Eloise Charet has a long history protecting the West Kootenay watersheds she loves. She spent two months in jail in 1997 for blockading a New Denver watershed from logging. In 1998 she walked from Victoria to Ottawa to draw attention to Canada’s diminishing water resources. Since then she’s been arrested, sued by logging companies, and stood-down logging in her West Kootenay stomping grounds. She is the prototypical activist.
But she isn’t sure it’s made a difference. “I’m getting old now, and I think what have I done?” she said. “Have I saved anything? Has it been worthwhile? It just feels so discouraging.”
Weakening Charet’s resolve is the current pace of logging in West Kootenay watersheds.
It’s built slowly. For many years, unchecked cutting allowances have seen the industry run short on timber, and encroaching on community watersheds has proven irresistible. A timber supply inventory hasn’t been done in 15 years. Instead, the industry relies on dated computer models to guide cutting.
More damaging mechanized felling equipment has supplanted the craft of the timber faller. “Our old-time loggers were a lot slower, but they were artists too,” said Charet. “What they could do in 40 years is now done in three months. That’s the difference with machinery.”
Clearcutting and road building on steep mountain slopes increases erosion, causing turbid water, and inviting landslides. Because clearcuts intercept 30% to 40% more precipitation than untouched forests, flooding happens faster and with more intensity.
Between Silverton and Kaslo, Charet said “almost every drainage has active logging. It’s to the point where it’s happening all over, all at once.”
Charet said she was hopeful about the new professional reliance model for regulating BC forestry, but has since realized it’s “just like the old system, only slightly beefed-up. It’s a flawed system.”
Ditto the 2016 Water Sustainability Act. “They’re rearranging words and meeting in these offices, but living with the clearcut is another story from being in an office … What’s happening is in reality we’re effecting climate change, we’re making it worse, we’re not stopping what we’re doing.” The logging companies and road building companies are following the rules, said Charet, “but the rules are very open, and it doesn’t stop clearcutting in our watershed.”
This summer Charet and her cohort opted for direct action. Jessica Ogden of Ymir, Aila Goldynfyre of Argenta, and Mick Grabowsky of Glacier Creek, manned short-term logging road blockades near Argenta and Slocan City. At the Balfour transfer station, where access to the Balfour face logging area starts, they erected an information kiosk to alert residents to logging planned in the local watershed.
Charet admits they aren’t aces at organizing or promoting themselves (“we’re winging it,” she said). Despite flying by the seat of their pants, the group organized an event called Water is Life in early November to rally people to protect their watersheds. The event was successful enough to spawn a sequel: The second Water is Life event will be held in front of Nelson City Hall, Saturday November 24, from 11 am to 3 pm.