I MET WITH VICKY HUSBAND, doyenne of the BC movement to defend BC’s forests, in November 2021. We had a good chat and I was impressed with her deep knowledge and continuing energy for the cause. At 81, despite over 40 years of activism, she shows no sign of slowing down on the forestry front. Certainly the need continues. She is blessed with the type of personality—and a like-minded network of friends and associates—that allow her to largely avoid discouragement and cynicism. “There’s work to be done,” she says simply.
Vicky Husband at her home in the Highlands, Victoria, November 2021 (photo by Patrick Pothier)
My recent meeting was not the first time I have interviewed Husband. That occurred back in 1989. I dug out that interview and found it remarkable for a few reasons: First, she could explain well to a then-novice like me, the issues arising from forest destruction in BC. Second, the concerns she relayed then continue 33 years on: the increasing rate of cut, the liquidation of old growth, the poverty of second-growth plantations, job losses, and a “shortsighted and gutless” provincial government.
She didn’t mince words then, or now. Here’s the interview from June 1989 in Focus on Women, followed by an update based on our November 2021 conversation.
(1989) She’s fighting for our forests—and our planet
IT’S HARD TO KNOW where to begin a profile of Vicky Husband. She’s not one to talk about herself. Or rather, as she says, “I have no personal life.” She talks (fast—fortunately I have brought a tape recorder) about the crisis situation of our forests and other environmental concerns and the necessity for change, rather than about herself.
Focus chose to interview Husband because the first week of June is Environment Week and who better to talk to than a woman who has made the causes associated with the environment her life. Last year, Husband received the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Global 500 Award for her outstanding environmental achievements.
Her role in convincing the federal government to make South Moresby a national park is only part of the story. As president of the Friends of Ecological Reserves, she and her organization have helped defer logging for at least another three years in the Khutzeymateen Valley near Prince Rupert, where grizzly bear habitat will be threatened if logging proceeds as planned, and have raised over $100,000 for collection of wildlife and forestry data needed to preserve the valley as Canada’s first grizzly bear sanctuary. For her efforts she earned the appropriate nickname “Mama Grizzly.” And currently, she’s crusading for the protection of old-growth forests in the Carmanah Valley and Clayoquot Sound, as well as for numerous other concerns. She’s conservation chairperson of the Sierra Club of Western Canada and an active member of other environmental organizations.
Husband, born in Victoria, obtained a BA from UBC and thought she’d be an artist (her paintings were in a one-woman show at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1965) or a filmmaker (she has made a few), but she got sidetracked. After her mother died 18 years ago, she was able, through an inheritance and through living simply, to devote herself—and her tremendous energy and passion—to environmental concerns. She receives no money for the exhausting schedule she keeps.
She’s often in Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and in other parts of BC, meeting with politicians, bureaucrats, forest industry and union officials and members of the media, or giving slide presentations to community groups. She feels driven by the considerable knowledge she has acquired about what we are doing to our planet.
What we are doing is destroying it, at an ever increasing rate. As an example, she cites our forests: “The rate of cut in BC is now three times what it was in 1960…In 1987, 260,000 hectares were cut; compare that with only 186,000 hectares of old growth forest that we have protected in parks and reserves on the coast. We could cut all the forests in our parks in less than a year at the current rate of cut…It’s happening so fast, we don’t know what’s left,” says Husband.
A few minutes later she’s pointing out areas on a map, saying, “that’s all gone, that’s gone, that too…” Areas representing a large part of our province. And 95 percent of what is cut is old-growth forest which, she argues, is irreplaceable, a non-renewable resource. A second-growth forest is short-term, lacking in both diversity and wildlife.
Husband has little patience with the defences that the forest companies and the government marshal to explain the depletion of one of our greatest resources. The industry claims that despite the clearcutting, the scarred, mutilated landscapes will “green-up.” But Husband says the methods used in clearcutting often destroy the soil. What we’ll end up with, she says, is “match stick forests” or “pulp plantations”—“fibre farms,” not a complex, diverse ecosystem.
