Clayoquot Sound Condemned to Bleed

Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Back in April 1993, the Sea Shepherd ship Edward Abbey entered Clayoquot Sound to launch what would become known as the "War in the Woods."

As the Edward Abbey approached the dock at Tofino, dozens of loggers stood jeering and waving protest signs telling us to "kiss our axe" and "eat a spotted owl and save a logger's job."

With a smile, I touched a spark to our replica civil war cannon and 8 ounces of gunpowder let out a thunderous roar that echoed across the Sound causing the loggers to dive cowardly for cover. My shot was a blank of course and the loggers looked pretty damn sheepish as they got to their feet.

It was, however, the opening shot in what would be a summer of protests that would see 12,000 people blocking logging roads and nearly a thousand arrested.

The Clayoquot summer protest of 1993 was initiated by a British Columbian provincial government decision to open 62 percent of the 350,000 hectares of land around the Sound to logging.

After hundreds of arrests the British Columbian (B.C.) government later handed the issue to an international panel of scientists, who were asked to come up with a sustainable plan for logging areas not already set aside as parks. That in turn led to the UN biosphere designation in 2000. But that did not restrict industrial activity in a 58,000-hectare buffer zone and an 180,000-hectare transition area.

Sea Shepherd did not participate in the protests because mainstream environmental groups felt we were overly aggressive, outspoken, and because we did not agree with the other groups that said they would accept whatever decision the aboriginal nations made concerning the logging.

We warned that the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, representing 14 tribes on Vancouver Island, would support the logging if they were included in the profits.

The Nuu-chah-nulth did exactly what I predicted they would do. The logging company Intefor partnered up with the Nuu-chah-nulth run company Iisaak Forest Resources to rape the Sound together.

Not surprising, the Nuu-chah-nulth are cousins to the Makah Tribe of Washington State and supported the illegal Makah whale hunt. They also have been lobbying to kill whales themselves on Vancouver Island.

We left after the first week in Clayoquot Sound because we did not go there to argue with environmentalists and First Nations people. If they were not serious about saving the forests than there seemed little point in wasting our time in a hopeless cause. I had no intention of putting my crew onto a road block where they would be passively arrested, jailed, fined, and given criminal records. Ghandi's tactics worked for Ghandi more than a half a century ago, but British Columbian politicians did not and do not have the understanding of fair play that Ghandi's enemies came to have. Respect for non-violent civil disobedience is practically non-existent among modern politicians. They prefer to call such people "terrorists" and deal with them accordingly.

Any government that would toss old ladies into jail for non-violent protest is not a government that is going to care about trees or the species that live in them.

As the arrests mounted up, the Nuu-chah-nulth played their hand and jumped onboard the clearcut express for a little gravy. 

In the end, there was an appearance that environmental gains were achieved but we knew that this was just the government and industry putting other areas on the shelf to go after later.

The government set aside part of Clayoquot Sound and allowed logging by Natives and non-Natives in the rest. Some of the Environmental groups responded by declaring a victory just before the chain saws began roaring.

I also said at the time that once they logged what they were given, they would be back asking for the rest of the Sound and that is exactly what is happening now.

I predicted it would be ten years. I was off by three years. It is now 13 years later and the chainsaws are being oiled up to carve out more greenbacks from the remainder of the forests around the Sound.

In a decision last week, the B.C. Government said that eight major watersheds will be opened to logging, including areas environmental groups have long claimed are irreplaceable, such as Pretty Girl Lake, Ursus Valley, Upper Kennedy River, Clayoquot River, and Fortune Channel.

Most of these forests will be ravaged by native loggers. With a chainsaw in one hand and a harpoon in the other, the Nuu-chah-nulth are demonstrating that they are no different than the white loggers. A chainsaw is a chainsaw no matter whose hand is on the throttle.

I have always maintained that all people are the same regardless of culture, race, and religion when it comes down to exploiting the Earth for profit. 

According to the newspaper the Globe and Mail, Tzeporah Berman, program director of the environmental group Forest Ethics, said  "I never thought I'd say these words: Clayoquot Sound is going to be logged. The pristine valleys are now open to having roads blasted into them."

She also said the decision could trigger blockades. "I hope it's not going to come to that. But this is our worst nightmare."

Francis Frank, the President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said the controversy could lead to blockades and divisions within the native community.

"We face the possibility of road action again. . . . That's coming across loud and clear that if Iisaak was to proceed and get into some of these pristine areas that they shouldn't be surprised that the environmentalists are out on the logging roads."

Quoted in the Globe and Mail, Mr. Frank said that in 1993, aboriginals largely supported the blockades. Would that happen again, even if the loggers were natives this time?

"I'm sure [environmental protesters] would have a level of support within first-nation communities. Now what degree or level, I don't know, but I'm certain there will be some."

The bottom line, however, is that the Tribal Council will follow the money and there is plenty of money to be made destroying the Clayoquot Sound.

When I look to those trees around the Sound I see the homes of numerous species that will be destroyed and with the destruction more of our precious diversity of life will disappear.

Many years ago British Columbian poet David Day sent me a book of poetry he entitled The Cowichan. The Cowichan was another pristine old growth forest on Vancouver Island that was destroyed prior to Clayoquot. In the book was a poem called Jasper Creek and it was a haunting song of despair and sadness for me. When I think of Clayoquot now, I think of this poem.  

                                                           Jasper Creek

I was up above Jasper Creek
Falling a stand of big rotten cedars -
you know how cedars swell at the butt and spread out their roots.
Well these was like that: real big
and hollow, like wood caves.
It was first thing in the mornin
I starts up the chain saw
and lets her roar into the wood
making it bite deep to break through the shell, ya know
and then it goes into soft stuff
I figure it's just rot
but then the saw jerks back hard.
Starts choking
and throwin up blood and meat with cedar chips.
Scared the shit outa me!
Anyhow that's how I killed that she-bear
She was holed up inside one of them damn cedars
I pulled the saw back.
And sees the damn thing is smoking
With all this red blood runnin down the blade.
- David Day
-The Cowichan  1975.