THE PEOPLE PLAN FOR THE FORESTS OF THE PEOPLE ISLANDS
The English settlers called them the Queen Charlotte Islands. Ten thousand
years earlier the first settlers called them the "people islands" -- Haida
Gwaii. They lie off the Pacific coast of Canada, 30 miles below the
southernmost tip of Alaska. Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, these
islands are covered with magnificent forests that are the subject of bitter
controversy: jobs versus trees. But the people of Haida Gwaii are realizing
that's a false choice. Jobs and trees rise or fall together.
Big logging came late to Haida Gwaii. But when the clearcuts started, they
were thorough and efficient. Lyell Island rises steeply from the sea, a sharp
straight line dividing its green, still-forested half from its brown half,
shaved completely bald.
The Haida tribe and the white enviros were appalled by the clearcuts. They
petitioned, they demonstrated, they stood in front of logging trucks, they made
such an uproar that finally in 1987 logging was stopped on the southern tip of
the archipelago. A national park was created there called Gwaii Haanas --
"place so beautiful it inspires awe." In reaction a furious anti-green group
called Share the Rock started up and spread to become Canada's Share movement,
equivalent to the U.S. Wise Use movement.
Leslie Johnson, one of the environmental leaders, says of the Gwaii Haanas
fight, "Some people felt like losers, but the winners didn't feel good either.
And the companies said essentially, you've got your park, but we have to keep
making the cut, so we're going to hit the rest of the islands harder. We still
had a problem, but people didn't want to fight like that any more."
When you ask different folks, you get different theories about why the fight
transformed into cooperation. Some say it was because Haida Gwaii is made up
of islands. Overcutting becomes obvious when you can't kid yourself that it
can keep going on over the next ridge forever.
Some say the sense of limits was strengthened by the Haida and enviros doing
their homework. They mustered facts to support the sinking sense of every
logger that the glory days couldn't go on forever, and that even while the big
cuts lasted, they were not creating many jobs. Maps appeared with clearcuts
shown in yellow, engulfing island after island. Brochures gave the numbers.
Two million cubic meters of wood cut on Haida Gwaii each year -- more than
twice the sustainable rate -- creating 427 direct jobs on the islands and 1,823
jobs elsewhere. Ninety-six percent of the cut exported as raw logs. If those
logs were milled and processed on Haida Gwaii, the same number of on-island
jobs could be maintained with 82 percent less cutting.
Another theory to explain the community coming together is that there was a
clear common enemy -- the combination of the government and the big timber
companies, especially the biggest, MacMillan Bloedel ("MacBlo" to the
islanders). The government has reserved over 95 percent of Haida Gwaii
timberlands for the big companies' exclusive use. Because of sweetheart deals
and government subsidies, the big companies pay just a fraction of the stumpage
tax that local companies have to pay. MacBlo makes huge profits while shipping
lumber away to distant mills, laying off local workers, and generally muscling
its way around.
I'm sure all these theories are partially correct, but the one unique cause I
can see for Haida Gwaii's transformation is the day of visioning put on by a
local group called Global Links. What do you want the future of these islands
to be? was the question, asked in such a nonthreatening way that all kinds of
people -- Haida, Share the Rock, enviros, business owners, loggers, even
Ministry of Forests officials -- came to answer it.
"First we had panels and group sessions that let everyone speak," remembers
Leslie Johnson. "Then we asked people to write out their private visions for
our future, put them unsigned into a basket, and pull out someone else's. We
went around the circle and read them, and we couldn't tell which was whose. It
was incredibly moving."
Surprise! No one wanted to wipe out the forests. No one wanted the logging
industry to die. They wanted logging at a sustainable rate, so there would be
jobs for their children. They wanted more benefit for the community from the
massive flow of resources extracted from their islands. They wanted both the
companies and the government to stop treating them like a Third World country.
They wanted more control.
After that visioning day, the next steps were obvious. Representatives were
elected to an "Islands Community Stability Initiative." That group, which
included loggers, environmentalists, Share members, and Haida, hammered out a
consensus document that was presented last February to the Ministry of Forests.
It demands that the cut be reduced to a sustainable level, that all timber
sales be open to competitive bidding, that sales volumes be reduced so small
businesses can compete for them, that stumpage taxes and subsidies be
equitable, that community forests be created for local management and use, that
areas sacred to the Haida be protected, and that a citizens' Island Forestry
Commission be created to review the state of the forests, inform the people,
and carry out long-term planning for logging on Haida Gwaii.
The Ministry has basically agreed to these terms. Nothing like this has
happened in Canada before.
"We had to come together. We knew we couldn't go on like this," says Leslie
Johnson. "We realized that the companies didn't have the interests of the
employees or the community at heart. We saw the trees disappearing. We
finally understood that community needs are more important than any of our
special interests. And we found that if we let people speak, rather than tell
them what they should be thinking, the answers will come."
(Donella H. Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at