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General News · 27th June 2012
Last week on Tuesday at Gorge Hall, representatives from Island Timberlands were faced by a packed room with lots of people standing because there just weren’t enough chairs to go round. They put on a half hour presentation and then reluctantly answered questions from the group. Disappointingly, they showed little respect to the hard working people who had gathered, wasting people’s time with avoidance and word games. Getting a direct answer to a straight forward question was an exercise in pulling teeth.

The question “Will you cut the forest at a rate slower than it grows?” was answered with a convoluted dissertation about seed selection – how choosing seeds from the tallest trees was generally a better practice than selecting the offspring from little runty ones – better seeds grow better trees. Still, at some point they proclaimed they were involved in “sustainable forestry” and were managing their operations within a “two hundred year window”. After five minutes of grilling, they expressed that “the trees may get cut three or four times” within that grand sustainable two hundred year window.

Why do they do this dance? What’s the point? I’ll share a possibility later on.

IT cuts trees on a sixty to eighty year basis. It is who they are – industrial foresters. Still, they put on a wig and a dress and try to “green themselves up” for us. Frankly, it is more than a bit insulting to the intelligence of the average Cortes Islander.

Yes, they have made concessions. They have moved some poorly planned roads that went right through wetlands that they used to claim weren’t there. They have backed off cutting patches of “old forest” (as they want to call it now) which they now acknowledge exist. Still, the “reserves” are only for this year and they are coming back later to cut more. They won’t commit to anything that is lasting or in writing, and when pushed, they admit that they are out to “liquidate” all the marketable timber on Cortes over time.

It is hard to describe to people who weren’t in the room the magnitude of the divide that existed. Perhaps it was best summed up by one sign that was present that said something like “A legal right is not a moral right”. Over and over, impassioned and articulate points from Cortes residents were answered with babble. There was a brilliant speech made by Bill Dougan, who operates the Gorge Harbour Marina. Bill expressed that the tourism industry, which benefits our whole economy through the secondary spending of the vast numbers it employs, is potentially threatened by their activity. “Tourists don’t jump in their car, or climb on their boat, to go and see clearcuts,” he said. “What could IT offer this community in the long term that can balance the potential harm they may do?” It seems a fair question.

The new Sustainable Timberlands and Community Affairs Representative, for brevity’s sake we’ll just call her the “new girl” from now on, had a snappy answer. They would allow us to “recreate” on their property. Now, let’s be honest. Lots of people walk that land now and really enjoy it - the quiet woods does wonders for the soul. But once again - who wants to walk through a clearcut? Thanks so much for ruining our island’s ecology and our economy, and being cheeky in the process.

There were bits of relevant information to be gleaned. We found out that since December only four people responded when IT offered us all the opportunity to compete for the handful of temporary jobs they are offering. They were disappointed with the low level of interest – it seems most of us would rather have our shade of green than theirs. Still, even those who applied didn’t seem to make their standards – so basically they are creating no local jobs and there is no benefit to be had for anyone on Cortes, only risk and ruin.

There was thunderous applause when Becky Knutson asked how they could justify their asking price for the Whaletown Commons. This property was purchased by Island Timberlands in 2005 for about $116,000, its BC tax assessment value is $35,400, and they have been paying something like $386 yearly in property taxes. Still, they turned down an offer for $583,000 by the Regional District while demanding more than $1 million. The “new girl” again had a sassy answer that just “!giving it away!” would set a “dangerous precedent”. Then John Preston pointed out that they weren’t just giving it away, they were turning down a 400% profit (he actually called it a 200% profit, but you do the math), while angling for an 800% profit.

You may begin now to understand the schism in reality that existed. It was really quite poignant. They were asked to carefully consider their use of pesticides and herbicides, and how their use of Gorge Harbour could also impact another major industry here – aquaculture. The response included some discussion about making smaller log booms. Are pesticides and herbicides good for oysters or those who eat them?

