Community Articles
Go to Site Index See "Community Articles" main page
General News · 15th March 2012
Seeing the Forest and the Trees

Hi Sue, I read your submission in the March 3rd flyer. I don’t think I know you, but as you seem to be asking for honest clarification, I thought I’d take the time to respond thoughtfully. As you may not know me either, I have been involved in both Island Stance and the Community Forest Co-op.

I do not present myself as an expert, or an official in any capacity. I am more of an articulate student as I have learned a lot from knowledgeable people on the island. Before I continue, I’d like to honour Jedidiah Duyf whose recent piece on Tideline demonstrated to me how we need to have meaningful dialogue about these things.

I feel Jed hit the nail on the head. These issues are not black and white, and the shades of gray in the middle can be challenging to delineate. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes and only so much of it gets reported, so of course, we all are susceptible to simple misunderstandings. Consider for a moment the situation with Noba and who she “took with her”. Well, my understanding is that really isn’t how things went down.

Noba wasn’t in charge of the whole thing; she didn’t “take” anyone. Indeed, Carrie Saxifrage and Tzeporah Berman had already visited IT by themselves early in January delivering a petition with 6,000 signatures on it, and had been promised their own follow up meeting. At some point recently, a second meeting between Noba and some on-island people and a second meeting with the off-island campaigners was combined. That was been done at the request of IT, not the various Cortes forces.

If the third non-island invitee you referred to was Sabina Leader Mense, then that’s another shade of gray again. While Carrie and Tzeporah have rented out their houses and live elsewhere now, Sabina lives in hers. Either Sabina or her husband and their flock of turkeys are there every time I go by. Their teenage son is going to school on Salt Spring, so there’s a lot of back and forth, but Sabina is far from an absentee landlord.

Then there is your question exploring the potential activity of the Community Forest. “Is opposing IT while endorsing the Community Forest hypocritical?” seems a fair question. Personally, I don’t think so. From deep charcoal to off-white, we return to subtleties.

Will the Community Forest “clear cut” at some point? Most likely, yes! Indeed in early meetings in the development of the CCFC, the term “stand retention predominant” was specifically chosen. That was meant to indicate that while some clear cutting would no doubt occur, that most of the land would be retained with a mature “stand” of trees covering it. That is, in my humble opinion, a version eco-forestry not industrial logging. Cutting “blocks” can have its place, I don’t know anyone knowledgeable who would argue that point. The important questions seem to be: how much, how often, where and for what reason? Fair enough?

Within the Community Forest, while it is still not fully defined, my understanding both the non-aboriginal co-op and the Klahoose are advocating for “eco-forestry”. Let me use numbers to make that clearer.

We heard from IT that they wanted to take 20,000 to 30,000 cubic meters of wood off Cortes this spring. Maybe that would have been enough for this year, but they made it clear that further cuts would come in subsequent years. Their land mass is about one quarter of the size that the Community Forest aims to control.

Now, different opinions from within the Community Forest question whether it is best to take closer to 5,000 or as much as 10,000 cubic meters of wood a year. So, just round numbers – 25,000 cubic meters on one quarter of the land, is the same as 100,000 cubic meters on the larger land base. That is minimally a 10:1 ratio and may even be as much as a 20:1 ratio. There you have a numeric reality that shows the relative scale of what is being discussed.

IT does industrial forestry. When they talk about “retention”, they are talking about retaining individual trees. So “10% retention” means that 10% of the trees that were standing will be left. Let’s be clear, that means that IT would take 90% of the trees that were available.

Since a forest stands together against the wind, leaving 10% to 15% of the trees, only means there will be blow downs and firewood to be scavenged. I think officially the Bartholomew clear cuts were “15% retention”. Less than a decade later almost nothing is left standing, and we have endured a bunch of power outages from the blow downs across the wires there.

On the eco-forestry side, we have a different discussion. My understanding is that Ron Wolda and the Trust for Sustainable Forestry out in Tiber Bay work such that they take up to a maximum 75% of the growth of the forest. That is the “growth of the trees”, not the number of trees themselves. So if the forest grew 4% last year, they would cut up to 3% of the forest this year.

