted owls have never bred in captivity, but BC proposes to capture owls and attempt to get them to mate in a cage. This plan is likely to fail, just as a similar owl capture program failed three years ago.

In the winter of 2002, government biologists snatched a baby owl from the wild and kept her in a cage with a good food supply until spring. In 2003, she was released in the forest near a single male so the two could mate and raise a brood.

It didn’t work. The baby owl, named Hope, survived the winter but died shortly after release. Reportedly, the single male already had a mate, and the two drove the young owl out of the old-growth forest. Without hunting skills and adequate cover, the owl starved to death.

Conservation groups have condemned the government’s spotted owl recovery plan as unworkable. Devon Page, staff lawyer for Sierra Legal Defence Fund, called it “managing for extinction.”

“If the B.C. government truly intended to save the owl, it would protect enough habitat for recovery of the species,” Page said. “You’d have to protect all the remaining old growth.”

Barlee added, “We are watching the species go extinct right before our eyes, due to government inaction and the greed of some of BC’s logging companies.”

1 ‘Spotted Owl Flap Halts Logging Plan,’ Hope Standard, July 20, 2006.

2 Ibid.

3 Western Canada Wilderness Committee, In Defence of Canada’s Spotted Owl, December 2005, p.8.

4 Blackburn, I. R., 1991. “The distribution, habitat selection and status of the Northern Spotted Owl in southwestern British Columbia, 1991.” (Unpublished report, BC Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Wildlife Branch, Surrey, BC.)

also Franklin, A. B., K. P. Burnham, G. C. White, R. G. Anthony, E. D. Forsman, C. Schwarz, J. D. Nichols and J. Hines, 1999. “Range-wide status and trend in Northern Spotted Owl populations.” (Unpublished Report. Colorado State University and Oregon State University, Fort Collins, CO.)

also Hanson, E., D. Hays, L. Hicks, L. Young and J. Buchanan, 1993. “Spotted owl habitat in Washington.” (Washington Forest Practices Board. Washington.)

also Hodum, P. and S. Harrison, 1997. “Ecological Assessment of British Columbia Spotted Owl Management Plan” (California: University of California.)

5 Blackburn, I. R. et al, 2002. “Population Assessment of the Spotted Owl in British Columbia, 1997 – 2001.” (Vancouver, Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.)

6 In Defence of Canada’s Spotted Owl, p. 11.

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