Old-growth logging and climate change: Tiny B.C. First Nations asked to show great wisdom


Old-growth logging and climate change:
Tiny B.C. First Nations asked to show great wisdom



Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together. All things connect.

The whites, too, shall pass—perhaps sooner than the other tribes. Continue to contaminate your own bed, and you might suffocate in your own waste.

Chief Seattle

The world’s forests are increasingly becoming “front lines in the battle over climate change,” book critic Emily Donaldson observed in The Globe and Mail at the end of July.[1] A compelling example of this is a series of cover stories by journalist Norman Galimski on forestry, the Fairy Creek protests, and the Pacheedaht First Nation near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island that appeared earlier in July in the Victoria Times Colonist’s Sunday Islander section.

In his final article, Galimski describes how “forestry dollars flowing into the Pacheedaht First Nation over the past decade” have wrought a mini social and economic transformation.[2] Thanks to the work of successive band councils, the tiny community is now “reaping the harvest.” Rod Bealing, the Pacheedaht’s forestry manager, says forestry revenue has helped them “buy their land back—their unceded territory.”[3] The Pacheedaht’s forestry stake has also allowed them to buy local businesses, which provide employment and improve community life in other ways: establishing Port Renfrew’s only gas station, subsidizing the local grocery store to ensure its survival, housing.[4]

But Suzanne Simard, professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, sees a big problem. “First Nations who struggle to eke out an economy, deprived from them by colonialism, are given the ‘Hobson’s choice’ of harvesting the last of their own watersheds or watching someone else cut it,” she wrote in The Globe in June. [5]

Moreover, prior to and during the same period Galimski’s articles were running, full-page ads sponsored by canopyplanet.org were appearing in the B.C. Saturday editions of The Globe, imploring British Columbia Premier John Horgan to “protect the irreplaceable,” referring to B.C.’s remaining old-growth forest and its vital role in supporting biodiversity and inhibiting climate change.

Figure – Cathedral Grove, old-growth forest, Vancouver Island – Adam Jones, Kelowna, B.C., via Wikimedia Commons

The ads include well over one hundred signatories, well-known individuals such as former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, Margaret Atwood, and Greta Thunberg, along with numerous scientists, academics, foresters, and Indigenous leaders, all of them profoundly concerned about the deepening climate crisis.

Here are four reasons why I share their concerns.

One, in Simard’s words, “complicit government authority… continues to target the last 3 per cent of [the province’s unprotected, rich-ecosystem] old growth.”[6]

Two, despite the 2020 call of the NDP government’s Old Growth Panel “for a deferral on logging on the most at-risk old-growth forests within six months of publication of its report,” to quote a Times Colonist commentary by retired professional forester and biologist Andy MacKinnon, “the rate of old-growth logging has accelerated considerably.”[7] Simard concurs, stating: “Forests are being felled at breakneck speed, pumped by a disease of greed and folly, and this is occurring worldwide…”[8] (Because of this disease former clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, and former deputy executive director of the National Economic Council at the White House, Paul Deegan, maintain that “tectonic changes in corporate and consumer behaviours [are needed] to slow and reverse our degradation of the planet.”)[9]

Three, the late June Pacific Northwest “heat dome” that was concentrated over B.C. was, in the words of weather historian Christopher Burt, “the most anomalous extreme heat event ever observed on Earth since records began two centuries ago.”[10]

Four, given humanity’s current trajectory, “our chances for a prosperous, humane civilization two centuries from now [are a mere] 20 per cent,” according to complexity scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon, founder and director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University, in Victoria.[11]

Against this dire global situation, the Pacheedaht, along with the Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, have been granted a two-year deferral of old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed and the Central Walbran Valley, which “covers most, but not all, of the old-growth that protesters… want to protect.”[12] The deferral period provides time for the First Nations to prepare stewardship plans for the areas in their territories.[13] Will these plans reflect Simard’s “Hobson’s choice” or will they find a sustainable way forward?

Sustainability is an issue for climate change and biodiversity loss.  Both the B.C. government and forest industry claim that certified clearcutting of old-growth forests is sustainable forest management.  Ecojustice in a recent complaint to the federal Competition Bureau has challenged the validity of the Canadian Standard Association’s certification standard for the logging of old-growth forests. Moreover, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said on July 21st, “In these times of renewed focus on the need to protect old-growth forests and their crucial importance for biodiversity and the climate, it’s clear that this logging is not remotely sustainable and is at odds with B.C.’s commitment to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”[14]

“For the Pacheedaht’s elected council,” Galimski writes, “taking advantage of its forestry resources is a priority,”[15] but Times Colonist columnist Charla Huber adds that “Indigenous communities are known for prioritizing a collective community,”[16] which prompts several questions. How big a collective community: local, provincial, national, global? What will those stewardship plans say about old-growth logging? And, in the dark shadow of climate change, can the people responsible for those plans muster the wisdom of Solomon or Black Elk or Chief Seattle as they develop and approve those momentous documents?

