Deforestation on Vancouver Island

There is so much natural forest in Canada that it has some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. The economic value of logging has left the country with difficult decisions to make. Should it take advantage of the economic opportunity or should it protect the natural environment from being destructed. This situation has occurred on Vancouver Island. Currently large areas of the island’s natural ecosystems are strongly protected from being cut down, but this has not always been the case. The “Clayoquot protests” that started in 1990 and culminated in 1993 was a protest that changed logging Companies activities on the island for future generations.

Clear-cutting in operation on Clayoquot Sound

Prior to this date logging was king in the whole of British Columbia with the region and its people depending on the activity for its regular source of income. However, as the logging companies became more efficient they were capable of clearing whole hill sides of its whole growth forests in such a short space of time. Many companies were doing this and not deforesting the area immediately. In some situations, the shallow soils were being washed away meaning that the forests would never return. The soils would poison the rivers meaning the fresh water for the First Nation’s people would be contaminated. It would also result in less fish for the local people to feed off.

Clayoquot Sound is body of a number of natural inlets located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, which separate individual areas of land. At the head inlets are the coastal towns of Tofino and Ucluelet and for a number of years prior to the 1990s the majority of the people living in the area were employed by the loggers.

However, the region is home to 265,000 hectares of virgin old growth forest. Within the forests are trees that have taken centuries to reach their current height and it is home to 45 endangered species of animals, including brown bears that roam and survive freely. The creation of a paved logging road in 1959 meant that the companies could exploit the forests from the more remote areas and as time moved forward more hill sides were being decimated by clear-cutting. As soon as Mears Island became threatened anti public feeling started to emerge.

The protestors Valerie Lager (far left) and Tzeporah Berman (far right)

The 1990s saw a combination different protest groups come together to challenge the activities of the Logging companies. Greenpeace acted with the local Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nation’s tribe to try and block the activities. They were joined by local environmentalist and their most popular method was to block the roads that took workers and equipment out of the area. Court orders were won by the companies and this resulted in protests and consequent arrests. In all 900 people were arrested which made it the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canada’s history. However, the incident cut deep into the heart of the Canadian people, as two of the protest leaders were normal Canadian housewives, Valerie Langer and Tzeporah Berman.

Prior to this the logging industry had been looked upon in a favorable light, but now the pictures screened on television of normal Canadians being sentenced to jail sentences made a huge impact on Public opinion. The outcome of the event left logging in the area in the hands of a company owned by the local First Nations People. It is now carried out to a lesser scale and in an environmentally friendly manner with logging in the area now playing “second fiddle” to tourism in terms of economic benefit.

Although this occurred in a relatively small part of the island it has had a real effect on people’s attitude toward the practice everywhere else on Vancouver Island, and even the rest of Canada. While people accept that controlled logging is needed the first priority is to the maintaining of the natural ecosystem. The creation of numerous government parks now monitors the activity and insures the healthy balance remains intact.


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