General News · 30th October 2012
Logging once was the major employer on this island. Many old timers first came here for the work the forests offered. Logging helped build this province more than any other single industry. The Provincial Government gave large tracts of public land to logging companies to ensure a steady supply of wood for the mills and in return the logging companies employed hundreds of thousands of people with direct jobs. Some of the best woods in the world came from this province and this area.
Today times have changed. There is still a need for lumber, we all live in a home that has at least some wood in it, we burn it for heat and none of us can envision an end to the need for wood. As long as that is the case there will always be a need for logging.
Logging has also changed since those heady days in the first half of the last century. Most of the easily accessible old growth is gone: now logging is done in second growth forests . MacMillan Bloedel is gone, splintered into many smaller different companies. From the peak employment in the sixties, the workforce is now 20% of what it once was. Logging is no longer the dominant industry in this province, surpassed a long time ago by the service sector. The heady days of logging are in the past. The lands given to the large forest companies so long ago, are looked upon and treated as farms and like all farms there comes a time when harvesting could occur and the cycle begins anew.
Cortes Island has also changed over this time. Logging has ceased to be a significant employer here. There are a few local small mills operated by the owners producing lumber in small amounts for local customers. The big logging companies left decades ago to “ greener “ pastures so to speak.
When I first moved here, Cortes was in the midst of a boom. Housing and land prices were exploding as city people “discovered” Cortes and bought land. Tourism was bringing thousands of people here each summer. Being on the edge of Desolation Sound brought thousands of boaters to this little paradise. If you could swing a hammer you had a job, there was a worker shortage not a shortage of work. When the economy of the western world imploded, Cortes was hit exceptionally hard. All those people who had purchased land and were building, seemed to stop overnight. Things stopped selling and prices started to come down. Landscapers who took care of these second homes found themselves with less work. Caretakers were no longer needed, cleaners found their clients cutting back, carpenters, plumbers and other trades people saw their work dry up abruptly , and the stores and restaurants slowed In the off seasons as young families were forced to move off island and look for work elsewhere.
These last few years have been challenging for everyone who has to work to stay on Cortes. This past year some things are starting to turn around. More change is coming and the decisions we make as a community now will affect life here for years and possibly decades to come.
In the last year the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative (CCFC) has been created. This objective of this partnership with the Klahoose Nation is to gain access to crown forests and to manage those lands using an ecosystem based approach for the benefit of all Cortes Islanders, creating local jobs and fostering secondary business to creating finished products. The possibilities coming from this venture could be immense. Wouldn’t it be great if careers as opposed to jobs were created allowing young families (the future) to remain here on Cortes? Many people could be reaping the economic benefits from our forests.
The housing market has not improved much but it’s not getting worse. Tourism slowed for a year or two but has since bounced back with stronger numbers than ever. Today no sector creates more work than tourism. Here at Gorge Harbour we employee close to 40 people in the summer months and put close to $750,000 into the local economy in the form of wages and local services. By my estimates there are over 250 people directly employed in tourism collecting over $4,000,000 in direct wages on Cortes. These wages go out and create more jobs all over the island.
Everyone benefits from tourism. Local homes are rented out by the week, guest cottages are booked a year in advance, campgrounds fill up and boaters arrive on their northerly migration. Restaurants and craft shops reopen. Grocery store sales double or triple, kayak and boating tours book up. Summer homes need a facelift, businesses need some upgrades and suddenly local trade’s people are hard to get. Life changes. It is exactly these four months that help make it possible for many people to stay here and raise their children, to help create a community. We all know someone who makes at least part of their living if not all, working in the Cortes Tourism Business.
Tourists come here, to our remote little island, drifting at the north end of the Salish Sea for its incredible natural environment. The warm waters, numerous safe anchorages, and the towering forest covered mountains that erupt from the ocean floor to over 6000 feet above the sea, make Desolation Sound, North America’s best marine park. Our warm lakes and sandy beaches bring families and young couples here for the first time. Older couples come for the serenity and peace, the miles of forested hiking and mountain bike trails: vibrant music scene and great local culture bring the young and adventurists. Where else can you pick dinner from the beach?
For over 3 years now Island Timberlands has made known their intent to log on some of their lands here on Cortes Island. We give them full marks for being forthright and up front with their intentions. Logging on any gulf island is contentious and doesn’t often make you friends. Twice they have held heavily attended meetings to try and keep the community up to date on their plans. IT has made some changes to their 2012 harvesting plans to try and address concerns of the local community.
Island Timberlands has plans to start logging operations on over 2500 acres of Cortes Island in the next year. When I asked IT at a local meeting, “How much work they envisioned creating?” They answered honestly and said no one could be found who was qualified or no one applied; in short no work for Cortes Islanders.
The relationship between business and Societies has always been one of give and take. To simplify, the more economic gain to society from business the more society tolerates that business. An excellent current example is the massive oil sands project in northern Alberta. When it comes to the logging plans for Cortes, by Island Timberlands, we feel the loss to our community from these actions to be far greater than the apparent gain of nothing.
We feel the economic success of Cortes lies in the future, not the past. Large scale logging exercised on Cortes Island was the future 70 years ago, not today. Our economy is still based on these forests even though the forests are not full of workers and camps; our economy is still based on our ocean though not from full nets of salmon and bottom fish. Our economy is still inexplicably attached to the land but in a different way, a way that slowly came about after all the virgin forests were removed and the seas over fished - but one that is still based on our incredible natural environment.
Island Timberlands is a logging company, and this is the only purpose this land serves for them. For us, for Cortes Island, that land, and those trees serve much more of a purpose and this is where our dilemma now lies.
We feel that IT possessing the legal right to log these lands doesn’t override the rights of us living on Cortes, to make a viable living. We recognize IT’ s efforts to be open about their intentions, but in this social contract we see no benefits - only losses to our community.
We do not support the plans for logging by Island Timberlands that were presented to the community. We believe that there will be many local jobs lost to Cortes Islanders in the long run if there is industrial logging by IT, and further, that few local jobs will be created if IT does move forward with its operations.
We ask that Island Timberlands commit to log in a responsible and sustainable manner, which means to cut more slowly than the forest grows. No clear cut logging is performed. All old growth remnants are allowed to remain. Setbacks along all streams and waterways be increased to 150 meters from the current 15 meters. Chemicals and fertilizers never used as they can affect waterways and possible contamination of ground water as well as possible shellfish contamination.
Finally we ask Island Timberlands to take into consideration the future of this island, a future that will come long after the last of their logging trucks have left.
Bill Dougan and Tammy Allwork
Gorge Harbour Marina
Dana Bass Solomon
Ryan and Lovena Harvey
Gathering Place Tea Company
Sandra and Philip Wood
Beachhouse Holiday Rentals
The Squirrel Cove Trading Company Ltd
Elizabeth Anderson and Leonard Woywilka
Tom and Donna Behm
Steve and Carol
T’ai Li Lodge
Crossing Borders Kayak Tours
Cec and Christine Robinson
Whaletown Bay Oysters
Heather and Micheal Bruce
Candice May and Craig Seedhouse
Cortes Island Vacation Rentals
Cortes Fishing Adventures