Forward-Thinking Forestry - Clayoquot Sound’s War in the Woods

Julia Prinselaar

Clayoquot Sound near Tofino, Vancouver Island, BC | Photo (CC BY-SA 3.0) by Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Nearly two decades after the last of 10,000 protesters packed their bags and left Clayoquot Sound in the final days of a summer-long logging blockade in 1993, the fight to protect the region’s ancient temperate rainforest continues.

In some ways the demonstrations were a success.

When the province announced a Land Use Decision earlier that year that left approximately 74 per cent of old growth forest in the hands of industry, the protests that followed became a driving force behind a new set of forest management practices from the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices (CSSP). Harvesting rates fell by more than half and most of the industry’s goliaths eventually sold their forest tenures and left.

But the panel’s job was to address how to log in Clayoquot Sound, while protesters fought to relinquish old growth logging altogether. Today the area’s only licensee in operation is First Nations-owned Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd., which holds tenures covering approximately 52 per cent of Clayoquot’s 262,000 hectare land base. The Hesquiaht, Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Ucluelet and Toquaht First Nations collectively own Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd.

Iisaak follows panel guidelines and uses Variable Retention methods, leaving anywhere from 15 to 70 per cent of forest behind on a cut block.

However the company hasn’t followed through with long-term monitoring and adaptive management, another key panel recommendation, according to Laurie Kremsater, a forest habitat ecologist who was on the Clayoquot panel.

“The CSSP was strong on saying, develop the watersheds you’re already developing and put the panel’s recommendations into place in these areas; conduct monitoring – see if the recommendations are working before you go into undeveloped areas. The trouble is that now the developed watersheds have been developed right up to the point where further development would contravene panel recommendations. Either the company relaxes those guidelines, or goes into new areas.”

In late 2011, Iisaak collaborated with local partners to launch the Clayoquot Sound Monitoring Program and plans to monitor forest biodiversity and watershed conditions in the Flores Island watershed this year. The program is funding dependent and limited in scope – animal studies, for example, are long-term and costly – but it’s a start.

“We are hoping that it will lead to feedback between monitoring and decisions made, assisting in developing sustainable management plans for forestry operation,” said Lily Burke, a biologist with Central Westcoast Forest Society, a non-profit helping to facilitate the program.

1999 MOU 

While only one third of Clayoquot Sound is legally protected, Iisaak and a group of four environmental organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 1999, committing conservationists to support Iisaak gaining international markets for their products. In turn, Iisaak pledged to achieve Forest Stewardship Council certification and designate “Eehmis,” (undeveloped areas that are, in Nuu-chah-nulth language, “very, very precious”) off limits to logging.

“What the MOU did was it created a peace in the woods,” says Dan Lewis, executive director of Tofino based Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS).

But that changed when Iisaak was granted a logging road permit on Flores Island in April 2011. Applications for two offshore heli-drop zones are under review.

The remote island, a 45-minute boat ride north of Tofino, is home to the Ahousaht First Nation, one of five native bands that own the forestry company. It is one of the last intact watersheds in Clayoquot Sound; 96 per cent of its area is old growth forest.

Potential logging on Flores highlights a discrepancy on where those Eehmis areas lie – environmentalists say the areas include the remaining intact watersheds of Clayoquot Sound, while First Nations contend those areas are defined at the discretion of the nations’ hereditary chiefs.

FOCS did not sign the MOU but has since joined a group of six environmental organizations calling on the province to shelve the applications for Flores while it explores economic alternatives to industrial logging in Clayoquot Sound.

According to Lewis, part of that solution could come through Conservation Financing, a model developed in the Great Bear Rainforest.

In 2006 a set of agreements between government, industry, First Nations and environmentalists resulted in a $120 million fund for conservation management projects and ecologically sustainable business ventures along BC’s central coast.

Lewis believes some of what was achieved in the Great Bear can be brought to Clayoquot Sound.

“The thing that they did figure out is that you can’t impose protection on a nation and not provide any alternative economy,” he said.

Moving forward 

John O. Frank, chief councillor of the Ahousaht First Nation, speaks with candour when it comes to his vision for the nation.

“If I didn’t own a car, if I didn’t own a telephone … I wouldn’t even look at another tree,” he said. “We have people who want to become part of society in that style of life, and we can’t change that because it was introduced to us. When you introduce something to society, how do you know it’s going to stop?”

According to Frank, 60 per cent of the island’s work force is unemployed. More than 200 of its on-reserve members are under the age of 20.

Valerie Langer, ForestEthics director of BC Forest Campaigns, assures there is more to the local economy than what traditional industry paradigms have to offer.

“The options are endless … from shellfish culturing to seaweed processing for Asian markets, to essential oils, to tourism opportunities to the stuff you might not even think of in terms of a place like Ahousaht – call centres,” said Langer.

Take a project between the Heiltsuk, Haisla and Haida First Nations, Coastal First Nations-Great Bear Initiative, Royal Roads University and ForestEthics for example. Their working group produces a line of bath products made with essential oils harvested from cedar boughs that are provided at a Victoria-based hotel. There are plans to initiate small-scale commercialization this year, according to Johanna Helbig, project administrator for Coastal First Nations-Great Bear Initiative.

“… In order to move to a sustainable conservation-based economy in Clayoquot Sound, we have to have a very holistic approach that isn’t paternalistic, but that offers what we can to enable [First Nations] to do what they would like to do,” added Langer.

Back in Clayoquot, conservation talks are prospective at best, but the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation – partial owners of Iisaak Forest Resources – is listening.

“We support any direction that will feed healthy homelands,” said Saya Masso, natural resource director for the nation. “I see a one hundred year economy – a one thousand year economy … I want to support the sustainable [jobs]. I want fish in our rivers and tourism, campgrounds, trails, and a value-added forestry industry with a lower footprint – and everyone working together to recognize and achieve that.”


Julia Prinselaar is a freelance journalist living on Salt Spring Island, BC.


Friends of Clayoquot Sound, http://

Sustainable Forest Management Plan, Tree Farm License 57, Timber Licenses, Tree Farm License 54 (Portion inside Clayoquot Sound). Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd. Term 2006-2011, with updates to January 31, 2012.

Flores Island Watershed Plan. Clayoquot Sound Technical Planning Committee, October 2003.

[From WS Summer 2012]

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