As for the argument that the industry is trying to preserve jobs, Husband dismisses it: “In the last 10 year, MacMillan Bloedel’s cut rate and profits increased greatly, yet they still laid off thousands of workers.” She says the logging equipment used now (such as grapple yarders) allows the industry to employ fewer people while causing more damage to the environment.
Husband gives a lesson on multinationals when asked why the forestry companies don’t take a more long-range view. “Money grows faster than trees. The faster they can take down trees, the more money they can make to invest elsewhere. They aren’t spending it on the mills which they’ve amortized and there’s no need to upgrade because they’ll be no large trees left soon. And they aren’t going to wait 60 to 80 years for a forest to grow. In one study done near Prince George on a poor growing site, the trees grew only six feet over 48 years.”
She accuses the industry of arrogance. “They are cutting down trees given to them by nature and leaving a mess. They plant single-species forests which means the biodiversity is disappearing, and along with it the fish and wildlife habitat. What future is there for the grizzly, the cougar, the mountain caribou or the bald eagle?”
What she means by biodiversity are the many lifeforms that thrive in or along with an old-growth forest—wildlife, vegetation, fish, insects. Clearcutting wipes it out. Possibly forever.
The provincial government also has Husband on their case for being shortsighted and gutless. She wants to see a Royal Commission established to look into forest management and land use and, ideally, a Ministry of Conservation set up to protect all forest uses, not just timber, which are now controlled almost totally by the Ministry of Forests, whose only old-growth forest management policy is, she claims, liquidation. “Ninety-eight percent of their budget goes to cutting forests.”
The irony is that our Ministry of Tourism is running big glossy ads featuring the headline: If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise. Says Husband, “You sure are, because there aren’t going to be any woods there!” She has met tourists at Long Beach arriving in tears at the mutilated landscape they’ve just witnessed en route.
Husband feels time is running out, not just for our forests and their wildlife, but for the planet. Everything is connected. If forests disappear, the climate will change. Watersheds are disappearing too because of the soil erosion from clearcutting near lakes, rivers and oceans.
Asked if she gets depressed because of the extremity of the situation, Husband says, “occasionally, but generally I’m too busy.” She adds, “I meet a lot of good, committed people in my work and that really helps.” And so does walking into Windy Bay [Hlk’yah G̱awG̱a in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve] and knowing that she played a part in saving it.
“But everyone has got to get involved if we are to save the planet.”
—by Leslie Campbell, June 1989
BACK TO THE PRESENT, at the end of November 2021. Though much of what she said in that 1989 interview is echoed by her still, I have additional questions, including “what is different now?” and “what do we need to do?”
Among the new challenges that have evolved over the ensuing 30-odd years, she tells me, is the “captured mainstream media.” Captured by the forestry industry/ministry and hobbled by cutbacks. In the old days—she mentions Clayoquot and South Moresby campaigns—the media were far more accessible. Husband says she could, and did, walk into the Times Colonist regularly to chat with the editor. She or other activists were appearing on local TV channels regularly. She knew excellent reporters she could easily contact. But since the early 2000s, such doors to media have closed. The mainstream press seldom does investigative reporting, she says. She names some longtime provincial commentators with derision.
Another obvious difference is in policing practices at protests. What’s happening at Fairy Creek and Wet’suwet’en territory is worrisome, says Husband. She rejects the claims by provincial officials that they have no control over the situation. “The government is not looking after the public interest.” The system whereby private companies operating on public land can get injunctions and have the RCMP behave brutally towards peaceful forest defenders, she says, “is like in a police state, not a democracy.” Many protesters have had to go to hospital—and it’s not getting reported, says Husband, clearly upset.
