Taking a Stand in the Elaho Valley

In spite of a "Summer of Discontent" in 1999, the inescapable feeling is that the battle to protect wilderness from clearcutting has just begun.

by J. Cates

The Upper Elaho Valley is one of British Columbia's few remaining pristine wilderness areas. Three hours north of Vancouver, in what the government's tourist brochures call Sea to Sky country, this area is host to hundreds of 1,300-year-old Douglas fir trees and is the southern most coastal habitat of grizzly bears. The area is within the proposed Stoltmann National Park Reserve, as well as Squamish and Lil'Wat First Nation territories.

Interfor obtained Tree Farm License 38, an area of about 240,000 hectares that includes the Upper Elaho Valley and the Squamish Valley, in 1994, and has been clearcutting groves of Douglas fir trees and cedars since then. The lower Squamish Valley has been logged since 1961, but Interfor would like to push its logging operations into the last remaining old growth.

Interfor's plans have been met with opposition from environmentalists, the Squamish Nation, and myriad others.

During land use planning negotiations, parks were created in the subalpine surrounding the timber of the Elaho. In 1999, Greenpeace and other environmental groups working on the central coast declared the Elaho was the southern extent of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Last summer, 14 individuals were arrested in the Elaho Valley for opposing the expansion of the logging road. It has been called a Summer of Discontent, and we're likely to have another such summer in 2000, as Interfor attempts to log with the aid of a court-granted bubble-zone injunction designed to keep protesters at bay. There will almost certainly be disobedience by protesters, who will then be subject to arrest.

Interfor learned one lesson from the incidents of 1999: it learned the importance of public relations, and this year, while company employees have shown hostility to others on-site, they have stopped short of violence.

But Paul George, of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, says the company is just biding its time. "They have been hurt by the revelations that have come out in court," he says, but believe they have the ear of a sympathetic government, and will win in the end if they are patient. They look forward, he says, to the election of a Liberal government.

That's largely the reason the protest against their logging has expanded from localized efforts into the promotion of a boycott.

The majority of Interfor's wood is exported in raw logs to Japan, the United States, and other countries. The company's reliance on raw exports and increased mechanization has eliminated jobs both in the woods and the sawmills.

At press time, there was reported to be a small group of 10 or 20 people, camping near logging sites and slowing the work simply by being present. One of the groups with an ongoing presence has been Friends of the Elaho, but others come and go, and special events, music festivals and the like, swell the ranks periodically.

Why has the area gathered such support? James Rowed, who works for EcoMountain Tours, which takes people to the site, describes the setting.

There are two well-used trails in the region, he says. One of them, about 22 km long, connects Lava Creek to the Meager Creek trail head. The other trail, the Ancient Trees Trail (or Millennium Trail) is only about 1.5 km long, but it circles the oldest of the old trees. More than a thousand years old, they are "beyond old-growth," says Rowed.

In March of this year, Interfor submitted its five-year logging plan; it called for a logging road alongside the Ancient Trees Trail (which was rejected) and cut blocks 10252 and 10251 (which were approved).

The best place from which to view the stand of ancient trees is Bear Bluffs. Cut block 10252 would clear out the trees between the bluff and the Douglas firs, and is "absolutely butted right up against the trail," Rowed says.

Talk may be cheap, but some of the protest against Interfor activities has been anything but cheap. The Elaho Tourism Alliance, which counts several tourism industry operators among its members, believes the Elaho could generate $4 million a year in revenues from tourism, and it's considered the heart of a proposed Tribal Park (the word El-ah-oo means 'fine hunting ground' in Coast Salish). These are the reasons that one member of the Elaho Tourism Alliance, EcoMountain Tours, has offered to invest $2 million as a "seed investment" to finance a solution.

The money would go to develop community projects, to preserve the Elaho north of Lava Creek, to create employment for forest workers, to diversify the forest economy, to define the Interfor role in an environmentally sensitive marketplace, and to address First Nations concerns. EcoMountain has met with government and Interfor representatives, but "there have been no takers," says Rowed.

EcoMountain Tours owner Geza Vamos, who went so far as to ask how much it would cost to buy out Interfor's interest in cut block 10252, says the company was willing to talk, but "didn't respond with any willingness to leave the block." He said even if the company cuts fewer trees between Bear Bluff and the old trees, it would be an insignificant amount … only "crumbs."

Bryce Gilroy-Scott, of Friends of the Elaho, says the real issue is "corporate tenure of BC's forest ecosystems."

If the Elaho were saved tomorrow," he says, "our job wouldn't be over until we have ecosystem sustainability."

* For full details, see www.wildernesscommittee.org or call the WCWC at (604)683-8220, fax (604)683-8229.

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[From WS August/September 2000]

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