Still, more conservative eco-foresters like Bruce Ellingsen suggest that a more appropriate rate is 15% to 25% of the growth in a year which comes out more like 1% of all the trees yearly. Bruce has studied predator-prey relationships and will tell you that the sustainable predators are in that ballpark. He sees himself and everyone else carrying a chainsaw as a predator and the trees as the prey. Let’s face it, only dumb predators take 90% of all the prey at one time. That guarantees that there will be a long time, if ever, before you can harvest like that again.

As for Klahoose, I do not want to represent their opinion or speak their mind for them. Some people will suggest that, like Ron, they are at the more economic end of the eco-forestry continuum. I don’t see it as a war but a conversation, in any spectrum one party will be more to one side and another more to the other. That’s why dialogue is important. Only time will tell what the Community Forest agrees upon.

Is 1% of the forest cut a year the right answer? Is 5% too much? While some will argue vociferously about this range. Personally, I see on one side a group of people who are discussing a range that is taking less than 10% of the forest yearly, and on the other hand people who routinely take 90% or more of what is available, people who only worry about not using massive multiple-mile-long clear cuts when they are near populated areas.

You ask “why does our government give our crown land to a private company to log”. Well, to me it really isn’t a private company, it is a community co-operative. While it would be ludicrous for me to assert that it represents the “entire” community, it would be equally outrageous for someone to assert that it is just some small obscure faction.

In the slowest time of the year, in just a few months, the number of members in that co-op is nearing 250 people and almost all of those are full time residents here. This time next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see between 400 and 500 members in that co-op and while that is only half the community, it is only half the community being represented by it. The Community Forest is designed to be a fifty-fifty partnership between the non-aboriginal community co-op and the Klahoose First Nation.

Whether the Community Forest will be successful and return something of value to the community remains to be seen. The business model is well proven though. Check this link out! It tells of a First Nation in Wisconsin whose community forest is almost 150 years old. They started with 1.2 billion board feet of timber, they have cut 2 billion board feet of timber sustainably (over more than a century), and now they have 1.5 billion board feet of timber standing. Along the way proceeds supported a school, a hospital, a police force, etc.

“Our” company isn’t owned by greedy off-shore interests. The Community Forest is open equally to all of us. If in any way these words reduce your concerns and misgivings, then join and raise your voice to be heard. So, while there is a desire not to lose money, I think this community venture is more about creating reasonable ongoing jobs here, now and in the future in an ecologically sustainable method, than it is to turn a hefty profit for a few.

I am not privy to why the BC government made the decision to “give our crown land” away. There is a story afloat though that originally it was impossible for Cortes to be offered a Community Forest right now, but then some “magic” occurred within the Ministry of Forests and presto. It has been offered. My vague understanding is that not Bruce, nor Ron, nor anyone else in the co-op, played a big role in that. It probably had a lot more to do with our friends, the toq’ qamaxw , (Klahoose’s name from themselves in their own language - the "w" should be superscripted) who have a stronger older claim on the same territory than “we” do.

Then too, my somewhat similarly incomplete understanding is that culturally “they”, the toq’ qamaxw, are far less focused on the idea of “us and them” than most of “us” Euro-lineaged people are. That may be seen reflected in the arrangement of the fifty-fifty partnership. Despite what one may assert as holding the upper hand politically at this point, they ask for no advantage to separate themselves from “us”. Beyond anything else, these are good neighbours.

It seems unfortunate the level of mistrust that exists on the island. Perhaps it is to be expected what with the amount of greed present in the world. We seem to think everyone has the ulterior motive of hidden personal gain. So, while there may be prudence today in looking a gift horse in the mouth, collectively we may want to see that cautious shade of gray substantially different from actually kicking the giver in the proverbial chops.

I’ll respond to your first question last. “If Island Stance is for peaceful community action, why are they raising money for legal defense?” Originally, Island Stance declared itself involved in “non-violent civil disobedience”. However, the term seemed highly misunderstood, and several people missed the “non” part altogether and raised well voiced concerns about the use of “violence”. So, it was decided to re-express the idea and “peaceful” replaced “non-violent”, etc.

Violence is not the only thing that is illegal. Violence, for most of us, is not just the worst category of things that are illegal, it is fundamentally immoral too. Parking can be illegal – and look at how peaceful that is.

Civil disobedience, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, is a profound method to raise awareness of a social issue by being willing to be arrested for not “getting out of the way”. The idea of civil disobedience has a long history, Socrates (469- 399 BC) said something like “Only just laws are worthy of compliance; otherwise the citizen has a duty to obey a higher authority.” Want to know more? BC has its own civil disobedience handbook.

