In rural B.C., diverging opinions on logging pristine forest
Residents from the small coastal community of Cortes Island are well aware of an ongoing battle with forestry firm Island Timberlands over plans for industrial logging on privately-owned sections of the island. While a number of engaged citizens have been vocal about their concerns -- global warming, sensitive ecosystems and the destruction of old growth forest -- not everyone shares the same views.
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- B.C. island mill owner makes the case for "ecosystem-based" forestry
Visiting shops in the remote island’s “downtown” area—Manson’s Landing—the Vancouver Observer came across some residents who have different concerns. While it may appear on the surface that everyone on Cortes has the same skeptical view of Island Timberlands’ logging methods, there are many who say resistance efforts and initiatives like the Cortes Ecoforestry Society do not represent the entire island.
“What bothers me is that they think they speak for everybody,” said one customer at the local general store.
In a small community like Cortes, some people are hesitant to comment on controversial issues like IT’s logging. It makes sense—with such visible opposition, nobody wants to alienate their neighbours by standing up for corporate practices. But the reality is that islanders could potentially be employed by the company or its contractors, and a struggling economy makes those few opportunities hard to resist.
“I’m hoping to get a job out of it,” said one local forestry worker, declining to give his name.
As in many other B.C. communities, the debate over industrial logging is not simply black and white. Though the majority may see the value in environmental arguments, many of these regions rely on forestry as a part of the local economy. And without companies coming in for logging, it’s more and more difficult to find work.
“There aren’t a lot of jobs,” said Cortes Island house builder, Mark Lombard.
Lombard uses wood produced and salvaged on-island for his own business, but he understands the difficulty in sustaining a local industry within the current global economy.
“The world economy isn’t doing that well…and there’s very little activity on the island,” said Lombard.
“We need work. But [it’s] the question of whether or not we want to have work for two months, have a major clear-cutting operation on the island and then it be gone, or if we want to have sustained forestry year in and year out.”
Those opposed to the industrial system say clear-cutting logs and shipping them overseas merely exacerbates problems in the Canadian industry. Instead of providing additional forestry jobs in milling and value-added wood products, these methods reduce the economic benefit for communities like Cortes.
Island Timberlands’ planned logging operations may only provide temporary jobs, but for some local workers there aren’t many other options.
“This island wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for logging,” said another resident at the store.
“There may be a better, or more sustainable way to do it, but I can’t think of it.”
Their property, their business
Forest advocates who signed a petition to Island Timberlands say they are not strictly anti-logging; they’re simply urging the company to reconsider their strategy. The petition asks IT modify their logging plans to retain remnants of rare old growth forest, protect watersheds and salmon habitats, respect the BC Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory, and avoid clear-cutting methods.
Since Island Timberlands privately owns the land slated for logging, they have no legal obligation to comply with the petition’s demands. And in the eyes of some community members, they shouldn’t be expected to.
“I’m not going to tell them how to log, if they’re not going to tell me how to run my business,” said one woman, expressing her trust that IT “knows what they’re doing”.
She said she also believes it’s wrong that people in the community should be permitted to build trails through the company’s private land and notes that community members have even have built a protest platform in IT’s forest.
Some on Cortes also doubt the existence of significant old growth stands on IT property, as they haven’t been photographically proven until now. While ecological advocates hope this proof will help garner support for the cause, the claims of off-island environmental groups and relative newcomers don’t hold much water from the perspective of other residents whose families have lived on Cortes for generations.
Despite claims that Island Timberlands has made little attempt to consult with the community, others say when the company did try to engage with Cortes residents, they were pushed away by those in opposition. One resident recalled IT’s attempt at a community meeting, when protesters “took over” the building and company representatives were pressured to leave.
In any case, Island Timberlands has agreed to further discussion with Cortes community members after the 6,200-signature petition was delivered to company offices last week. Cortes’ Regional Director Noba Anderson had also announced another meeting with IT CEO Darshan Sihota to discuss community concerns.
The delivery of the petition sent a message that the company faced fierce opposition. But with a year-round population of only about 1,000, some islanders believe only a small proportion of those petition-signers actually reside on Cortes. The support from outsiders may be welcome from one perspective, but from another it may seem intrusive.
Whether or not off-island support is involved, there seems to be consensus that ongoing discussion is necessary. Presumably, neither side would be against a more sustainable forestry-based economy, but it's not yet clear whether Island Timberlands will be a part of it.
“It’s a really complicated dynamic. That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. There’s ownership, and there’s local issues and there’s governance issues,” said Lombard.
“I think the balance is finding a viable, sustainable model of forestry that allows forestry to happen for our children and our grandchildren, and for several generations into the future.”