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Great Bear Deal is Defeat for Environmentalism

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Section: Letters Geography: West British Columbia Topics: forestry

March 8, 2006

Great Bear Deal is Defeat for Environmentalism

by Ingmar Lee

Herbert's "Bear of a Deal" in the Dominion. The Dominion purports to be a 'grassroots' newsletter, but Mr. Herberts article panders blatantly to all the big professional enviro-corp hype about what is basically an awful compromise/collaborationist sell-out of the world's largest remaining tract of temperate rainforest. This deal has produced a divisive schism within BC's once strong and united environmental movement, a minimal 30% protection featured in a shot-gun blast scatter of isolated refugia tufts amidst a future sea of ill-defined industrial logging, but it has also superceded and sacrificed important grass-roots protection work on all other areas of British Columbia forest.

People need to understand that the Weyerhaeuser's of the world (the largest logging company on the planet and a signatory to the deal) have only one single objective, and that is to provide the largest possible return to its investors. Weyerhaeuser investors don't buy into Weyerhaeuser because they think it's a progressive, green, ethical investment, but because they know that the corporation is expert at destroying the maximum amount of wilderness that it can get away with. Weyerhaeuser only talks to environmentalists when it knows that if it doesn't, its forest-consumption rate will be impacted. That means that BC's environmental movement was on track to severely damage Weyerhaeuser and its destructive logging ideology. We should have stayed the course.

Ten years ago, the BC environmental movement was a widely inclusive, diverse, predominantly grassroots effort which had accumulated a powerful stock of political capital from its tenacious obstructionist action against the destruction of BC's forests. More than 800 individual activists were arrested at Clayoquot Sound. We had a lot of traction towards turning around the voracious wanton destruction of our forests. Since then, this power has gradually slipped away, and now the BC enviro-movement is mired in apathetic intertia and neutered. The RSP groups spent 10 years negotiating secretly behind closed doors with Weyerhaeuser and ilk, and have sucked up the vast bulk of BC's enviro-buck. They agreed to suspend support for campaigns anywhere else while they worked on the deal, and grassroots efforts were starved and marginalized as a result. There is virtually no opposition to the destruction of forests going on anywhere in British Columbia today, and they are logging at the fastest, most voracious rate ever, and the have Greenwashed the future of logging, as yet an undefined pipe-dream of "EBM" in the GBR.

The RSP groups--Greenpeace, Sierra Club of BC, Forest Ethics and RAN have squandered all of BC's hard-won grass-roots capital in exchange for the GBR deal--certainly a deal which has enriched their professional organizations, but nevertheless, in the end, a shoddy tragic deal. Today, British Columbia's once-proud and effective grassroots volunteer activist community has been reduced to licking fundraising flyer envelopes in RSP offices and signing grovelling petitions destined straight for Gordon Campbell's shredder.

For some counterpoint to Mr. Herbert's article, please see:

Going, Going, Almost Gone: Compromise with a Chainsaw in the Forests of British Columbia

Ingmar Lee


Yuill Herbert responds:

Thank you for your response. On may points I agree with you. You make very clearly the point that this agreement is not perfect from an ecological perspective; I believe I reflected that in the article, highlighting both Suzuki Foundation and Raincoast Conservation Society's perspectives. I agree with your analysis of Weyerhauser; its aim is to maximise profits. Certainly the companies did not voluntarily enter into negotations, rather they were forced to the table by environmental activism, including actions such as yours at a shareholder meeting; I also pointed this out in the article. While I'm not sure about the inclusivity and diversity of the environmental movement during the Clayoquot protests, these protests clearly played a key role in setting the stage for the GBR negotiations; and I reflected that in the article.

I suspect your disappointment lies in its tone. And this highlights the fact that a writer is never neutral. In my opinion, the GBR deal is a significant milestone, but not a panacea, for the following reasons which I stand by; (1) it unarguably sets a new global precedent in terms of ecological protection for a region, (2)it has initiated steps to create a new type of management regieme that has the potential to transform the relationship between humans and the forest, (3) it represents a new level of respect for indigenous peoples in Canada and (4)the conservation fund initiates an innovative support mechanism both for people who are put out of work and for people without work in the region. Obviously, your opinion is considerably more severe. So long as it encourages people to aim higher, all the power to you.

I do think you have to be wary of over-simplifying the nature of the agreement; if for nothing else but to respect the work of a wide range of people in BC. The protected areas in the GBR were negotiated at two land use tables that included representatives from unions, small business, recreation, tourism, local government, provincial and federal governments (members are listed at:* http://srmwww.gov.bc.ca/cr/resource_mgmt/lrmp/cencoast/contacts.htm). *The consensus land use plan that came out of these tables was then negotiated between the provincial and first nations governments, who had developed their own land use plans, which was highly significant for the First Nations. So, at least from what I understand, it was not some sort of conspiracy between environmentalists and large corporations, but rather a complex, participatory process that involved representatives of a wide range of people that spanned a decade.

Yuill Herbert


The Dominion welcomes discussion, criticism, and commentary from readers. Letters can be sent to the Dominion by post or email. Letters may be edited for style, clarity and length; if there is a dispute, we will link to an unaltered version of the published letter.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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