Thursday, 5 May 2011
Victory in the Great Bear Rainforest - Ten Years On
(From the Lammas 2001 issue of Pentacle Magazine)
According to the stories of the Kitasoo and Gitga’at people, when the great glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, The Creator proceeded to set aside an island on which every tenth Black Bear would be born white. On this island the Spirit Bears would “live in peace forever” to remind the people of the time when their green forest was once white.
And so even today, on Princess Royal Island, where grey wolves roam, eagles soar and wild salmon return the streams of their birth as part of an age old cycle, amidst one thousand-year-old Red and Yellow cedar and Sitka spruce trees, every tenth Black Bear cub is born white. They remind us still of how fragile our climate is.
May 13th 1998. Trafalgar Square. The Canadian Air Force Colonel was already having a bad day. It was late morning on a hot, late spring day. Tourists pressed behind the barriers sweltered in the heat, whilst laid back police officers in shirtsleeves looked on. Scarlet uniformed Royal Canadian Mounted Police formed a Guard of Honour next to the red carpet that ran up the steps of Canada House.
In a few minutes Her Majesty the Queen would arrive to formally open the refurbished embassy, and it was his job to make sure things ran smoothly. They were running anything but smoothly right now. Instead of ‘God Save the Queen’ the message the tourists were getting was ‘God Save Canada’s Rainforest’, spelt out on a banner 170 feet long hanging off Nelson’s Column.
The Queen was minutes away, surely nothing else could go wrong. Suddenly he spotted movement in the crowd. A gap had suddenly appeared in the barrier and from it emerged four more Mounties. This wasn’t part of the plan. The British police, thinking these were late arrivals from his party had already stopped the traffic and waved them across the road. Cursing the limey’s he rushed forwards, but the Mounties were already on the red carpet. Turning to the still applauding crowd of confused tourists they unrolled a scroll marked Greenpeace and began reading….
The Battle for the Trees
The area known as the Great Bear Rainforest is a lush, temperate rainforest, the size of Switzerland that links the mountains with the sea in British Columbia, on Canada’s West Coast. For thousands of years it has been the home to First Nation’s people who left their signs on the ancient trees, some twice the height of Nelson’s Column. For generations too the forest has been logged for timber, but with the arrival of the large multi-national corporations in the 1960’s the rate of logging increased rapidly. By the 1990’s an acre of forest was being lost every twelve seconds in massive ‘clearcuts’, up to 100 acres in size, in which all trees and bushes were removed.
By 1995 Vancouver Island to the south had been almost completely deforested, and the logging roads were driving into virgin forest. Amongst the areas under threat were the Spirit Bear’s home on Princess Royal Island and the valley of Ista, sacred to the Nuxalk tribe. It was here that The Creator, through The Great Spirit, set the first Nuxalk on the earth, and for ten thousand years the tribe lived in balance with Nature.
This was too much for the Nuxalk and they struck back. Hereditary chiefs blocked logging roads and ended up in jail, others visited Britain to raise awareness of the campaign. In Manchester they ‘confiscated’ cedar planks from a timber yard. The planks were handed into a police station as stolen property as the Nuxalk claimed the multi-nationals had not had permission to remove the wood from their land.
However the Indians were not the only people fighting these cowboys. The Forest Action Network (FAN) was formed in the summer of 1993 when the clearcuts threatened Clayoquot Sound, the last pristine area of Vancouver Island. With legal and political efforts to stop the clearcuts failing, FAN took direct action and an estimated 800 people were arrested for blocking roads. When resistance was still continuing in autumn the government decided to compromise and launched a scientific inquiry that would eventually recommend a ban on clearcutting. Meanwhile the battle had spread to other parts of the Great Bear Rainforest.
FAN formed an alliance with the Nuxalk nation, and in their little yacht the Starlet they set out from their base in the town of Bella Coola to stop the cuts. Their ‘bottom line’ was ‘no logging in pristine valleys’. Communications with the outside world were difficult, and usually involved activists having to dive overboard carrying bicycles, swim ashore, and pedal off in search of fishing parties who could carry messages and film back to Bella Coola.
