When the “war in the woods” was in full swing in British Columbia, one of the front lines ran through the Walbran Valley on southern Vancouver Island.
And now, after 24 years of relative peace, it may do so again as a dispute is set to spill out of the back rooms and into the forest.
For the past nine months, the Wilderness Committee has been in discussions with Teal-Jones Group, the logging company that holds cutting rights to a section of the Walbran Valley left unprotected when part of the area was set aside in 1991. But all that talk seems to have failed.
“To say the least, I’m outraged,” said Torrance Coste, a Wilderness Committee campaigner who has been trying to save the area. What upset him was a map the company sent him recently that shows eight planned logging blocks in the old-growth forest on the north side of Walbran Creek.
The cut blocks are in the Central Walbran Ancient Forest, near hiking trails that lead to massive old trees, including one called the Castle Giant.
Mr. Coste says if Teal-Jones tries to log there, environmentalists will flood into the area, as they did during a period of protest that became known as the “war in the woods” because of its road blockades and international market boycotts.
“The Walbran Valley has been ground zero for the ‘war in the woods’ in the past, and that’s the level of conflict Teal-Jones is courting with its current direction,” Mr. Coste said.
In the early nineties, long before B.C.’s environmental movement became fixated on oil and gas issues, the primary focus was on logging. At that time, the forest industry and the provincial government favoured clear-cutting, a logging method that stripped entire valleys and mountains of forest cover. The destruction was massive – and so was the outrage.
In the Walbran and Carmanah valleys, there were ugly confrontations between loggers and protesters who blocked roads for weeks.
In one incident, a camp set up by environmentalists was burned and a boardwalk they’d built so the public could see some of the giant old trees was destroyed with a chain saw.
The fight to save the ancient forests fast became an international issue, with protests in England, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
And then in 1991, the provincial government yielded to the mounting pressure and created Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.
But Mr. Coste said that in a compromise that environmentalists have long regretted, a piece of the old-growth forest was left out of the protected area.
“We call that the bite, because when you look at the park boundary map, it looks like someone took a bite out of it,” said Mr. Coste, who feels leaving that piece aside was “a grievous error.”
For years, the Wilderness Committee and other groups have been urging the government to add the bite to the park.
Starting last October, Mr. Coste began exchanging e-mails with Teal-Jones, trying to persuade the company that the Central Walbran Ancient Forest, with its towering trees (some of which are a thousand years old), should never be logged.
He had high hopes of reaching an agreement because Teal-Jones is a progressive company that has embraced the new values of logging that have emerged over the past few decades. Then he saw the map.
Teal-Jones couldn’t provide a spokesman for an interview when contacted Friday, but on its website, the company states it is committed to sustainable forest management, which is far more ecologically sensitive than the old clear-cut methods of the past.
But for Mr. Coste and a generation of environmentalists, logging of any kind has no place in the Walbran Valley. They fought to stop it once, and are ready to again.