Beneath the Great Bear Rainforest

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For the better part of four years, I have been held captive by the area on the north-central coast of British Columbia, dubbed The Great Bear Rainforest by environmentalists in the 1990’s. It is an immensely powerful global icon of interchange between terrestrial and marine ecosystems and is among the few last remaining threatened cultural wilderness-landscapes on this planet.

It is also ground zero for the equally powerful interchange between indigenous and settler ontologies–ways of knowing. It is a place where beautifully symbiotic relationships are forged between First Nations and colonial settlers, and also where tense, combative, and polarizing relationships with deep wounds struggle to heal.

It is the resting place of a dying economy, and the birthplace of a new generation of people who are building new relationships with the land. They are not synthesizing what western economic loyalists might call ‘progressive new business models’. No, they are creating livelihoods in spite of modern economics.

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Over one a year ago I finished my life as an undergraduate University student studying political science and environmental studies and left a lifestyle of activism, grassroots involvement, and a mainstream-urban-Cascadian-settler culture of resistance as a straight white male. (or at least some form of this.) I then moved between the areas of the Bella Coola Valley, northern Vancouver Island, Bella Bella, the Broughton Archipelago, and southern mainland of the Great Bear Rainforest directly east of the Broughton Archipelago.

This area is home to inlets stretching 125 kilometers in length, spanning 2.5 km in average width. It is host to the fastest tidal surge in the world and a wilderness landscape sanctuary honest enough to demand you re-conceive your notions of wild. In a single peripheral moment, your eyes can capture both mountain goats and dolphins.

I moved from talking about and fighting for the concept of wilderness amongst largely urbanites, to the wilderness. I moved from talking about First Nations politics and solidarity work, to actually talking with First Nations; an embarrassingly simple yet profound paradox (and problematic) in typical urban environmental activism.

My excursions, work, exploration, projects, and freelance hikes have brought me face to face with bears, wolves, and cougars. While out food fishing I have been left completely alone with only orcas in endlessly immense waterways. Eagles know my boat motor sound, and will follow me, hoping for a released fish to linger a moment too long on the surface for their talons to pierce. My meals are often composed of salmon, crabs, clams, mussels, spot prawns, sea urchin roe, lingcod, halibut; and chanterelles, matsutake, yellow feet, hedgehog, Chicken-of-the-woods, morel and angel wing mushrooms; berries of many kinds that make a candy shop look like a library; seaweed of all sorts, wild harvested sea salt, and a medley of unspeakably nutritious, delicious and unique foods. Licorice fern root, spring fir bough tips, nettles and Labrador tea are all present in my evening warm beverages – along with some whiskey on occasion.

I have had to surrender to 100 km/hour winds, biblical amounts of rain and spent weeks and weeks and weeks completely alone, kayaking unnamed bays and hiking in forests with no trails. And I have accidentally walked into dynamite blasting red zones while exploring the vast mountainous forest that left my ears ringing and feet running for the back for the hills.

If you are not already painfully aware, know this:  the war in the woods is very very alive, and it is being executed with more-than-military might. What progress and safety that is provided by conservation zones like the Clayoquot UNESCO biosphere reserve is counterbalanced with the destruction of Kyuquot only two sounds north of ʻparadiseʼ. And a hauntingly similar conservation / destruction trade off isnʼt unfamiliar to the oft-lauded reputation of the Great Bear Rainforest agreement either.

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I have watched logging companies air-lift exclusively old-growth red cedar trees year- round, day-in, day-out from a single inlet for months on end. And I have seen Chinese registered super-timber tankers illegally parked in northern Vancouver Island estuary ecosystems. They shade out eelgrass beds, and the log booms slough off bark that sink and blanket the once vibrant marine estuary floor. These trees, this timber, only stay on Canadian soil for the duration they were alive, next stop- China. The tankers never even enter a Canadian port. Canadians get minimal if any tax benafits, First Nations get symbolic royalties, and jobs float across the pacific ocean.

Federal and Provincial regulation pertaining to logging, salmon farming, and resource extraction are, more often than not, completely irrelevant in the woods on the coast. It almost makes me happy to hear that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has had their budget cut, because often when they are present their paradoxical mandate to promote wild and farmed salmon make them redundant and embarrassingly out of touch. And only with the conclusion of a Supreme Court inquiry has an inch of progress been made on the risks of the salmon farming industry on wild salmon stocks. Too little, too late.

Furthermore, I have wanted to vomit at what is Forest Stewardship Council certified sustainable logging practices. The sound of saying “forest stewardship council certified sustainable logging practices” actually makes me feel very nice. But what that looks like on the ground is clear cuts. I donʼt know whether FSC regulations are simply not being followed, or whether FSC is just semantics. Either way, I donʼt care. The result is threatened marbled murrelets literally watching old growth forests being logged within one kilometer for what is known as world-class logging ethics. A clear cut is a clear cut whether you spread it out and mix ʻhabitat zonesʼ throughout or not.

