When it comes to wild nature, it seems like we finally pay close attention once it gets down to that last slice — as is the case now in too many places around the world, including right here at home.
A few years back my wife and I were travelling in the province of Sabah in Malaysia. The region is known for its amazing rainforests and diverse wildlife like Asian elephant, rhino, and orangutan. But it hit me hard to see that much of the old forest was gone – converted to agriculture and palm oil plantations. Only slices of wild nature remain. I was filled with a mixture of sadness that so much had been lost – but also happy and grateful to be able to experience some of those last slices – thanks to the foresight of those who had protected them.
Where I live in the Sapperton neighbourhood of New Westminster, a last slice fight is brewing just down the hill from me. How it will end is anyone’s guess. A few minutes’ walk from my front door is a natural miracle made possible by years and years of volunteer efforts on a little stream with brown tinted water. The Brunette River and its salmon stretch all the way from the Fraser River right across Burnaby and into East Van where they delight and amaze people. Wild salmon are not Asian elephants – but they are super cool and people love to see them in the neighbourhood.
What makes this all the more amazing is that the Brunette River forest is squeezed tight between the freeway, Skytrain, rail line, sewer line, and a ton of housing and streets – but it still lives to sustain the city’s largest remaining urban salmon stream.
Now big oil wants to take their slice too.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project has set up camp near the Brunette River and is getting ready to clearcut the trees in a long swath bordering the rail line and freeway. People here are upset and angry. Tree forts have been built in big old cottonwoods and maples to express disapproval of the tree felling. Sadly, people who stand in the way of Big Oil in the Brunette forest risk arrest.
Of course the tree felling is only part of the story. Increased oil tanker traffic and greenhouse gas emissions because our federal government is addicted to tar sands exports is a far greater threat to wild salmon – and us – in the long run.
Meanwhile on southern Vancouver Island another last slice fight is heating up with people demanding protection for wild nature there. The valley of Fairy Creek, located near Port Renfrew, stands out as starkly as any of the last slice areas in Malaysia. It’s surrounded by clearcuts, tree plantations, and logging roads and is a chance to save a slice of the ancient forest valleys that once blanketed the South Island. The watershed doesn’t harbour orangutans, but some of the trees that grow in the little valley are mind-blowing old – well over a thousand years – far older than any of the trees in Malaysia’s surviving wild rainforests. A logging company wants to log it. The people say no. What will happen now?
If there is such a thing as natural justice, then surely it must include holding on to the last slices of wild nature for future generations. How is wild nature here and around the world to be healed if the last slices are not left to inspire and inform?
Joe Foy is the protected areas campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.
This article appears in our April | May 2021 issue.