Indigenous rights are also rightly more central. Husband says “colonialism is alive and well within the Horgan government,” which tends to use First Nations rights as an excuse for logging, while offering them no other economic alternatives. They only really consult with those First Nations they know will feel they have no other choice but to endorse government plans. In a Tyee op-ed she wrote: “All of my life I have supported Indigenous rights and title. But using First Nations’ rights as a weak excuse for logging the last vestiges of biological diversity in this province and removing our best defence against climate change is morally wrong. It is also an insult to First Nations.” She accuses Horgan of turning reconciliation into a political shell game and ignoring the fact that these are public forests that belong to everybody.
This brings us to the recent deferral of logging on 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forests in BC. The Indigenous consultation period, all of 30 days, is nearing an end.
Husband is not hopeful. She condemns the off-loading of responsibility, without consultation, to First Nations. “The government is not respecting UNDRIP,” she says, citing Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. After the recent announcement about old-growth deferral areas, Phiilip said: “If BC really wants to make good on its commitment to implement the UN Declaration and tackle climate change, it needs to provide comprehensive financing for Nations to end destructive resource extraction on their lands and waters.” Says Husband: “The government has offered only short-term money, with long-term destruction, province-wide.”
Of the recent landslides and flooding, Husband asserts that there is a clear line between massive clearcutting and road building, especially on steep landscapes, on the one hand, and both the wildfires of summer and catastrophic flooding. “The damage from the recent atmospheric river was entirely predictable and foretold—we’ve seen earlier examples of it.” Here she mentions the May 2018 flooding of Grand Forks, much earlier landslides on Mt Paxton near Kyuquot, and others on Haida Gwaii, all resulting from logging of forested hillsides.
Vicky Husband at Ninstints Village , Haida Gwaii, about 2016
“There’s been no leadership,” Husband says. “There is no recognition by this government of what we are doing to the land, no concern for wildlife and ecosystems, no real action on the climate emergency.” A climate emergency that forests, left intact, can help address. In a recent op-ed, she compared John Horgan to Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
Husband says the government is not genuinely considering forest-dependent communities. “If they really cared about jobs, they wouldn’t be cutting old growth and exporting raw logs.”
She notes that tourism, providing far more revenue and jobs than forestry, depends on nature remaining healthy: “The millions of visitors didn’t come here to view clearcuts, flooded valleys or destroyed salmon habitat. They came to see the very same ‘super, natural’ beauty that the government seems dedicated to erasing on behalf of a few special interests.”
So what needs to be done? “We need laws that protect all forest values, not just timber,” says Husband. We need a species-at-risk law. Forests are, she has noted: “groundwater regulators, carbon holders, medicine makers, water filters, biodiversity bankers, fungal communicators, salmon guardians and rainmakers.” Yet our laws and government act as if forests are simply suppliers of fibre.
And we need to get the truth out there, so the public have a better understanding. About, for instance, the subsidization of logging; about the poverty of second-growth plantations; about the continuing use of glyphosate to kill unwanted flora. “We’ve been sold a bill of goods that these second-growth plantations are a forest—that is a disastrous misrepresentation of the truth. A lot are dying even without heatwaves.” And when they do survive, they tend to be cut at age 40. “There is nothing sustainable about our forestry.”
Husband has called for a moratorium on the logging of the province’s remaining old-growth forests and a reduction of the scale of the industry. The AAC, she agrees should be cut dramatically. And we need to pay First Nations and other communities to protect and monitor the health of our forests.
At 81, Husband still spends most of her time on forestry issues (and the rest on other environmental issues). She says, “I can’t retire now; I have too much knowledge and I care too much.”
How does she keep her spirits up in the face of the decades of mismanagement that have resulted in the sacrifice of BC’s most magnificent natural treasure?
“I live in a forest,” says Husband, referring to the home she and her husband of 47 years built in the Highlands. “I realize more and more how important it is in keeping me grounded.”
Leslie Campbell is the longtime editor of Victoria’s Focus Magazine (now at www.focusonvictoria.ca). She and David Broadland gave up printing the magazine on paper out of concern for the forest.