In early 1993 I was reading The Sacramento News & Review, which my company printed. I read an editorial about a terrible paper company that was leveling the forests and defiling a fantastic place called Clayoquot Sound. The editorial said Pac Bell was using this paper and should be taken out behind the wood shed and soundly thrashed.
Problem was, the issue of SN&R I was reading was printed on paper from the same company.
I contacted the paper company. I contacted Friends of Clayoquot Sound and Greenpeace. I contacted British Columbia Ministry of Forests. I got an invitation to come to Clayoquot Sound. Finally I called my friend at SN&R.
And then I began my journey down the rabbit hole of jobs, politics, environmental protection and the conflicting interests that fueled the fevered atmosphere which permeated the cool climate of Tofino, BC.
I caught the ferry in the half light of dawn from Horseshoe Bay just North of Vancouver and headed out across the calm seas of the inland waterway toward Departure Bay Nanaimo. I was one of the few brave enough to venture outside and was rewarded with fantastic views, a cacophony of sound, a Rudolph hued nose, frozen ears and an experience I’ll never forget.
In Nanaimo I exited the ferry and headed north to Qualicum Beach on the East coast of Vancouver Island. I drove inland past the Port Alberni Paper Mill and through the winding mountain passes to the Pacific coast of the island. Finally North to Tofino, which is 100 miles from Qualicum Beach, in the middle of nowhere and the center of the bull’s eye on the dartboard of the Gods.
Tofino is surrounded by the ancient forests of Clayoquot Sound. It was the inhabitants of The Sound; the trees, the natives, the loggers, the locals, the politicians, plus the stars, Greenpeace and the Friends of Clayoquot Sound that drew me there.
Tofino had the air of a downtown bar in Washington DC on election day – everybody had a fervently held opinion shouted loudly. Environmentalists wanted all logging stopped. Loggers wanted all environmentalists stopped. Politicians from the East coast of “The States” claimed to represent the Nu-chah-nulth natives who privately, and a bit audaciously, claimed to represent themselves. Hollywood stars, merely represented. By listening to the drone of voices I learned less than from listening to the wind through the trees or the surf on the beach.
Then, I hitched a ride on a flight to a test site run by the timber industry and the BC Ministry of Forests. It was me and the leaders of all First Nations, the local, sovereign tribal councils. I felt like a big, tall, pale intruder from far away on a plane full of smallish, dark, people who had their entire past and future tied up in Clayoquot Sound.
And, I was.
We flew from Tofino to the experimental forest in Campbell River, over some of the largest stands of trees on Earth and over some truly mind numbing clearcuts. Great gaps in the forest that looked like massive, green parking lots for an invisible forest mall.
The test forest was where the paper company and the BC government tested different methods of timber harvest. Clearcuts are the easiest, cheapest, fastest, and, of course, the most common way to turn trees into logs. The silviculture options tried on various parts of the Campbell River Test Forest featured all these options over a large tract of land. The forest was divided and logged based on each of the methods available. There were wide swings in costs and many factors none of us had considered. It was obvious to everyone the process was much more difficult and involved than any of us imagined.
What I remember was standing on a ridge, looking out over various examples of logging on a clear, sunny day with eight tribal leaders, several people from the paper company, a couple of people from BC Ministry of Forests and more than one person from Friends of Clayoquot Sound and Greenpeace. I was glad I was there, but felt very out of place. That became my strength as all I did was listen and learn. The natives had seen intruders who talked and screamed, very few who just listened. I made friends that day.
You would have had a very hard time assembling a more disparate group regarding their attitudes toward the subject of the forestry laboratory in which we all stood. Still, they all tried to communicate. The natives were especially eloquent. They wanted logging, needed jobs. They wanted to protect the forest for all time. They felt there was a balance to be found. It was so simple, so obvious, that their view had no hope of prevailing.
It was painfully clear only those in the middle saw the advantage of compromise. Those on each end just pulled on their rope harder, dragging the natives back and forth through the muck.
On the flight back to Tofino one of the natives hesitantly sat next to me. We shared stories and I began another journey.