The Battle for Clayoquot Sound
Air Date: Week of November 19, 1993
Host Steve Curwood reports on the battle over logging in one of North America's last tracts of old-growth temperate rainforest, at Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia. The provincial government's decision to log two-thirds of the area on Vancouver Island has sparked the largest civil disobedience movement in Canada's history and sent scientists and Native residents scrambling to document and preserve as much of the rare ecosystem as possible.
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.
(Ocean sounds full, then under)
CURWOOD: Daybreak on Long Beach, Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island, where the Pacific Ocean roars up to meet the mountains of western Canada. This sliver of sand provides the illusion of a border between the two worlds, but as the bald eagle cruising overhead for breakfast testifies, life here doesn't recognize the boundary. In fact, the interaction between land, sea, and air in this part of the world has created one of the richest and rarest ecosystems on earth: a temperate rainforest. Even before humans began cutting them down, temperate rainforests occupied less than one percent of the earth's land. Now less than half that remains, and it's falling fast.
British Columbia's rainforest is being cut twice as fast as the Brazilian rainforest. The old-growth cedar, spruce and hemlock trees in this tract of more than a half-million acres of Clayoquot Sound are literally worth billions, and the provincial government plans to allow two-thirds of it to be harvested. B.C. was built in large part on the ax and the saw, and its economy is still heavily dependent on cutting trees and shipping them south and west to the United States and Japan. But there's a growing sense among many here that Clayoquot Sound is where British Columbia should draw the line.
(Sound of heavy rain, fade under)
CURWOOD: It took more than a century for loggers to reach this part of Canada's far west, and that may in part be because the terrain is so unforgiving and the weather so extreme.
BIZWAZ: If it rains like this for an hour you are just going to be amazed. The water level is just going to go whoop, way up.
CURWOOD: Kumar BIzwaz is a graduate student in zoology who helps run a research station deep inside the Clayoquot rainforest. He works out of a small cabin on a platform 15 feet off the ground, beside a lake. The stilts keep the cabin from disturbing the dense vegetation on the forest floor here, but they also have a more practical purpose - just a week before we arrived they kept the cabin from being flooded during a heavy rain. Kumar tells us that while it almost never snows here, rainfall averages 500 inches, or more than 40 feet a year.
BIZWAZ: We are located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, so large massive clouds travel inland. When they hit the mountains, the coastal mountains, they get squeezed, dumping a significant amount of rain in this area.
CURWOOD: This immense amount of moisture supports some of the most biologically-rich forest in the world - perhaps ten times as dense as the Amazon. BIzwaz is part of a group of scientists which is racing against the clock to document and understand the intricate ecology of the area. It's one of the last large pieces of the rainforest which once lined much of the coast from northern California to southern Alaska.
(Sound of footsteps)
CURWOOD: It's tough to get around in these woods. Even when the sun's out, it's almost dusk under the dense canopy of the cathedral-high evergreens, many of them six to eight hundred years old. Then there are the decaying logs. Indeed, most of the forest's woody matter lies on its floor. It's so thick and cluttered with dead growth that it's nearly impossible to walk through it. So we mostly travel along the natural trails of the stream beds.
(Sound of canoe being paddled)
CURWOOD: We set out for an area where Bizwaz and his fellow scientists are collecting samples. The preferred mode of travel here is the canoe.
(Sound of paddling)
BIZWAZ: So this is the entrance of the upper river. We're gonna go up towards the left.
CURWOOD: The water is drinking-water-pure and so clear that even the deepest pools - perhaps eight feet - can be seen right to the bottom
BIZWAZ: Oh, look at that big salmon, did you see that? Beauty! Keep your eye out in the pools, the different pools, because definitely by now there's been the first group of sockeye have moved from the ocean up into the river now.
CURWOOD: As we beach the canoes on the bank, I see the body of a ten-pound salmon - almost a perfect fillet, for the head is gone, probably eaten a short while before by the bald eagle gliding overhead.
BIZWAZ: They eat the head first and especially at this time of year where the salmon are plentiful they sometimes just leave the rest, and other animals will come along like pine marten or any other type of small mammal will eat on the rest of the salmon that's sitting on the edge of the river bank.
