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Tragedy and Opportunity

by Dan Lewis

Ten years ago I circumnavigated Vancouver Island by kayak. It was the trip of a lifetime, moving slowly by the landscape, with lots of time to observe and reflect.

Several things made a lasting impression on me. First, the intact natural landscapes were incredibly wild and beautiful places. Second, these natural areas were rare, and the clearcuts separating them were unbelievably big and bad. And finally, if things didn't change soon, those precious few wild areas would be destroyed by industrial logging.

A lot has happened on the Island since then. For one thing, the unsustainable rate of logging has continued, largely unabated. In fact, the rate of cutting has actually increased! Also, a lot of public scrutiny has been focused on the issue of clearcutting the remaining bits of globally rare coastal temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island.

Most of the response to this scrutiny has been in the form of window dressing. In response to public outcry, the BC government set up commissions, created new parks, and even passed a Forest Practices Code that was supposed to impose stringent penalties against any malpractice in the forests.

In fact, most of this has had little effect. The negotiation table set up failed to meet consensus-they never even really dealt with the substantive issues before them. The new laws governing logging have not yet been fully implemented. Even so, the logging companies complained about economic hardship when the Asian markets collapsed a few years ago. In response, the government gutted the already-feeble legislation.

Don't get me wrong, some very good things have happened. It's important to celebrate positive changes. But mainly the government staged a PR coup. The household-name contentious areas were made into parks. To the extent that this has stopped logging in these areas, this is a good thing.

But in a world of ten-second sound bites, not many of the Island's wilderness areas were known to the average citizen. And the unknown areas have been harder hit during the last decade, now that the new parks are off-limits.

Some of the government's revenue from logging companies was made available to try to repair the damage caused by past logging. Salmon stream restoration was a big recipient of this funding. But the total effort so far is a mere drop in the bucket compared to how much damage remains to be healed. The mountains are still bleeding topsoil down into salmon spawning beds. And meanwhile new scars are being inflicted on the landscape.

Recent developments are threatening the fate of Vancouver Island's old growth forests. Government officials recently signed a management plan for the Island which calls for almost half of the area to be logged to standards lower than Forest Practices Code-legally. More than a third will be logged according to the standards of the now-gutted Code. Less than a tenth will be "specially" managed-if it hasn't already been stripped bare, like Mt. Paxton and Red Stripe Mountain near Kyuquot.

All of this will have a direct effect on the many paddlers who come to Vancouver Island from far and wide seeking solitude, peace, and renewed connections with Nature.

It's tragic that the BC government has declined to implement any sort of progressive vision for the new millennium. They have failed to provide a landbase for the Island's thriving ecotourism industry, and this is endangering rural communities trying to diversify their economies.

If you enjoy visiting Vancouver Island's wild places, take a moment to let BC Premier Ujjal Dosanjh know your views. (Ph: 250-387-1715 Fax: 250-387-0087)

Paddlers should especially express concerns about the potential for destruction of the west coast of Nootka Island and the northwest coast of Vancouver Island from San Josef Bay to Quatsino Sound. But environmental battles are increasingly being fought in the marketplace. Informed consumers of wood products are having a huge influence on the policies of logging companies by demanding old-growth-free products. If these companies can't sell ancient rainforest products, they won't cut them.

Whether you're buying paper for the office photocopier, or wood for your next kayak, please take the time to source out wood that is certified oldgrowth-free. This is the only way to help these companies understand that they must stop logging in ancient rainforests and start producing wood on the millions of acres that have already been cut over.

Consumer action can make the crucial difference-but time is of the essence. If you'd like more information, you might want to check out www.oldgrowth This site discusses alternatives and includes info on suppliers.