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Comment: Government still not taking Walbran seriously

A few weeks ago, I listened to thousand-year-old giants being dragged off the side of a mountain. I was in the Central Walbran Valley, near where a company called Teal Jones is cutting down old-growth rainforest.

A few weeks ago, I listened to thousand-year-old giants being dragged off the side of a mountain.

I was in the Central Walbran Valley, near where a company called Teal Jones is cutting down old-growth rainforest. The grove I was standing in is targeted for future logging.

I’m in the valley with a team of volunteers, the third trip I’ve led this spring. We’re building trails through rare old-growth forest, including into Teal Jones’ planned cutblocks. This is a joint project of the Wilderness Committee and the grassroots Friends of Carmanah-Walbran, with the permission of the Pacheedaht Nation, in whose unceded territory the Walbran Valley sits.

The soundtrack to our work is the whine of the chainsaws, the roar of bulldozers and the chest-rattling explosions of road-building dynamite. After driving through clearcuts for hours to get here, our volunteers can’t believe that this area is open to logging.

They ask if the provincial government or the official opposition is doing anything about this. I tell them: “No. They’re not.”

Listening to the destruction of some of the last old-growth rainforest on Vancouver Island is tough, but it’s not as frustrating as watching our elected officials turn their backs on this problem and on the citizens, local governments and business groups who want it addressed.

While the Walbran has been a contested area for decades, the issue blew up again a year ago when Teal Jones sent me its plans for eight new cutblocks in the heart of the Central Walbran Valley.

The public outrage was immediate and fierce. Over the past year, thousands have attended rallies and demonstrations, participated in phone blitzes, joined trips to the Walbran and written letters calling on the premier and the minister of forests to step up and address this crisis.

Of the eight cutblocks in the intact 486-hectare area, only one — Block 4424 — has been approved. Despite this, Teal Jones has said it has no plans to log it, a direct result of the power of concerted public opposition.

But the south side of the river is a different story.

Teal Jones began logging there last fall, and in November, activists independent from any organization set up a blockade. Crews were prevented from working until the first of several heavy-handed injunctions — which also named me and the Wilderness Committee — was issued in December.

Over the winter, industry representatives and Ministry of Forests staff reached out to the Wilderness Committee and other environmental groups, seeking to end the conflict. Yet, after a few meetings and months of delay, it seems that neither Teal Jones nor the B.C. government is interested in leaving this rare and beloved area intact.

Their tired argument is that not destroying this small area will force Teal Jones to lay off workers because of timber shortages.

But the end of old-growth logging is coming soon — not even industry representatives deny that. Given this certainty, why aren’t Teal Jones and other companies racing to lead the inevitable transition to second growth and ensure a secure future for their workers?

Fortunately, there are leaders at the local and business level who get it.

Following the leadership of municipal councils in Metchosin, Tofino and Victoria, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities passed a resolution to call on the minister of forests to halt old-growth logging in the Walbran Valley and beyond. Similar motions have been passed by the chambers of commerce of West Shore, Sooke and Port Renfrew.

At the end of May, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce also supported the call for protection of old-growth forest.

The business community understands that while forestry is an essential part of rural economies, old-growth logging is a dead end, and ancient forests are far more valuable standing.

The question is whether the B.C. government and the opposition will stand with these groups or continue to ignore the environment, local business interests and municipal governments in favour of the handful of companies that cut old-growth.

The campaign to protect the Central Walbran Valley gains momentum every day. We’ve got the truth — and local economics — on our side, and the logging companies and MLAs who stand against that do so to their own detriment.

Torrance Coste is Vancouver Island campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.