Yes, my guess is that there are lots of people here who are willing to take that step. If the situation with IT gets that far and a blockade occurs, I suggest now that there are maybe one hundred people who will choose to be arrested rather than “get out of the way”.

Moreover, I think there are that many people again who will only step aside when the handcuffs come out, and there are also a vast number of people who, while not willing to engage in blockading themselves, are willing to support the endeavour – to participate as Legal Observers or by baking cookies and bringing tea and snacks to those who are. So, once again there may be somewhere in the area of half the community actively involved.

Please understand Noba was elected by only 234 people. That number in this size of a community represents a “political majority”. Not everyone wants to take part in everything, and that they don’t doesn’t mean they are opposed to it – life is full and busy. So when a physical majority of people become actively involved in something, then that action clearly demonstrates the will of the vast majority of the community.

Now, maybe my prognostications are too optimistic, and yet still both the Community Forest Co-op and Island Stance already have enough people involved (and those organizations are far from exact duplications of each other) to be in the range of our last local election victory.

So yes, the larger group is preparing to support the people who are willing to be arrested for “peacefully” sitting in the way. It seems the right thing to do. Indeed, it seems the right thing to do on more than one level.

Some people mistakenly consider the current debate to which your submission contributes as economy versus environment. If we take a closer look, I think you will see that the economy and the environment are both on the same side here, and neither are with the big corporation.

According to research Claire Trevena has presented something like 70 mills and 35,000 full time jobs have been lost in the last decade to raw log exports by companies like Island Timberlands. That is a lot of jobs. It isn’t rocket science, refining the material is where the work is.

Once again that is part of the wisdom of the Community Forest’s approach. Yes you can cut all the trees at once, but you can’t work with the timber effectively here at that rate. Big corporate profit is derived from shipping raw materials to places where people will work for $1 a day. It is just exploitation at some point.

There is also the question of what kind of timber are you harvesting? Trees are made up of two basic kinds of wood. There is the outer ring of sapwood and the central component of heartwood. Sapwood, by the way, is inferior wood. Serious woodworkers will tell you it is only good for pulp.

My understanding is that, most often, an eighty year old Douglas Fir is probably more than 50% sapwood and a one hundred and eighty year old Douglas Fir is probably less than 10% sapwood. Don’t take my word for it read this great article by our own David Shipway.

So consider the economic game plan of allowing our forest to continue to mature such that our craftspeople will have continuing access to a quality of wood that will be almost impossible to find anywhere that a 40 or 60 year rotations are being “managed”. If you have read the Auditor General’s report on the state of the forest in BC, you’ll see that those rotations exist in most of the province and unfortunately right now probably most of the world. Yes, IT may bring a few jobs for a few months this year and the next, but then the oldest trees are gone and the long drought begins. With eco-forestry you get both ongoing jobs and a forest, with industrial logging, in the long term, you get neither.

Then too, there are other incomes impacted by industrial forestry. Perhaps you have learned recently that in 2008 tourism surpassed forestry as a revenue generator in this province, and local tourism operators are talking to the government about being negatively effected by all the clear cutting that are going on in the Discovery Islands. Turns out tourists think big clear cuts are ugly. Go figure!

Let’s look at this discussion through a bigger lens before I finish. Recently there was a conference hosted by the Association of British Columbia Forest Professionals, and not only did some teenagers from Cortes show up to express their opinions about IT’s plans, but a much more mature attendee noted that in post conference debriefing several professionals were discussing how Cortes Island possibly holds new answers which are being sought. You see for a long time it has big forestry versus rabid anti-logging protesters – economy versus environment. Still, that is not how everyone on the provincial forestry stage views us.

Cortes is seen by some to hold a unique shade of gray, a new middle ground – unwilling to accept the destructive industrial logging of the past, but still offering an economic alternative that makes increasing sense to people out there. Our Community Forest is seen by those people as us really doing the work to walk our talk. Instead of just sitting back saying “you shouldn’t”, what already may be the majority of this community is saying “watch us, we are already doing it on a small scale, and now we are ready to step up”.

So, they are watching. Personally, I don’t think it should take more than fifty years to prove the Cortes Model. That’s the way in a world full of subtle shades of meaning, saying things and doing things and proving things can take a long time.

Thanks for taking the time to read all this. I only hope it brings us all closer together. All the best.