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When outgoing fry and salmon smolts leave their wild-hatchery of a stream, the river is left momentarily empty (of salmon), for a few weeks before returning adults arrive to spawn. Any restoration work that needs to be done on salmon bearing streams needs to be done in this window. The blisters that have formed on my hands from turning over gravel beds with a pitch fork to release silt from logging within the watershed would make your hands numb just thinking about it. There are ʻredʼ listed streams, and ʻblueʼ listed streams on logging maps to indicate whether small watersheds are salmon bearing or not. But if the Ministry does not have enough funding then streams do not get assessed and are often dubbed non salmon-bearing. The result is locals who depend on smaller salmon runs are forced to take measures in to their own hands, filling the gaps that DFO and Forestry does not. Typically they just log the river, causing siltification, nearby soil instability and mudslides. Much of the coast is root-mass and years of duff on rock. Without the tree, it just slides away.

There are growth pains involved in any progress when it comes to government regulation transitioning from outdated management strategies to modern ecosystem-based management. But while our friend Stephen Harper is spending taxpayers money to open litigation to close down safe consumption sites for people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver three years in a row (losing every time at the Supreme Court Level), the Department of Fisheries has their belt more than tighten–itʼs a noose. The science, local ability, and certainly need for ecosystem-based fisheries management are all in place and moving forward. Only, government is moving backwards, leaving more room for large industry to move as freely as cowboys in the wild west (…or the Hudson’s Bay Company in the not so recent past)

My point is that where there are no eyes, there is no regulation. And in an age of an austerity government and in a wilderness landscape unparalleled by most on earth– there are very very few eyes, and even less political will to see with them if they were there. As far as that murrelet knows, the Species At Risk Act is nothing more than a piece of paper collecting dust somewhere on the other side of the second biggest country on the world. And those orcas I shared the water way with, they are the most toxic mammal on earth. Nearly every PCB, dioxin, furan, and endocrine disruptor identifiable on earth can be found in a single fat sample of our cherished northern resident orca ecotype. What do they know of our regulations, enforced or otherwise?

So what are we doing as activists lobbying for policy changes or political change? What is gained? And what is lost in translation? Are we fostering relationships with the wild; with the land; with each other? Or are we fostering relationships with a potentially harmful abstraction of wilderness? Clearly, itʼs going to be an eloquent combination of urban and remote community involvement that will move us closer to a space of community empowerment. What has helped me is trying to stay as close to the ground as possible. To humble myself and foster new ways of knowing. And move myself in to settings that provide alternative opportunities to understand the actual subject of my love and passion, rather than strategically objectify it from afar.

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My friends are now composed of fisherpeople, biologists, hand-loggers, tourism venture personnel, indigenous folks of many walks of life, boaters, lawyers, business people and craftspeople. Often they are the people who were here before industrial scale resource extraction arrived, and they are the people who will be here after they have left. And they are tired, and pissed off.

Iʼm writing to encourage those of you who are capable, willing and advantageously situated in remote coastal communities to take what matters you can into your own hands. Those who make livelihoods with the land, off the land, need only to be either given their agency or take it from the overly entitled crown and province that so readily hands it over to corporations. They need only to be left alone by government and industry to take care of the coast, and have the coast take care of them.

There are some immensely resilient communities that initiate hatcheries for smaller salmon runs, or document unsustainable and abusive logging practices and attempt to push back. This is all old news to indigenous communities, and programs like the coastal guardian alliance that monitors illegal poaching or insensitive activities pertaining to cultural heritage areas is a great example of communities taking matters in to their own hands. However, an economic hardship index plots the north coast as the poorest region in the province with the highest rate of depopulation and highest dependence on income assistance. How can an area so ecologically rich be so economically poor? Large-scale industrial extraction leaves nothing there.  Two world-views, two ontologies, and the land lost in translation.

Salmon fisherpeoples unions, and First Nations gill-netters want nothing more than for salmon to return year after year, after year. They have the historical and hands-on experience where governments do not. Not to mention, they actually handle the fish, and depend on it for food (and cultural) sovereignty.

Lets be clear, I have no qualms with the working class. I believe people do what they must. I believe people are not naturally destructive, but are pushed within the constructs of a failing system. But fish farms, for example, do not provide nearly enough jobs to warrant the immensity of the risks it poses. Chinese bound super-timber, crude oil and liquified natural gas tankers do nothing for this coast. And they do nothing for this country. All taxes and ensuing funding to healthcare, education, and the ʻtrickle-downʼ arguments for mega-scale industrial projects are symptoms, not solutions. They are excuses, not arguments. And they are the root of a problem larger than I am trying to address currently, that I have zero tolerance for hearing.