Then, in regards to the potential danger to the quality of people’s drinking water, they were asked for transparency. Would they make it public if they used toxic chemicals? Well they were obliged to tell anyone within 150 meters, came the answer. Of course, if they are cutting and spraying 175 meters from your property line, what then?

Would they just post it on Tideline if they used these chemicals? They couldn’t commit to that. Would they provide Material Safety Data Sheets for the hazardous chemicals they employ - like Roundup and something they admitted was even more dangerous? “You can probably find those on the internet”, quipped the “new girl”. Legal… maybe yes, moral… I’m not so sure.

It went on for three hours and really, despite a few hecklers, those from Cortes were quite polite. We even gave them a spattering of applause at the end when someone from Cortes pointed out that they were brave to come to talk and many industrial loggers never do. It is too bad that nothing substantive was accomplished.

Yet, they heard pleas from children and concern for everything that lives in the forest that isn’t a tree but needs the trees to exist. Still, they think their clearcuts will not negatively affect the wildlife and may even help it. Their Planning Team Lead Engineer, let’s just affectionately call him the “head-honcho-guy” from now on, claimed that deer will find more food in the open spaces, and indeed it is half true. For the first twenty years or so, there is an increase in ground cover, then the densely planted canopy closes in and there isn’t enough undergrowth left below it, creating what is now being called an “ungulate barrens”.

That means the deer abandon the woods for lack of food, and move near to people where they can graze… and the wolves and cougars after starving for a while then follow the deer and wind up having more and more conflict with humans – sound familiar? Just more collateral damage from industrial logging that lasts long after they have left.

For their part, Island Timberlands just sticks to their story. They pointed out that they have certification from standards organizations that say it is all okay. As I have explored the legitimacy of those organizations in this previous article, I won’t repeat myself about that.

Afterwards, the conversation outside turned to blockades and activists camps and with good reason. Many people were frustrated by the lack of credible response and are preparing for the worst. Some folks now feel that because minor concessions have been made and nebulous negotiations are taking place that we should give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s all part of the game.

You see, one way to understand their presentation is that they really need the tacit approval of this community to continue. They don’t need it legally and they probably don’t feel they need it morally, but practically they understand the concept of what “socially inoperable” is (indeed, it was industrial foresters who invented the idea). It means that with a third to a half of the people on this island actively aligned against this action, they have little hope of making money by coming here. They need us to sit down and let it happen, and Tuesday can be seen as trying to solicit that acquiescence.

Divide and conquer, or placate and pacify, anything that will open up some space to get started. Just get your foot in the door! How many communities have felt betrayed when the “last” trees cut were those reserves pockets (vaguely promised at the beginning)? Perhaps too, this is the reason why in December their “head-honcho-guy” falsely claimed that Cortes activists and the Quadra RCMP were in violent conflict with each other. No doubt IT is concerned by the number of people who are planning to protest, and trying to scare off some people with fear of melees with the police may seem like a smart tactic. Still the Quadra RCMP deny that any such thing ever occurred, as you can also read here.

What that “head-honcho-guy” probably doesn’t realize is that there is a fair amount of respect that flows both ways between Quadra and Cortes. Gary Cork and Dennis Mense are the Island Stance Police Liaisons and have been staying connected with the good officers from Quadra in a relationship that is more about tea and cookies than it is about pepper spray and billy clubs. Personally, I am upset there wasn’t time on Tuesday to get around to asking “Mr. Head-honcho-guy” for a formal apology for besmirching the good reputation of fine people from both Quadra and Cortes.

So, most of us can see through the fog of words that swirls around. We won’t accept vague verbal promises of reserves; we aren’t placated by meaningless standards from organizations whose credibility is in serious question; and we aren’t intimidated by outlandish fabrications about “scuffles” with police. We live here and we talk to one another, and we can see what is going on.

One of two things will happen this fall. They may back down for the third time and “delay” their coming once again, or they may find out just how fierce and determined we polite, intelligent people can be. Here’s hoping they can read the writing on the wall.