Here’s another critical question. What happens at the end of the deferral period if forestry companies want to resume old-growth logging in the deferral areas, but the new stewardship plans oppose it? In a December 2020 Times Colonist commentary, retired B.C. forester Anthony Britneff pointed out that “timber volume or land cannot be removed from a forest tenure holder for other uses without compensation.”[17] Moreover, Galimski states that the “Teal-Jones Group, which owns Tree Farm Licence 46 and whose plans to log old-growth forest, much of which lies in the Pacheedaht traditional territory, sparked the ongoing Fairy Creek protests in August of 2020.”[18] Britneff argues that “the present working forest or tenure system” urgently needs “revamping to take away control of public forests from an oligopoly of multinational corporations and to place it in the hands of local forest trusts.”[19]

Just as the oil and gas industry will continue after fossil fuels have been phased out, forestry in B.C., which has lost more than 45,000 jobs since 2000,[20] will also continue after the end of old-growth logging. The question, in the words of Bill Jones, the Pacheedaht’s most public opponent of old-growth logging, is whether we have “grimly reaped all that’s left” or if we can find a way to save it.[21] Perhaps through the projected stewardship plans, the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht will help put the management of B.C.’s public forests on a sustainable footing.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the creators of those plans are inspired by wisdom equal to their and our pressing circumstances, from the local needs of their communities and people to the exigencies of global climate change, and that they, in the process, demonstrate much-needed bold leadership that provides positive examples for provincial and national levels and, indeed, for the world.

Reconciliation is about more than the relationship between First Nations people and the “settler” community. As the December 2015 final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission observed, “reconciliation will never occur unless we are also reconciled with the earth.”[22]

A writer and historian, Patrick Wolfe is the author of the forthcoming book, A Snake on the Heart – History, Mystery, and Truth: The Entangled Journeys of a Biographer and His Nazi Subject. He acknowledges with thanks the assistance of Anthony Britneff in the preparation of this essay.

  1. Emily Donaldson, “Protecting trees is a matter of survival—ours and the planet’s,” The Globe and Mail, July 31, 2021, P10-P11.
  2. Norman Galimski, “Reaping the harvest: For Pacheedaht First Nation forestry is a lifeline, bringing jobs and services,” Victoria Times Colonist, Islander, July 18, 2021, 1 (caption), 3.
  3. Ibid., 3.
  4. Ibid., 1, 3, 5.
  5. Suzanne Simard, “Protecting the mother trees: The destruction of the last old growth forests has to stop,” The Globe and Mail, June 12, 2021, O8.
  6. Ibid. In his first article (“A tale of two protests, 28 years apart: Clayoquot 1993, Fairy Creek, 2021,” Victoria Times Colonist, Islander, July 4, 2021, 1-5), Norman Galimski notes that “the Clayoquot protesters’ actions led in 2000 to the entire sound being designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve” (p. 5).
  7. Andy MacKinnon, “B.C. NDP must keep its old-growth promises,” Victoria Times Colonist, May 28, 2021, A14,
  8. Simard.
  9. Kevin Lynch and Paul Deegan, “Large and in charge,” The Globe and Mail, March 20. 2021, O4.
  10. Tony Hiss, “Life under the heat dome,” The Globe and Mail, July 17, 2021, O5.
  11. Brian Bethune, “Don’t give up on hope. The world needs it.” Maclean’s online, September 17, 2020 (October 2020 print issue).
  12. Norman Galimski, “Reaping the harvest,” 5. See also, Norman Galimski, “Bill Jones: a defiant sentinel of the forest,” Victoria Times Colonist, Islander, July 11, 2021, 5
  13. Norman Galimski, “Bill Jones,” 5; and Norman Galimski, “Reaping the harvest,” 5.
  14. Ecojustice news release, July 21, 2021 – https://ecojustice.ca/pressrelease/sustainable_forestry_claims_false/
  15. Norman Galimski, “Reaping the harvest,” 5.
  16. Charla Huber, “Chiefs’ display of leadership reflects Indigenous values,” Times Colonist, Islander, July 18, 2021, 9.
  17. Anthony Britneff, “We must improve how B.C. forests are managed,” Times Colonist, December 29, 2020, A10.
  18. Norman Galimski, “Reaping the harvest,” 4.
  19. Britneff.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Norman Galimski, “Bill Jones,” 5 (“highest-profile” opponent), 4.
  22. Danielle Taschereau Mamers, “A small act of reconciliation,” The Globe and Mail, July 24, 2021, O4.


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