FIVE YEARS AGO, I created a wee website and started to add photographs of plants, birds, lakes, trails, people—and trees—that I had taken over a 40-year period on Quadra and other islands at the north end of the Salish Sea. Initially, it was a getting-old-and-remembering-while-I-still-could kind of thing. I called it the Discovery Islands Mapping Project. It was a personal thing, a kind of commemoration of a place I love.
While putting the photographs in chronological order I got a clear sense of something that I previously had only a vague awareness was occurring. As time had passed, more and more of the places in the photographs—beautiful, difficult-to-get-to natural places where my wife Leslie and I had enjoyed many day-long hikes getting to—had been logged. Places like Darkwater Lake, Hummingbird Lake and Long Lake. Roads had been blasted into these places and areas of forest stripped clean of life. All that was left were giant slash piles and ruined streams. The previous inhabitants of these vanished forests were either dead or pushed into their neighbour’s territory.
It wasn’t just the beautiful little lakes. Permanent logging roads and clearcuts seemed to be proliferating everywhere at an increasing rate. Was this destruction accelerating? Was there some point when it would stop? Or were the logging companies going to log everything that wasn’t in a provincial park as quickly as possible?
After uploading all the old photos, Leslie and I began going back into the forest and measuring and recording things: The location, size and condition of clearcuts, old and new, and when they had been logged. Counts of the growth rings of recently created stumps. The locations of groves of old trees. The girths of individual large trees, and where they were. The plants and animals found in different kinds of forests. The condition of lakes and streams (Quadra Island has about 80 lakes mapped in the province’s database of bodies of open water, which is pretty darn amazing for a 310 square-kilometre island). And so on.
It was hard to keep track of where things were because so few of the natural features on these islands had been named, perhaps intentionally. It’s easier to destroy something and pay no price if the place where the destruction took place can’t be identified. So we began to name those features that hadn’t been named, just so we could communicate with each other about what it was we were photographing, measuring or writing about.
To help look for old trees and new clearcuts, I bought a drone and learned how to fly it. Leslie and I would go for a hike where the objective was to photograph “three lakes and a clearcut.” That soon became “three clearcuts and a lake.” Along the way we began to find new groves of old forest that in 40 years of hiking on these islands I had never found. I began to search online for information about the forests I was surveying, including such facts as who was logging them and what regulations those companies were working under, what biogeoclimatic zone we were in and how much old forest remained in that zone.
When I searched for something, I would inevitably learn many other things that I hadn’t even realized I didn’t know.
All the time I was working on collecting this data, I became increasingly aware of the history of efforts to protect nature here and who was involved in those efforts. It seemed to me that my fellow travellers and I did not have all the tools that we needed in order to be as effective as possible in our efforts to slow down the destruction of nature on the Discovery Islands. One of the missing tools was a place where everyone’s knowledge about our islands could be recorded and accessed by other interested people, including by people down the road in time.
Even local knowledge of land-use planning that had secured protection for old forest on Quadra Island years ago had faded. Forest ecologists had been clear—thirty years ago—that there was a point at which removing any more old forest on these islands would put forested ecosystems at high risk of species extirpation. The Discovery Islands had already reached that point. We would lose the Northern Goshawks nesting near Ashlar Creek, the Wandering Salamanders at Darkwater Lake and the Osprey at Hummingbird Lake. The populations of cougar and wolves would decline or disappear. That was known, and land use planners had responded. For a brief time, all old forest on a large part of Quadra Island was protected, but community understanding of that soon faded. And in the darkness, the ministry of forests re-invaded the old forest.
As I went through this gathering process, I learned more and more about the profound impact logging has on climate stability, how it increases forest fire hazard, how it silts up and warms streams that salmon depend on for survival, how it degrades and damages forest soil and that building permanent logging roads is permanent deforestation.
Logging is so obviously destructive, yet it was my understanding—thanks to government and industry PR—that the industry was essential to BC’s economic health. “Forestry pays the bills, folks” has long been the common retort to anyone who dared to suggest that less logging would be better.
But the deeper I examined that claim, the clearer it became that the opposite was true. It was costing BC taxpayers a million dollars more each day than they were getting in revenue from the logging industry. But it was the hidden costs—the loss of carbon sequestration capacity, the carbon emissions, the subsidization of the cost of energy for the mills—that were the most staggering. Lately they have eclipsed the logging industry’s contribution to provincial GDP.
I was also shocked to learn that almost all of the trees being cut on my island were being exported as raw logs, and that 80 to 90 percent of forest destruction in BC is done so that other countries can have cheap forest products.
My website had grown and the idea driving it had shifted. Rather than a “mapping project” of personal memories of nature, it had become a forest conservation project, an active effort to enumerate and slow down the pointless destruction of nature on the islands we had spent years living on and exploring. It’s now called the Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project.
As my knowledge of what was happening in my own backyard grew, I realized that I should share what I had learned. So I began researching and writing about these issues at the provincial level, too. As I did, I began to understand how rare community-based resistance to the logging industry is. There are notable exceptions, such as Conservation North in the Prince George Area. But small, place-based organizations exploring and publicizing these issues in their own forest-dependent community is as rare as Texas Toadflax is on Quadra Island.
Yet it is our personal knowledge of—and physical connection to—cherished natural places that is the strongest source of motivation for personal action to protect them. If the people who live in or near those places won’t defend them, no one will. I imagined that in most communities, though, the people who could defend those places were only vaguely aware that the arguments made for logging them have little strength in the face of the known costs.
That wasn’t going to change, I realized, unless someone made an effort to create a provincial network to support such community-based resistance. And so I created a second website, called the Evergreen Alliance, to encourage other people around the province to start a forest conservation project in their own community.
The Evergreen Alliance website is for all those people living in so-called “forestry-dependent” communities who are appalled at the damage logging is doing to the forests they know and love and would defend. We all live in forest-dependent communities and logging is destroying our life support system and putting our communities at higher risk of forest fires and flooding. If you live in a community that wants to do something about that, the Evergreen Alliance is here to help you get more organized to communicate effectively with folks in your community about the need to conserve more of the publicly owned forest in your region. If you have already found effective tools for resisting forest destruction in your community, please share that with us.
Visit the Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project