Twenty years ago today, about 30 residents of Tofino were driving up and down the highway by Long Beach, communicating via handheld radios, tracking a helicopter carrying B.C.’s premier of the day and select media.
A local guy listening in on emergency, aviation and boat communications was transmitting the play-by-play, while the helicopter sought a quiet landing spot where the premier could make a “contained” statement about the fate of Clayoquot Sound’s forests.
Nothing that followed, however, in what was to become the Clayoquot Summer of 1993, could be construed as “contained.”
The Clayoquot land-use decision of April 13, 1993, sparked a mass protest that put Clayoquot Sound’s ancient temperate rainforests on the international map. Over a period of six months, the region became an icon for an environmental awakening.
Clayoquot symbolized all that was wrong with industrial logging and was a touchstone for people’s hope for change. It shook the province, inspired people to action and hatched a marketplace-oriented strategy that has been utilized in environmental campaigns from the farthest corner of Vancouver Island to the Great Bear Rainforest to Indonesia, the Amazon and beyond.
The conflict, in fact, began in the previous decade with a group of volunteers from the Friends of Clayoquot Sound and First Nations leaders who rose to protect their traditional territories. Reaction to the 1993 Clayoquot decision transformed the local conflict into a movement with reverberations to this day.
Clayoquot Summer ’93 was triggered because the decision left two-thirds of the region, including many intact rainforest valleys, open to industrial logging. Public outrage about this decision funnelled into the largest act of non-violent civil disobedience in Canadian history, culminating in the arrest of 856 of the 12,000-plus protesters, who were tried in mass trials and jailed.
By October 1993, when the protests wrapped up, it had spilled into years known as the “War in the Woods.” Environmental groups targeted corporate customers of B.C. wood and paper products around the world, causing the province grief and the industry millions in lumber and paper sales.
In response to the non-violent but highly energized uprising, the political ground in B.C. shifted. Clayoquot marked a renaissance in First Nations land-rights discussions, and environmental groups became powerful intermediaries, both in the wood-supply chain and in the political discourse. Importantly, the public became defiant over what they saw to be legal but wrong — the destruction of the environment — and began to stir.
Out of the controversy, the First Nations in Clayoquot Sound, who hadn’t been consulted on the land-use plan, were chosen to be first in the province’s new treaty process, and a groundbreaking pre-treaty agreement was signed.
By August, then-premier Mike Harcourt established the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices. The outcry against wanton clearcut logging broke through barriers, sparking the province to initiate B.C.’s first forest-practices code. The logging industry circled its wagons in an attempt to defend its tarnished reputation in the marketplace, but change was apace.
The fight for Clayoquot was a polarizing issue. Wedges were driven between communities as we grappled with the biggest issues of our day with nowhere but the public forum to play them out. And yet, we all crept, agonizingly, toward breakthroughs that British Columbians can be proud of.
What happened in Clayoquot Sound, beginning in April 1993, has had a major influence on global environmental movements, the Great Bear Rainforest campaign and even the oilsands and pipeline campaigns of today — as well as on conservation of Clayoquot’s forests.
It has been 20 years. Just over half of Clayoquot’s rainforests are now off-limits to logging. But many of the region’s intact rainforest valleys are still unprotected, and the region’s First Nations communities still struggle economically.
As the anniversaries of the Clayoquot Sound land-use decision and subsequent uprising of the Summer of ’93 are marked, we see new opportunities for conservation and human well-being growing again in Clayoquot Sound. A lasting solution may soon be at hand that honours the movements for environmental and social justice begun those 20 years ago, in the magnificent, inspiring place that is Clayoquot Sound.
There are many more stories to tell about those times. There are more in the making there now.
Valerie Langer is with ForestEthics Solutions. Eduardo Sousa is with Greenpeace. Maryjka Mychajlowycz is a member of Friends of Clayoquot Sound. Jens Wieting is a campaigner for Sierra Club B.C. Torrance Coste is a campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.