CURWOOD: Salmon inhabit perhaps the widest range of any member of this forest ecosystem, from the mountain streams down through the lakes, out to the estuaries where the fresh water meets the salt, and then on to the continental shelf and the open ocean. So they're of special interest to researchers like biologist Jim Darling, the director of the Clayoquot Biosphere project.
DARLING: Salmon rely on specific conditions in streams throughout the forests to spawn. Then there is all kinds of marine life which rely on the salmon. Consequently there is a clear connection between a species which travel well out into the Northern Pacific ocean and a healthy intact rainforest habitat.
CURWOOD: Darling wonders whether a recent decline in fish stocks and other marine life is due in part to rainforest destruction and the disruption of the delicate interaction here of land and sea. He says scientists still know very little about this area's ecology, and the government really doesn't know what the environmental impact of its logging plan will be.
DARLING: These are decisions made I guess based on wishful thinking at best. And so we felt, let's start the process of seeing if we can begin to understand what occurs, what kind of events occur naturally in this area. We simply have to do that before one can even begin to recognize, much less predict, the consequences of various human impacts.
(Sound of footsteps)
CURWOOD: A couple of dozen yards from the river, German botanist Jutta Meyer takes us into a study area. It's a small plot marked off by a red plastic ribbon.
CURWOOD: Have you found anything new or unusual here?
MEYER: You've got some rare species, like for example mosses which grow along the river bank, which need clean water like this edense (sic) which is a really beautiful moss, and you don't find that very often.
CURWOOD: There's an overwhelming visual richness of green, spiced with the brownish red of the cedars. Moss-like plants hang everywhere, and carpet the tree trunks, rocks and fallen logs. A waist-high jumble of ferns and bushes complete an almost a magical feel.
MEYER: In front of us is a red alder, and it's completely covered with mosses, but there's another epiphytic plant, it's a fern and it's called licorice fern, because the roots of it, they taste like licorice. That's why they call it. CURWOOD: Is it safe to eat, to taste it?
MEYER: Yeah ,we could have a try. It's better just to taste a little bit because it kind of like I think it does something to your digestion.
CURWOOD: Mmm, licorice. It's delicious.
MEYER: Yeah, well, It depends if you like licorice or not.
CURWOOD: As Meyer and her colleagues work on identifying this species of plant or that subspecies of insect, always in the back of their minds there is the sense that they have little time. This very spot is slated to be cut, and Kumar Bizwaz says this may be the last chance to record the area's unique mix of species.
BIZWAZ: It's basically trying to put together a puzzle, is what we are doing, and once the puzzle is constructed we'll have a better idea of what's here. It is safe to say at the moment for ecological processes and systems, the temperate rainforest is one of the least known systems on the earth. And by putting this together we'll have a better picture.
CURWOOD: Do you think there are uncatalogued species here?
BIZWAZ: Yes, most definitely, insect species, south of here in the canopy they found new species of insects.
CURWOOD: How old are these trees we're looking at?
BIZWAZ: Off the cuff, give or take a hundred years, possibly 300, possibly 200, and that one could be one to two hundred years old.
CURWOOD: To a timber company, what are these trees worth?
BIZWAZ: This large Sitka spruce? Between 20-25,000, that one tree.
CURWOOD: Gee, a year's college tuition.
BIZWAZ: Hm, yeah, but also numerous years' knowledge.
(SFX: Some hiking sounds then canoeing sounds under)
CURWOOD: These scientists don't reject all cutting of this rare temperate rainforest, but they do oppose the clearcuts that will destroy much of the eco-system before it can even be understood. The clearcut is a radical change from the way people have used this eco-system for thousands of years. The first humans recorded here came from North Asia after the last Ice Age. Along Clayoquot Lake there are relics of winter camps dating back more than 4,000 years, of the people who now call themselves the Clay-o-quot, anglicized to Klakwat. On the lake's shore we find a more recent relic, the overturned stump of a massive fallen cedar. It's clear that the tree fell on its own, but most of it is gone. Besides the stump, only wood chips and branches remain.
(SFX: Walking on cedar)
CURWOOD: Look at this tree, this is huge. How big is this thing, well, I can reach, well, it's my arm span, it's about 6 feet.