By this time though the Great Bear Rainforest was an international campaign, and Greenpeace entered the fray. As well as joining the blockades, Greenpeace started a series of high profile actions across Europe. The aim was to cut off the main market for clearcut timber. The campaign started with a European tour for ‘Stumpy’, a 400 year old tree stump. After that Greenpeace lobbied DIY stores, timber yards, and furniture suppliers. They also occupied a ship bringing rainforest timber to Glasgow before carrying out the most high profile action of all in Trafalgar Square. At last the Canadian press took notice, and the action was carried in all the main papers.
The logging multi-nationals though had no intention of taking all this lying down. When slinging activists in jail for a month at a time showed no sign of stopping the blockades, they hired the leading anti-environmental PR agency Burson-Marstellar, as the embattled GM food industry was later to do. An industry funded front organisation, the Forest Alliance, was formed and Greenpeace renegade Patrick Moore was hired to chair it. He was soon in Europe trying to keep the market for clearcut timber open.
The logging industry claimed that the clearcuts, once replanted, would return to their original state, that clearcuts were no more destructive to wildlife than natural events such as fires, and that it’s work was needed to preserve jobs. Unfortunately the truth was rather different, as any journalist that covered the actions in the forest could see. Replanted, second-growth forests are monocultures that could not compare with the rich wildlife habitats of old-growth forest, whilst even the most destructive forest fire could not clear an area of vegetation as completely as a clearcut. It was the issue of jobs though that would finally scupper the logging industry.
Trapped in the middle between environmentalists wanting to save the trees and the multi-nationals trying to save their profits were the loggers, the ‘silent majority’ in the campaign. Theirs was a ‘Catch 22’ situation. Whilst they relied on the multi-nationals for a living, they also knew that when the forest went, so would their jobs.
Such was the situation in the summer of 1998. But the events in Trafalgar Square market the beginning of the final act. By autumn no major company in Europe was admitting to importing timber from the Great Bear Rainforest. The focus of the campaign moved back to Canada, and the first of the multi-nationals agree to amend its ways.
The issue had always been about how to log the forest, not whether we should log the forest. Clearcutting, which uses large machinery, is very profitable, but small-scale, selective, logging creates more jobs, whilst having a minimal impact on the environment Saving the forest turned out to have other benefits as well. Amongst the 200 species found to have antibiotic, anti-viral and antifungal properties was taxol, which is now used to treat ovarian cancer.
The future of the forest looked bright.
Back to the Barricades
But this was a false dawn. The temptation to turn the trees into dollars turned out to be too much for logging giant Interfor, and last year they resumed clearcutting.
Once again, many brave Canadians came out to resist. None were braver than Betty Krawczyk, aged 72, who in October 2000 was sentenced to a year in prison for blockading a logging road. Her punishment contrasted with the sentences given to five Interfor workers convicted of assault after an incident in which a hundred people, who’d arrived in Interfor vehicles, attacked protestors, and hospitalised three. They were conditionally discharged and told to go to anger management classes! It would seem that in Canada they still fear the Crone.
Greenpeace sent the MV Arctic Sunrise to the area, and the campaign was back in full swing. But this time the government had no stomach for the fight. Betty Krawcyzk was released in January 2001 and at the end of March Greenpeace Canada’s Forests Campaigner Tamara Stark, with tears in her eyes, was able to Email with the news that a moratorium had been announced on logging pristine valley’s in the Great Bear Rainforest. For the Canadian government to even use the name was a major step forward, as previously the area had been known officially as the Mid Coast Timber Supply Region.
Global Forests Under Threat
With victory in British Columbia the campaign to save the world’s ancient forests moves elsewhere. In the Amazon the battle rages as you read this, and whilst the giant logging companies threaten to move on the Tiga, the giant coniferous forest that runs across northern Asia, environmentalists are preparing the campaign to save it.
The world’s ancient forests, as well as providing a spiritual and temporal home for tribal people, a source of employment for the future and a habitat for charismatic megafauna, are also a vital organ of Gaia – the earth’s self-regulating control system. The forests absorb some of the carbon dioxide produced by our addiction to fossil fuels, and produce rain that waters our crops and cools our globally warmed earth. They the earth’s air conditioning system.
To help save them you don’t need to travel to exotic parts of the world, the solution is near at hand; in your local supermarket, DIY store and timber yard. If you are buying a wood product, whether it’s charcoal for your incense burner or a new altar, check to see if it has a Forest Stewardship Council logo. FSC wood is a way that ensures the forests will be with us forever. If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.