Last Stand for a Broken Wilderness
by Robin Klein
The last century of the millennium witnessed the retreat of a great North
American wilderness the massive trees, teeming salmon runs and
healthy grizzly bear populations that once ruled the continent
and reduced much of it to what remains today in the far Northwest. Soaring
growth, development, and fuel consumption depleted resources, exhausting
lands across the U.S. to the Canadian border, except for some relatively
small intact remnants in the lower 48.
Today the road from Squamish to Lillooet, Highway 99, marks the frontline in a face-off that holds the future of that wilderness. At odds are First Nations, ski resort developers, environmental protectionists, and logging companies. Efforts to protect the land clash with the logging that presses into lush groves of 1,000 year-old trees, and with development plans for a new mega-resort. Environmental organizations like the Western Canada Wilderness Committee want the B.C. government to designate two large adjacent wilderness areas on the northwest side of Highway 99, as national parks to protect them from exploitation: the proposed Stoltmann (near the world famous Whistler resort) and Lillooet areas.
Battles for the Stoltmann
At the heart of the Stoltmann, and the site of the most intense conflict, is the beautiful Elaho Valley, home to ancient groves of red cedar and some of the oldest giant Douglas fir trees in the world. Last fall tensions reached the snapping point in the Elaho as International Forest Products (Interfor) logging trucks hauled massive trees away from the valley. During the last year and a half, arrests of a dozen protesters, a yearlong jail sentence for a great-grandma, international boycotts, and violent attacks by loggers in retaliation to protests, heated this treasured place on Squamish First Nation land.
Since Interfor bought rights in 1995 to log much of the Stoltmann, including the Upper Elaho and Sims Valleys in a license transfer authorized by the B.C. government, stands of ancient trees have been felled in areas found to support the endangered spotted owl and limited grizzly populations. Outraged conservationists escalated protests in fall 1999 when Interfor began building a road north of Lava Creek in the Upper Elaho. Arrests ensued for blocking construction. In September 1999, a mob of more than 70 enraged forest workers attacked eight encamped conservationists, hospitalizing several. Five of the forest workers were tried last December 7 in Squamish, and convicted.
The summer 2000 witnessed a continuation of the conflict as road construction resumed following ceased winter logging operations. Environmental groups launched an international campaign to discourage consumer purchases of Interfor wood products, targeting Interfor and West Fraser Timber (a company engaged in logging the Great Bear Rainforest in coastal B.C. along with Interfor).
They (Interfor) are the worst of the worst with regard to destructive forest management practices, says Catherine Stewart of Greenpeace Canadas forest campaign. So we are encouraged to learn that some large consumers now are working to eliminate consumption of Interfor products, and that certain companies have declared a two-year stay from purchasing endangered ancient forest wood.
The campaign and additional attention drawn by public figures like Pierce
Bronson and Robert Kennedy Jr. to the need to preserve old-growth forests,
has caused furniture giants Ikea (Sweden) and Home Depot (USA) to stop
buying wood from such controversial forests anymore. But groups worry
market pressure isnt enough to stop the logging.
The B.C. Ministry of Forests own analysis concludes that
current rates of harvest are averaging 28 percent above the governments
own assessment of what can be defined as a sustainable rate,
according to a Greenpeace Canada press statement.
Hardly anyone has drawn more media coverage worldwide to protecting the
Stoltmann than Betty Krawczk, a 71 year-old grandmother and one of the
protesters arrested and sentenced in September to 365 days in prison for
blockading logging trucks in the Upper Elaho. It is a harsh punishment
by Canadian standards, the longest sentence ever delivered in the Province
for such an offense. She says that as a grandmother and great grandmother
she had to do it, and while not happy about giving up her precious retirement
days to sit in jail, she would do it again.
As a concession, recognizing public alarm at cutting down 1,000 year-old
trees, Interfor spokesperson Steve Crombie reported to the Vancouver Sun,
we wont cut trees which are over 900 years old anymore.
Apparently logging 850 year-old trees will continue.
Theyre nuking the hell out of that place, says Northwest Ecosystem Alliances Joe Scott, referring to the logging destruction he witnessed on a recent trip to the Stoltmann.
Confusion and Politics
Under pressure from conservationists, the resort municipality of Whistler
along with local business organizations commissioned a study to evaluate
the effects on the local economy of the proposed Stoltmann wilderness
area. The One Whistler report, released last August, gave a thumbs up
to protecting the area, stating many more jobs would be created by preserving
the Stoltmann as a wilderness park than would be maintained by logging
it. Despite its findings however, pressure from logging interests forestalled
a decision by the Whistler municipality council on whether to recommend
protection for the Stoltmann. Complicating matters further, the logging
community of Squamish, upset over the One Whistler report, commissioned
its own study, Economic Impact of the Forest Industry on the Squamish
Region, which found contradictory results, particularly in salaries, finding
a loss of jobs and economic benefit should the Stoltmann be designated
I believe that eventually the municipality (of Whistler) will take
a position. For now it is still being studied. We are concerned about
social impacts on neighboring communities, says Diana Waltmann of
Whistler municipality. Whistler mayor Hugh OReilly is said to support
protection, according to environmental groups.
Concerned too are the rightful owners of some key areas in the Stoltmann
region including the Elaho and Sims Creek valleys. The Squamish First
Nation has been cautious about weighing in, says Chris Player
of WCWC. They are supportive of preservation and are starting to
do their own inventories in the area including cultural resources.
Last fall members of the Squamish First Nation carved and erected a large
totem, the Cedar Woman, on a 22-km hiking trail into the Elaho. She watches
over the valley and reminds visitors of its importance to its aboriginal
people. Squamish cultural teacher Aaron Nelson Moody took about a year
to carve the 10-foot figure. The trail winds through spectacular groves
of ancient red cedar and Douglas fir that include the 1,300 year-old Elaho
Giant, one of the largest Douglas fir trees in Canada, and passes
by clusters of alpine lakes, finally terminating at Meager Hot Springs.
The Elaho Valley is the largest old-growth forest in southern B.C., and
the longest continuous stretch of forests ranging from low to high elevation
in the B.C. lower mainland.
The Squamish seem to have been the most influential in curbing logging
in the Stoltmann. When First Nation representatives finally told Interfor
to stop building a road further north in the Elaho Valley last September,
Interfor stopped, temporarily anyway. Interfor is currently in talks with
the Squamish regarding logging plans in their territory.
Weve never been at the table before, says Moody. in
the last couple of years weve been, I guess, asserting our rights.
Now they are finally starting to recognize them.
Joe Foy of WCWC is hopeful regarding First Nation influence and says
his group would support alternative designation of the Stoltmann as a
tribal park reserve. He is not so optimistic about possible B.C. government
The prospects for government representatives doing anything positive [regarding protection] are next to nil, especially with a new crop of anti-environmental elected officials (the Alliance Party), says Foy. Hopefully, well have a more liberal crop by spring. Meanwhile, every year, the logging continues. There are only so many years left.