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Goldcorp’s Midas Turns UVic in to Accomplice

http://www.martle.ca – Mar 7, 2013

BY: MARK WORTHING

Goldcorp’s donation of half a million dollars to UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, which UVic says will foster “social and sustainable innovation,” should do more than raise your hackles. It should send your irony-spidey senses off the radar.

Vancouver-based Goldcorp has 14 000 employees worldwide and 20 mine projects (former, operational or in development): five in Canada, three in the U.S., five in Mexico, two in Argentina, one in Chile, one in the Dominican Republic, two in Guatemala and one in Honduras. And it is the Central American mines — where billions are being spent to scour earth for gold, silver and nickel — that have embroiled Goldcorp in a trial by the People’s Health Tribunal, violence, calls for permit suspensions and United Nations interventions.

In particular, Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa municipalities of Guatemala has been a glaring example of why Canadians are getting a bad reputation in Latin America.

The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) has called for a complete suspension of the mine’s operations with no renewal. Indigenous Mayan communities in Sipacapa had filed complaints with the Office of Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), which reports to the World Bank Group, saying that the mine was developed without adequate consultation and claiming that it violated their rights as indigenous peoples.

Chuck Jeannes, Goldcorp president and chief executive officer, was recently quoted in the Times Colonist saying, “Goldcorp is committed to making a positive difference in the communities where we are located.” With reports of five workers being shot with rubber ammunition by Goldcorp security forces one month ago in Guatemala, I wonder what type of a difference Jeannes feels Goldcorp is making in that community?

Saul Klein, dean and Lansdowne professor of International Business at the Gustavson School of Business, told the Martlet in an email, “The Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation (CSSI) ensures that sustainability and the progress of social responsibility permeate everything that we do at Gustavson. Goldcorp’s funding will help CSSI support even more scholarship and action. The donation will strengthen and expand Gustavson’s capacity for research into issues integral to sustainable and socially responsible business practices.”

In contrast, Tamara Herman, a B.C.-based community organizer who has been working on mining-related issues for several years, explained in an email, “Goldcorp may seem like an ideal corporate donor in Canada, but the company has been accused of serious human and environmental rights violations in Latin America. Communities living beside Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine in Guatemala have reported human health problems and water pollution while actively opposing the loss of their homes, the destruction of their traditional territories and infringements on their land rights. In Chile last year, the Supreme Court rendered the environmental assessment for Goldcorp’s El Morro mine null because of its failure to consult local indigenous and peasant communities whose lands would be lost.”

There are some extremely important unanswered questions that need to
be addressed before UVic decides to aid and abet the reputation of such a controversial corporation.

“As a former UVic student, I would ask some critical questions about why this particular corporation is donating $500 000 to the business school. I would also ask what message UVic’s acceptance of the donation sends to the global community,” wrote Herman.

Nedjo Rogers, a member of the Mining Justice Action Committee who recently returned from working with communities in Ecuador impacted by Canadian mining projects, echoed Herman’s concerns about UVic’s reputation. “This sort of corporate relationship casts doubt on UVic’s status as a centre of independent and critical thought,” he wrote.

Seb Bonet, research co-ordinator of the Vancouver Island Public Research Group (VIPIRG) asked, “If the UVic faculty of business is so interested in sustainability, why is it helping to launder Goldcorp’s reputation? UVic wants us to look at its shiny new clothes, but when you go to the back of the store, it’s the same old story: its corporate product is soaked in the blood and suffering of [indigenous communities].”

The UVic community isn’t the first to have students resisting the funding from Goldcorp. What kind of compromise is being made for funding at our universities?

“When we found out that [Simon Fraser University] sold the naming rights for SFU Vancouver to Goldcorp for $10 million, we were concerned that SFU was helping Goldcorp ‘charitywash’ their image,” said Myka Abramson, who was heavily involved with the SFU Against Goldcorp and Gentrification working group in Burnaby and Vancouver.

UVic can do better than bolstering the reputation of a textbook example of an unethical, exploitative and controversial corporation. The $500 000 would be nice, but perhaps fostering social and sustainable innovation is something tainted money can’t buy. It’s not worth the compromise.

Success! No Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre

The Marine Detective

As follow-up to last week’s call to action, “Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre? Hell No!” , I am so pleased to relay the following media release from myself, the OrcaLab and the proponent, SRM Projects Ltd

The short of it is, due to the efforts of many (including you) and the integrity and ethics of the proponent – the application for an investigative license for ocean power in whale critical habitat has been withdrawn. 

Please read further below.

 Media Coverage:

For details of how this resolve was achieved see this OrcaLab blog item. 

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