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Clayoquot Sound:
Not Out Of The Woods Yet!

Clayoquot Sound
Protesters at the Clayoquot blocade in 1993.

By Valerie Langer
The ten year anniversary of the largest civil disobedience in Canadian history is approaching. During the summer of 1993 over 850 people were arrested and 12,000 people demonstrated in opposition to logging in the ancient forests of Clayoquot Sound.

The magnificent forests and the strength of the non-violent protests captured the imagination of the public and the media. Canadians, Americans and Europeans flocked to the Peacecamp, and every morning before dawn they caravanned down a dusty logging road to the demonstration site. When logging trucks arrived at the Kennedy River Bridge, the international media turned on their camera lights and brought the stand off to TV sets and radios all around the world.

  Giant cedar, Meares island
Saved - giant cedar on Meares island
Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS) was there to facilitate people bringing their consciousness into action. A few years of action experience had trained us how to leverage that presence into the international forum. After the mass trials of the 850 arrestees Common Ground published an “Honour Roll” of those courageous souls who put their liberty on the line for the ancient forests of Clayoquot Sound.

Today art pieces featuring the protests hang on the walls of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the BC Museum designates ‘Clayoquot ’93’ as one of the most significant events in BC’s history. Clayoquot was a fire in the belly, a symbol of our rage against environmental destruction and a cathartic outlet to do something about it.

The movement building process had begun in 1984 when FOCS and First Nations blockaded MacMillan Bloedel from logging Meares Island, both a drinking water and spiritual source. Further protests built experience, attracted new energy and propelled the citizens of Clayoquot through years of frustrating Sustainable Development negotiating processes. By the time 1993 rolled around we were through with “talk and log” processes and were ready to create fundamental change in Clayoquot Sound; the kind of change that would provide a model for the rest of British Columbia.

What followed the massive 1993 protests is Kafkaesque! In efforts to contain the positive potential of the Clayoquot movement the provincial government and the logging industry turned Clayoquot Sound into what one industry person called “the most politically complex ecosystem in the world.” The provincial government has spent over $60 million on Clayoquot processes in an effort to continue industrial logging while confusingly touting Clayoquot as conserved to the public. Between the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel recommendations (which are not being fully implemented) and the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation, most people believe that Clayoquot Sound is “saved.” It is not!

Environmental groups have hurdled, ducked under and pushed through many of the barriers thrown up by government, Interfor and (the late) MacMillan Bloedel to achieve some unique gains in Clayoquot. Unprecedented public interest in Clayoquot Sound through the 1990s drove a dramatic decrease in logging and prompted experimentation with some new logging techniques. Logging giant MacMillan Bloedel folded their industrial operations in the Sound and formed a joint venture logging company in Clayoquot called Iisaak Forest Resources, which is 51% owned by First Nations and 49% owned by [MB]Weyerhaeuser. Although still logging in ancient forests, Iisaak is experimenting with conservation-based forestry and has agreed not to log in the large pristine valleys within their Tree Farm Licence. Because MacMillan Bloedel (MB) was the big target of environmental campaigns, MB’s exit and the formation of Iisaak led many people to believe that the struggle for Clayoquot’s ancient temperate rainforests was won.

The shocker is that Interfor (International Forest Products) has been logging Clayoquot Sound since 1992 and continues to do so today. In concert with the provincial Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Environment, they have utilized an array of unimplemented and unlegislated processes and designations to cloud the Clayoquot landscape.

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation and the recommendations of the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel are the two best known, but legally non-binding, of these processes. Most people think a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is a park. Simply put, the tactic has been to make the Clayoquot issue too hard to follow, and in the confusion evade having to fundamentally change the practice of logging in ancient forests.

Almost ten years ago tens of thousands of people from all over the world participated in activities to save Clayoquot’s ancient rainforests from industrial logging. Some gains have been made but industrial logging is on the increase. There is opportunity for Interfor to work with environmental groups to safeguard critical places such as Pretty Girl Watershed and Sydney Valley. These valleys form part of a magnificent expanse of contiguous pristine valleys - a complex of giant trees unparalleled on Vancouver Island. But the gains that have been made in Clayoquot Sound are extremely vulnerable, especially in the current provincial political climate.

When people arrive for the ten year anniversary of the Clayoquot blockade event in 2003 it will be either a celebration or a call to action. The direction Interfor and the provincial government take regarding the pristine valleys of Clayoquot Sound will determine the full nature of this gathering of empowered individuals.

The global trade in endangered forests keeps Interfor in Clayoquot Sound. We can model a new economy in Clayoquot Sound that is not based on industrial extraction of ancient forests. Through the power of global consciousness channeled into local action we can.

Valerie Langer is a Tofinio resident and a member of Friends of Clayoquot Sound. For more information visit


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