Vancouver Island Citizen Activists Protecting Parks

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s proclaimed in January that environmental and other “radical groups” are trying to block trade and undermine Canada’s economy, so on Vancouver Island citizen activists are upholding their reputation as outspoken defenders of the wild.

by Joe Foy

“Wanna buy a t-shirt?” I turned to look across thecoffee shop table at a fellow holding a bright red shirt with the outline of a maple leaf with the words Another Radical Canadian bodly emblazoned across the shirt’s front. 

He told me that the t-shirt was his reaction to federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s proclamation in January that environmental and other “radical groups” are trying to block trade and undermine Canada’s economy. What had got Oliver steamed was the widespread and growing opposition to Canada’s dirty tar sands and the proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects which aim to bring the polluting product through BC to the Pacific Ocean so crude oil tankers bound for China can fill ‘er up. 

Here on Vancouver Island, where I was touring around meeting various community environmental groups, the spectre of a tar sands oil spill on Canada’s wild left coast meant that the red t-shirts could scarcely be printed fast enough as people snapped them up. 

They say it’s darkest before the dawn – and these are certainly dark days for Canada’s environment and those who stand on nature’s side. Just holding the thin green line is tougher than ever as Mr. Oliver huffs and puffs about eco-radicals picking on the multinational mega-industries of Canada. 

In BC, besides the tar sands pipeline proposals there are other nasty projects planned like the so-called New Prosperity Mine which threatens to drown Little Fish Lake under a massive tailings pond, then risks killing off Fish Lake located just downstream. Further north is the grossly expensive and damaging proposed Site C Dam Project on the Peace River. 

On Vancouver Island citizen activists are upholding their reputation as outspoken defenders of the wild. People have banded together in Port Alberni to prevent their drinking water supply area from being logged. The mid-Island is a hotbed of opposition to the proposed Raven Coal Mine which risks fouling the famous oyster beds of Vancouver Island’s Baynes Sound. Activists in Qualicum Beach and Parksville are fighting a tree-by-tree battle to hold the last remnants of the Coastal Douglas fir forest. 

A huge new salmon farm proposed for Clayoquot Sound, would increase the risk of a disease outbreak amongst our already endangered wild salmon runs. It has kindled a ton of opposition in Tofino and surroundings. And of course there is the proposed Catface open pit copper mine in the heart of Clayoquot Sound, a prospect too terrible to contemplate. 

With all of these defensive actions taking place you would think that people would be in no position to advance on behalf of Mother Nature – but that is exactly what is happening on Vancouver Island. 

I had wanted to see what local activists were doing on the Island to expand the protected areas system and boy was I pleasantly surprised! People all over Vancouver Island have banded together to beaver away at gaining new protected areas in their region. 

On the west coast around Tofino the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has declared several spectacular areas – Meares Island and the Kennedy River watershed – as Tribal Parks. The Friends of Clayoquot Sound continue to work for a wide swath of new protected areas, and an end to old growth logging in the region. 

But it wasn’t just in Clayoquot Sound that people are working for a wilder future. Lower East Creek on the northwest coast of the Island still has tall timber and ancient forests and advocates who say this place cries out for protection. The wild west coast of Nootka Island has its defenders too as do special wild areas all over the Island. 

It’s time that Vancouver Island gains the same high percentage of protected areas as is found in other wellknown nature destinations such as New Zealand and Costa Rica. We all know it should be done, and that there are people who have done much of the hard work. Let’s all work together to make it happen! 

***

Joe Foy is Campaign Director for the Wilderness Committee, Canada’s largest citizen-funded membership-based wilderness preservation organization.

[From WS Summer 2012]

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