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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Trials and Tribulations of Clayoquot Sound

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood talks with Lisa Cordasco, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter, about the arrests of hundreds of protesters at Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia. Since the provincial government decided this spring to allow logging of the old growth temperate rainforest around Clayoquot Sound, six hundred protesters have been arrested for attempting to block the timber plan.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

PROTESTORS: Clayoquot Sound, not Clearcut Sound! Clayoquot Sound, not Clearcut Sound! Clayoquot Sound, not Clearcut Sound!

CURWOOD: The sound of protesters, in Victoria, British Columbia. There has been a series of demonstrations in the provincial capital, as the B.C. government is putting about six hundred people on trial for taking part in perhaps the largest civil disobedience movement in Canadian history. The protests have been against a recent decision by the B.C. government to cut about a third of the largest pristine tract of old-growth temperate rain forest left in North America, on Clayoquot Sound, on Vancouver Island. The government billed it as a compromise between logging and conservation. The licenses for the cutting went to MacMillan Bloedel, Limited, a company that is partially owned by the BC government. The Clayoquot Sound Rainforest is right next to the highly popular Pacific Rim National Park. It's covered with giant cedars more than 600 years old, and its drinking-water-pure lakes and streams are an important spawning ground for Chinook and Coho salmon. I recently went to Clayoquot Sound, and Living on Earth will devote an entire upcoming program to the issue . But right now we turn our attention to the trials of the 600 or so non-violent protestors who, since the Spring decision, have been arrested a few at a time for blocking logging trucks on their way into the rainforest. The sheer number of arrests is threatening to overwhelm BC's courts. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Lisa Cordasco has been closely following the Clayoquot story, and she joins us now from Victoria. Hello, Lisa.


CURWOOD: First, I was impressed by the large number of demonstrators and their determination during my visit. What do you think motivates so many people to try to halt these logging trucks and allow themselves to get arrested?

CORDASCO: Well, the majority of the protestors are very young, idealistic people who are quite concerned about the environment and the dwindling number of forests in British Columbia. But I think that this issue has also captured the interest of many other British Columbians, because Clayoquot Sound is in an area where there's a large national park, there's excellent fishing and hiking and boating and it's not very remote - you can get there within half a day from Vancouver. So most people have seen the area. They've also seen the surrounding area which contains some of the worst clearcuts in all of British Columbia. So when the government made this decision, people were familiar with it, it wasn't some remote place that they had never seen, and so many have decided to act.

CURWOOD: Okay, so there are now 600 people who are going on trial. So far, how many have been convicted and what kind of time are they getting?

CORDASCO: Nobody has been convicted yet in the mass trial, and those are still ongoing. However, there was an earlier trial at the very beginning of the summer involving four environmentalists who had been at blockades, not only this year but in years gone by, and one woman received a sentence of six months in prison. There was a lot of public outrage over that sentence, and in the B.C. Court of Appeals the judge overturned that six-month jail sentence and turned it into a four-month at home sentence, so to speak. She's being monitored by an electronic bracelet, and that's been the only sentence that's come down so far. But I wondered if it would worry other protestors or stop them from going to blockades, because that's a very stiff sentence, six months. But hundreds more people were arrested after that so it didn't seem to have an impression on them.

CURWOOD: It doesn't seem that the protest has been any good at stopping the logging so far, does it?

CORDASCO: No, in fact, they've only stopped logging for five days out of the two months that this blockade has been in place. However, the idea is more long-term, I think, for the protest organizers. There's two goals - one is to either stop the Provincial Government from allowing this type of logging and, you know, it's true they're getting a lot of flak and there are many, many phone calls - the premier himself admits his mail is running two to one against logging in Clayoquot Sound. However, the premier has been very entrenched in his responses so far. He says that he is committed to this compromise solution, a way of managing the forests in a sustainable way and at the same time making sure that there are still jobs in the forest. Now, this premier is a leader of a party known as the New Democrats, a socialist party in Canada, and they have very strong ties to labor. Now the IWA, the International Woodworkers Union is one of the largest unions in this province, they've given a lot of money to that party and they have a lot of say in what that party does. So he's holding firm on that. However, there has been some talk that the government is perhaps looking for a face-saving way out of this whole dilemma. It's going to be reviewing the types of logging processes that go on in Clayoquot Sound, so when the government goes in there to inspect what's been done so far, they may find that salmon streams are damaged or that logging roads have caused major slides, and if they find that kind of thing there's an excuse to say, gee, I'm sorry you're not following the rules, we're going to have to stop you from logging or cut you back drastically.

CURWOOD: In the US, many environmentalists have resorted to the courts to block logging efforts. Their favorite tool is the Endangered Species Act. Is there anything like that in Canada, Lisa?

CORDASCO: Well, nothing with quite the power of the Endangered Species Act. The environmental laws in Canada, I believe, are just starting to catch up to those that you have in the United States, and that maybe in a few years from now there could be a legal challenge under that. But so far there's been very little in that area.

CURWOOD: What about the international campaign against logging there - what prospect is there of a boycott of British Columbia forest products?

CORDASCO: That is a second phase of the approach by environmental groups on this. Right now there are environmentalists in the United States, in California, traveling to places like the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, who buy a lot of their paper from McMillan Bloedel, and that paper is milled by products out of Clayoquot Sound, so they're gonna try and influence those large buyers to put some economic pressure on the company and to make it ultimately not worthwhile for the company to log in that area because they can't sell their products.

CURWOOD: Lisa Cordasco is a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, in British Columbia. The largest bloc of protesters in the Clayoquot Sound logging blockades goes to trial early next month.



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