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General News · 10th February 2012
Tria Donaldson
The ancient cedars and giant coastal Douglas-fir trees of Cortes Island are under threat by the same multinational corporation that kicked Occupy Wall Street protesters out of New York’s Zuccotti Park.

In what is shaping up to be a David versus Goliath battle of epic proportions, concerned islanders are facing off against Island Timberlands and its parent company, Brookfield Asset Management.

Nestled between Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s mainland, Cortes Island is a West Coast paradise. The northern part of the island is unsettled and wild, with lush old-growth forests that are a sanctuary for cougars, wolves, and Columbian black-tailed deer. This complex predator-prey relationship is unique on the islands.

You can also find stellar examples of the most threatened ecosystem in Canada: coastal Douglas-fir (CDF). I have been hiking in and researching coastal Douglas-fir forests in B.C. for a long time, and the forests on Cortes are the biggest trees and an unparalleled example of a healthy CDF ecosystem. Less than one percent of Douglas-fir old-growth remains, and the groves of Cortes may be the next to disappear.

Island Timberlands has cutting rights to 2,600 acres of forest, including the key areas of old-growth close to several sensitive wetlands ecosystems. The area is described as a rich tapestry of sensitive wetland ecosystems buffered by mature forests. These lands just happen to have the best soil quality, the biggest trees, and the island’s central water recharge area.

Island Timberlands’ original timeline called for logging as early as the end of January, but overwhelming public pressure has caused a delay.

Island Timberlands is a subsidiary one of the largest global timberland managers, Brookfield, which has cutting rights to over 2.5 million acres of forests in Canada, the U.S., and Brazil, and timberland assets worth over $3.5 billion. And that is just their forestry component. The company has a real estate arm, a renewable energy arm (which is responsible for controversial run of river projects like the Kokish power project) and other holdings which bring in over $110 billion a year.

Brookfield acquired forests on Cortes Island from Weyerhaeuser, in a deal that gave Brookfield control over 635,000 acres of B.C. forest lands (roughly the same size as Metro Vancouver proper). Under Brookfield’s management, raw log exports have been skyrocketing: in 2010 alone, raw log exports doubled. At the same time they have shut down mills and processing plants.

Brookfield is everything you would expect in a multinational investment firm. The islanders fighting against them, however, might not be what you would expect.

When I headed up to Cortes Island last weekend for a mid-winter hike, I was expecting to meet the typical environmentalists. Instead, I met people with a deeply engrained understanding of B.C.’s forestry sector and how it is hurting because of the logging practices of Island Timberlands/Brookfield.

I met a young man whose family has logged trees sustainably on the same forest wood lot for 60 years, over many generations. He spoke of the techniques and equipment you need to log selectively and sustainably, while pointing out the destructive logging practices that Island Timberlands is proposing, like building a road through a sensitive stream that is home to cutthroat trout.

And then there is the retired BCIT teacher, who taught math to forestry students. He worked in the forestry industry as a youth, and recognizes the importance of forestry jobs. He also recognizes that companies like Island Timberlands are cutting down the few old-growth forests we have left, and in so doing robbing future generations of their chance to see these trees and of a chance to log sustainably.

These islanders spoke of the irreversible damage that unsustainable logging has on the thin layer of top soil that most forests thrive in. They spoke of the decreasing quality of the wood cut, and about the many ways logging can be done differently, and more sustainability than clearcuts.

Not one person I spoke to on Cortes Island is against logging per se. Heck, most of the people I spoke to had a history of working in that sector. But all of them recognized that we are facing a huge problem in B.C.—a forestry sector that is bleeding jobs while liquidating the last remnants of old-growth forests.

They felt strongly that Island Timberlands is mismanaging the forest. Instead of sustaining the forest so it can provide jobs over the long term, they are coming in and clearcutting. They will destroy the island’s forests for a few months of logging.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Forestry has always been an important part of the B.C. economy, but current government policies are putting profit for multinationals ahead of community jobs.

As raw log exports have increased, jobs have decreased. Value-added production at mills is no longer happening. We just send the profit away in unprocessed logs—only to buy it back as finished products.

All this despite the fact that B.C.’s beautiful forests are a tourist magnet. The huge trees of Cathedral Grove, and the wild forests of Clayoquot Sound, put B.C. on the global map. But our old-growth is rapidly disappearing, and our ecosystems fragmenting to a point that may mean collapse for many iconic species.

We do still have a choice here.

We can fight for our old-growth forests, and for sustainable forestry jobs. Or we can let a multinational corporation make millions off of liquidating our forests, while downsizing forestry jobs.

That’s the choice before us. Do we let the corporate giant Brookfield multiply their profits by subtracting some of the precious forest on Cortes Island? That math just doesn’t add up for British Columbians.