Mark Worthing from the Sierra Club

Environmentalists speak to Port Hardy crowd about old growth and raw logs

The presentation was part of a Sierra Club/Wilderness Committee tour that also has stops in Campbell River, Parksville and Courtenay

Two self-described “friendly neighbourhood environmentalists” came to logging country this week to rail against forestry activities in old-growth areas and the export of raw logs.

Mark Worthing of the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Committee’s Torrance Costa presented slide shows and handed out maps of Vancouver Island showing the loss of old-growth forests since logging began here. Port Hardy was the first stop in their Island tour of this presentation.

Worthing said he is from a family that has worked in forestry and considered those practices the norm until “I got to a breaking point where it wasn’t normal anymore.”

Worthing spoke about integrated ecology, the linking of the forests to the salmon to the bear and back to the forest. He said salmon are a “keystone species” and “more valuable than any other resource.” Logging in old-growth areas, especially near any fish-bearing streams, threatens the salmon, he said.

Worthing said many of the trees being harvested on Vancouver Island are many year older than Canada itself and he said he had “very little patience” for talk from industry and government about sustainable practices. He said in the roughly 200 years non-indigenous people have been logging here, the amount of old-growth forests are at 10 per cent of what they were before.

“No one can call that sustainable,” he said.

At least half of the 35 people who attended the presentation at Guido’s Cafe on Monday night work or worked in the forest industry. Some of them took exception to what Worthing and Coste were saying. The meeting had the potential to get nasty, but it remained civil.

Bill Milligan has been working the forest industry for decades, building roads and civil engineering projects. He was born and raised in Port Hardy and his company, North Island Rock Pro, got its first drilling and blasting contract in 1981.

“Logging around a community like this generates a lot of revenue that pays for health care, school, social services,” said Milligan.

“It’s easy to point out what’s wrong,” said long-time forest-industry worker John Harvie. “There has to a viable alternative. From what I’ve seen they (forest companies) are doing a pretty good job and if we shut down the forest industry… we need to finance our government… give us an answer.”

The Wilderness Committee’s Coste focused on raw log exports and, like Worthing, presented some photos that were clearly designed to shock. He said B.C. is exporting seven-eight million cubic metres of raw logs a year now, massive jump from even 10 years ago. A cubic metre equates to about one telephone pole-sized log.

“We’ve always been doing it (exporting raw logs), but it was (historically) only a fraction of the cut,” said Coste.

He said the logs have to be offered to mills here first, but the market price for the logs isn’t workable for the B.C. operations because they are competing against mills overseas that don’t have the same kind of government regulation or labour costs, places with “terrible working conditions.”

In an interview with The Gazette after the meeting, Coste was asked to offer some solutions.

“Radically limit or ban raw log exports, put a moratorium on raw log exports,” said Coste. “That would end any timber shortages in local mills and it would cause us to reduce the rate of cut.”

And what of those current cutting jobs that so many North Islanders rely on to feed their families?

“Fallers will need to transition from the bush into other jobs in the industry, like silvaculture, like forest management, like thinning, like road upgrades, like stream rehabilitation and mill jobs,” said Coste.

Coste also suggested some bans and/or quotas on what is offered for sale in B.C.

“What if we started limiting the amount of finished products, or wood products or paper products that we are bringing back in from these places?” he said. “What if we’re creating quotas for the amount of finished products that are consumed in British Columbia must be produced in British Columbia? If the forests are here to put people to work, let’s make that the priority. Right now the bottom lines of the corporations are the bottom lines of the industry.”

Worthing and Coste were scheduled to host these State of the Rainforest meetings in Campbell River (March 21), Parksville (March 23) and Courtenay (March 24).