BIZWAZ: Two and a half meters, six feet across. It's a huge tree. It would probably be over 650 years old. It's been blown down for a few years and you can see the center part is starting to rot and so is this edge part here.
(Chiseling sound comes up)
MARTIN: You can see where I left off here, ay. I smoothed it off at one time.
CURWOOD: About twenty miles away we find the destination of forty feet of that red cedar, the boathouse workshop of Carl Martin, master canoe-builder of the Clay-o-quot.
MARTIN: I can see where all the lumps are so I'm gonna go over it again and then I'll smooth it again with a plane. I'll use this particular tool here which is what we call a diadze.
CURWOOD: Martin and a crew of helpers squared off and hollowed out the log where it fell, and then floated it downriver to the harbor where he lives. Eventually he will transform it into an eight-man whaling canoe. Martin was a commercial fisherman who quit a few years ago in the face of declining fishing stocks, and began making Clay-o-quot canoes, in the ancient tradition handed down to him by both of his grandfathers.
CURWOOD: How do you know which log to take from the forest?
MARTIN: I've never taken a tree that was standing. Most of the cedars that we've ever made canoes out of have been out of trees that have been fallen already, they're wind-fallentrees, they've come to the end of their life and they just stand there for a few hundred years and fall. A cedar can last for several hundred years in the forest, decaying. I know some places there's some cedars that have fallen down and there's trees that are growing on them that are more than 300 years old.
CURWOOD: And like the native peoples of tropical rainforests, the Clay-o-quot use the forest for more than just woodworking.
MARTIN: The forest for our people was, was like a pharmacy, aye. They use various types of woods for different medicines. They used to use hemlock, they used to use spruce, alder, crabapple. I remember as a kid when my dad used to get sick, my grand mother used to send medicines to him all the time that she had made up herself. And my dad's still with us here today, he's 69 years old.
CURWOOD: That's getting up there for native peoples here, who for much of this century have suffered low life expectancies and high disease and poverty rates.
(Crossfade to ambience of Meares Island children)
CURWOOD: Most of the Clay-o-quot community lives here, on Meares Island in the main harbor of Clayoquot Sound. Like almost all of the First Nation bands west of the Rockies, the Clay-o-quot never had a treaty with the Canadian Government. For years they were mostly ignored in this remote corner of British Columbia, but when development picked up in the 1970s the tribe began fighting back, pressing land claims. In the 1980s it won its first major victory - an injunction against logging on Meares Island. Now, the Clay-o-quot and other local native communities are stepping up their fight against the new logging plan. Elected Chief Francis Frank says the battle is crucial to their treaty negotiations.
FRANK: All we're trying to do is to protect what limited space is left for us at the treaty table. You have to appreciate 20,30,40% of our territory has been logged already, there is very limited resources available left there.
(SFX: fade up chain saws)
CURWOOD: Across the bay to east, crews from the partially government-owned logging company MacMillan Bloedel are hard at work clearcutting old growth. The cleared areas are smaller than clearcuts of years past, and strips of forest are left as wildlife corridors between the remaining stands. But already nearly a quarter of the entire Clayoquot area has been denuded.
(Sound of falling timber)
CURWOOD: Downed trees are scattered everywhere in this clearcut, waiting to be stripped of their branches, sectioned up and hauled away. A lone tree juts skyward from the scarred landscape. MacMillan Bloedel crew safety officer Greg Dennis admits that clearcuts like these aren't pretty.
DENNIS: They are an eyesore, but so is a parking lot and so is the Safeway downtown, there are lots of things that are eyesores, but you could go to extremes.
CURWOOD: "Extremes" in this case might mean putting the one thousand loggers here out of their jobs. Logging is a huge part of British Columbia's economy. Markets in the US and Japan drive a $7 billion a year forest export business. And Clayoquot Sound is one of the prime logging areas. Gary Petrucco is the chief forester for this division of MacMillan Bloedel. He says the economic value of these trees needs to be realized. And he says while that will change the forest, it won't destroy it.
