Have you ever had the chance to walk amongst ancient giants?
Old growth forests (OGF) are rooted deep in the coastal temperate rainforests of Vancouver Island. Both in the literal and figurative sense. This island in British Columbia (BC), Canada is home to some of the largest trees of their species in the world who can live for hundreds to thousands of years. Some of the most impressive trees can be found in areas such as the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove, and the Clayquot Sound. To give you an idea of just how huge these old folks are, picture a Western Red Cedar measured at 14.4 meters in circumference, and 42 meters tall coming in at only ninth tallest in British Columbia.
Fortunately for us, they are not just a pretty face. Despite covering less than 10% of the world’s surface, OGFs have a huge impact. Often described as the “lungs of the Earth”, rainforests cleanse our atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis; carbon and water in, oxygen and plant material out. They’ve also been home to First Nations who have relied on the abundance of these forests for shelter, food, and medicines for thousands of years. Oftentimes they are prime habitat for many endangered species such as Marbled Murrlets and Northern Goshawk who require large areas of mature, old growth forest to meet their specific needs.
Regrettably, this resource has been undervalued for these qualities which has led to extensive logging, resulting in a loss of almost 75% of the original productive OGF on Vancouver Island and BC’s South Coast. To be honest, the state of remaining old growth forest is grim. But as important as it would be to fill you in on these details, it is equally important that to shed some light on some of the persistent activism that has been working to shift the perspectives on the value of these forests.
One of Vancouver Island’s first successful environmental protest campaigns against clear-cut logging of OGFs began in the Carmanah Valley in 1988. Before this time, governments seemed to view these forests as wasteful plots of land that should be cleared to make way for engineered tree farms better suited to provide jobs to the forestry sector. Despite promising sustained-yield forestry practices, loose provincial oversight often led to overcuts and understocking of replacement trees. When residents discovered that the forestry company MacMillan Blodel planned to cut down Canada’s tallest spruce trees, outdoor enthusiasts and environmentalists became fed up. The Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) launched a media campaign aimed at reframing public perspectives on the concept of a forest. Using visual media, they developed the now iconic “Big Trees not Big Stumps” poster, the documentary Carmanah Forever, and a book called Carmanah: Artistic Visions of an Ancient Rainforest. These projects painted contrast between the barren cut blocks and the lush, rich rainforest in order to show the public what they stood to lose. While recognizing the importance of job creation that the industry created, they simply asked for people to think of the short-sightedness that was involved by the nearly limitless clearing. After years of challenging longstanding corporate values, it seemed that something was about to give. When the New Democratic Party (NDP) was elected in 1991, a decision to perform a comprehensive review of the natural world was to be performed. In 1994, an announcement was made that there would be no “working forest” on Vancouver Island. The NDP also announced the full protection of the Upper Carmanah Valley. It was a victorious moment for the WCWC and environmentally conscious residents who managed to re-frame OGFs from merely a renewable resource, to that of an ecosystem with aesthetic, ecological, and cultural values. However; this chapter was only the beginning to saving old growth rainforests on Vancouver Island.
Today, many activist groups including Ancient Forest Alliance, the Wilderness Committee, and the Sierra Club continue to fight to save these giant trees and their associated ecosystems. As technology evolves, they are finding new ways to capture the attention of the public. In 2015, activists began using helicopters and Go-Pro equipped drones to gather high definition footage of OGFs in order to “bring B.C.’s four million people to the forest” and further raise public awareness. Using this technology, significant discoveries have been made such as a Western Red Cedar, thought to be around 1,000 years old, located in a proposed cut-block near Port Renfrew. While the BC Ministry of Forests claims that they are considering Old Growth Management Techniques to protect significant trees, environmentalists are still weary. Fortunately, new technology can provide us with otherwise unattainable discoveries which may give activists the edge they require to fairly negotiate the use of the land.
Finally, it seems, local municipalities have begun to rethink the value of these forests and their unfaltering allegiance to the forestry industry. Results from a survey conducted by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) in 2015 revealed that while 80% agreed that their community relied on forestry, almost 85% expressed frustrations with the inadequate consultation practices carried out by the forestry companies. Once the land was cleared, the communities were left to deal with the resulting social, economic, and environmental impacts. All attendees at the most recent UBCM convention urged the BC government to include local municipalities more directly prior to decision making. In October 2015, the Auhousaht First Nation in Clayoquot Sound called an end to all industrial scale logging of OGFs. In April 2017, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) passed a resolution asking the Province of BC to amend the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan to protect all of the remaining OGFs on public land. Third came the BC Chamber of Commerce, which passed a resolution calling for the ban all OGF logging throughout the entire province, where ever there was a greater net economic value left standing.
As one can well interpret, this struggle isn’t over. It is, however, possible to say that thanks to tireless activism, the ways in which people, governments, and even the forestry sector are viewing these ancient forests is shifting. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to walk amongst these giants, perhaps now someday you will.
For more information or to help speak up for BC’s old growth forests, please visit http://www.bcforestmovement.com.
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