After a mere sixty-years years of industrial logging by an industry operating on a policy aimed at liquidating diverse native forest ecosystems and their giant timber, fetching prices of an average $40,000 per tree on the global softwood market and replacing them with uniformly-aged
monoculture tree plantations, only five percent of the primary low-elevation ancient temperate rainforests of Vancouver island–some of the most biologically productive forests, attaining higher levels of plant biomass than any ecosystem, on earth–still remain.
In 1991, a 78 day civil disobedience campaign, the Road Stops Here, combined prolonged tree-sits, road blockades, office occupations, street theatre, dramatic banner hangings, international support and massive public pressure to halt 16 kilometres of scheduled road development through the last, expansive roadless ancient forest wilderness on south Vancouver island, in the Walbran valley, a few kilometres upstream from Canada’s iconic Pacific Rim National Park/West Coast Trail, an area now known as ‘ground zero’ in British Columbia’s ancient forest movement.
What resulted, was establishment of the 16,000 hectare Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park, a bittersweet victory for environmental activists who fought to save the valley’s ecologically outstanding ancient forests: The park boundaries were drawn up at a roundtable of stakeholders dominated by transnational forest companies owning timber licenses in the valley; and the heart of the wilderness , at the confluence of three main branches of the watershed, supporting the largest and oldest western redcedar trees in the world, was excluded from park protection.
In twenty-five years, under intense public scrutiny and regulatory provisions under it’s status as a “special management zone” only one cutblock has been “harvested” in the 485 hectare area now known as the Central Walbran Ancient Forest, once again, shaping up as the focus of a new direct action struggle to keep industrial destruction: chainsaws, heli-logging and road-building from this contiguous wild, big-tree rainforest, north of Walbran river, adjoining the park.
As the rest of the unprotected, fragmented land-base comes under heavy industrial assault from on-going road-building on steep slopes opening more and more old-growth remnants to further clearcut logging, there is a growing resurgence of public support for the preservation of this unfragmented wilderness, particularly in rural communities that were once thriving foresty towns, now disaffected by a twelve year government policy of shutting down local unionized mills in favour of raw log exports, that have decimated forest-dependent communities, along with the forests, they watch being shipped past their windows, on the back of log trucks.
In June, 2015, Surrey-based Teal Jones, submitted a logging plan for eight proposed cutblocks in the area and with approval for a small heli-logging operation to high-grade a grove of 500-800 year old trees, logging is imminent in this pocket wilderness on the outskirts of Carmanah/
Walbran Provincial Park, within the traditional Pacheedaht First Nations territory.
There is a slow growing expression of opposition to the logging within the indigenous community, to the chagrin of band council leaders who have a close relationship with the logging company and who manage their own logging operations elsewhere in their territory, with plans to build and run a sawmill to generate jobs and revenues in their community, suffering from high unemployment and poverty.
Many economic alternatives to continued old-growth logging, in old-growth ethnocultural forest tourism, harvesting of non-timber and traditional forest products eg mushrooms, berries, basketry materials, ecologically-managed second growth plantations, value-added production of finished wood products, maximizing employment per cubic metre of wood and minimizing impacts on the land, waterways and biological diversity that depend on healthy and old-growth forests for their continued survival, are being proposed.
The remaining old-growth forests of the Walbran valley support the highest concentrations of the endangered seabird Marbled Murrelet anywhere outside of Alaska as well as several other old-growth dependent species of birds including Western Screech owl, Western Pygmy owl, Northern Goshawk, all either considered vulnerable or threatened species under the national Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listings. As well, 15 years of old-growth forest canopy research has revealed hundreds of species that inhabit the unique suspended soil habitats of the forest canopy, often two hundred feet off the forest floor, found nowhere else in the world, including second-growth forests.
Climate activists are now pointing out the critical ecological role these old forests play and their benefit and importance to the whole world, in sequestering atmospheric carbon and buffering against runaway climate change.
The provincial government has ignored several requests to protect the area, including a petition card campaign of 6000 signatures, presented in the legislature in September, to no avail.
There has been a witness camp located in the area since mid-September, with a continuous presence of observers, watching to see when imminent logging might begin in approved cutblock 4424. There is an opportunity for people from all over, who share concern for these great ancient forest, to participate in autonomous actions of non-violent civil disobedience, joining those who have recently established a “checkpoint” action camp on a main road into the area where they have begun erecting sporadic road barricades denying access to logging and road-building crews actively logging in a heavily industrialized part of the valley, on the south side of Walbran river.
Company officials have requested that activists move their camp to allow for the clearing of land for a large landing where helicopters can drop logs to be loaded onto trucks. So far the activists have not responded to this request and a confrontation in this area may be imminent.
Members of the international community are encouraged to join the Friends of Carmanah/Walbran closed Facebook group to stay in the loop of daily developments in the Walbran valley and to access road instructions into the area and carpool information.
The Friends of Carmanah/Walbran is a loose-knit community of people sharing the passion, resources and collective action to protect this ancient forest, once and for all.