PETRUCCO: When you are talking about biodiversity of a forest, of an old-growth forest and all its complications and complicating interactions, ask yourself, do I want to maintain that over every hectare of forested land? Because if you do, then this isn't going to cut it. Harvesting is going to change things. Look at some of the stands, for example, that have resulted from some of the operations in the past. Look at what you see kind of inside the stands of this mature forest here, and how do they compare? They are not going to be exact, but It's not going to be a devastated biological desert, if you want to put it that way.
(Truck pulls up close, idles, engine turns off, mic feedback)
VOICE: Good morning, I am an employee of MacMillan Bloedel and I am asking you to stand off the roadway now and allow our trucks and employees to continue on their way to work. Thank you very much.
CUROOD: Throughout the summer of 1993 protestors blocked the way of the loggers into Clayoquot Sound in the largest civil disobedience movement in Canada's history. By fall, 800 people were facing charges. Every day half-a-dozen or so volunteers would let themselves be arrested.
OFFICER: Good morning.
MCDONALD: Good morning.
OFFICER: What is your name?
MCDONALD: Zoe MacDonald
OFFICER: Zoe McDonald? I'm arresting you for failure to comply with Chief Justice Essen's (sic) court order. Are you going to walk?
MCDONALD: Walk where?
OFFICER: To the bus. You're under arrest.
MCDONALD: Yes, sir.
OFFICER: You'll walk.
MCDONALD: Yes, sir.
(Drum starts up as the trucks move by)
CURWOOD: Valerie Langer is a coordinator for the Friends of Clayoquot. She says so many people came to the protests because they believe they have a real chance to save a rare ecosystem.
LANGER: What's happened is that Clayoquot Sound is probably the best spot to start working if you have any fear of loss of wilderness and loss of species. This is the place that is at risk right now. And it is the place that if we save it has the greatest possibility of providing enough of an ecosystem to support all the life forms of a temperate rainforest.
(Sound of protest chants: "Save Clayoquot Sound" - "NOW!")
CURWOOD: The protesters arrested at Clayoquot Sound were brought here for trial, to the provincial capital of Victoria. And along with them came more protestors. A summer of front page headlines had given the clashes at Clayoquot national attention, and polls showed BC residents closely divided over the cutting.
VOICE #1: I used to be a tree planter and I planted all over this island and I've seen where they've logged and I know that company well, I worked for them for four years and they don't do a good job and this whole island is trashed. There's nothing left and they should save it, they really should.
VOICE #2: You know, you look around and you see them all carrying wooden signs and paper. We need the wood industry, it keeps us alive. It's what built British Columbia. That and mining, where do we stop.
CURWOOD: Think we should stop now?
VOICE #2: I don't know. I think we should look at clearcut, I agree with no more clear cutting.
CHANTS: "No more clear-cuts! No more clear-cuts!"
VOICE #3: As far as the forestry industry goes if it's well managed, which I really think the forest industry has a vested interest in sustainable logging, that it can't be resolved. In my mind these are pretty radical people.
(Chant and drumming fade under)
CURWOOD: Four flights above the demonstration, British Columbia's chief forester John Cuthbert says he's rather surprised at all the attention now focused on Clayoquot Sound. But he says the Clayoquot harvest plan is reasonable and that BC is committed to a balanced development strategy.
CUTHBERT: Our planning of course is designed to ensure we have a mix of areas, we have a protected area strategy in the province which is designed to protect 12 percent of the land base, on the basis of representative ecosystems and unique features that will ensure that we do protect some of the old-growth for future generations to see and also as benchmarks for research scientists to see how those old-growth stands evolve over time.
CURWOOD: But Cuthbert is a civil servant. His job is to implement and defend policy, not to make it. And since the 800 arrests, the provincial government may have opened the door to the possibility of change. The environment and forestry ministers have been replaced and the government has toughened penalties for logging violations. But the logging itself continues. Canada's federal government doesn't have much sway over provincial resources. But Prime Minister Jacques Chretien did propose during his campaign to turn Clayoquot Sound into a national park. It has become a national issue. Chief Forester John Cuthbert points out that the rest of the world has some responsibility as well.
CUTHBERT: The other part of the equation is the world demand for wood doesn't seem to be decreasing, it's increasing.
CURWOOD: Even opponents of the government agree with that. While the protests at Clayoquot continue, they've also taken their campaign across the border to the US, which is the biggest consumer of British Columbian timber and pulp wood.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth