The Barnacle, June 20, 2000

Not illegal–neither is it right
by Arthur Black

An excerpt from a keynote speech delivered by Arthur Black to 550 foresters, government leaders and environmental representatives at the National Forest Millennial Conference in Thunder Bay, Ontario, earlier this month:

When I was first asked to speak at this conference, I inquired what the theme would be. I was told the theme was sustainability—the relationship between Canadians and our natural resources and building a common vision for the use of Canadian forests.

This was a personally poignant moment for me, because as I was talking on the phone to the conference chairman, I was looking out my window at a logging truck waddling down the road lugging a load of forty-foot fir logs.

They are logging Salt Spring Island—quite literally, as I speak. And they’re logging it big time. "They" being a consortium known as Texada Land Corporation. Texada picked up 2,000 hectares of Salt Spring land—that’s about ten percent of the entire Island—and they’re currently logging about half an hectare a day.

All of this does not sit well with perhaps 99 percent of the citizenry of Salt Spring, population 10,000, give or take. They mostly like their Island just the way it is.

From time to time, Texada launches PR campaigns and dispatches smooth talkers to assure Islanders that the company is really terribly environmentally sensitive and that all this won’t change the Island a bit. But that’s not what Salt Springers see when they look up at their formerly wooded mountain slopes.
What they see looks like a gigantic case of advanced ringworm.

What Texada says doesn’t match what Texada does. And it does not advance Texada’s case that one of its principals has spent an unusual amount of time in court defending himself against charges that he welshed on gambling debts owed to a couple of casinos in Las Vegas. Not the kind of person you’d invite to dinner, much less ask to cut your lawn.

Not that Texada isn’t open to re-negotiation of the Salt Spring deal. They paid about $20 million for the 57 parcels of Salt Spring land they hold. They’d be more than willing to let it all go. For, oh say…$60 million?

Think it over folks. While you deliberate, we’ll just be over here, logging as fast as we can.

Some observers say what’s the big deal? This isn’t old growth forest. Salt Spring’s been logged before.
Which is true. Parts of the island have been logged two, even three times. But never this intensively. And not since the ‘50s or ‘60s, when the human population of the island was perhaps fifteen hundred, not 10,000.

People have chosen to live on Salt Spring—and hundreds of thousands of people visit Salt Spring each year—because it looks like an unspoiled Eden.
When you’ve fallen in love with a place because of its spectacular, unspoiled beauty, it is small comfort to be told by government experts to "cheer up—it’ll look like this again. In about 30 years."

Besides, these are experts from the same government that presided over the desecration of the east coast cod and the west coast salmon fisheries. They, like Texada, have a small credibility problem on Salt Spring.

I hasten to add that nothing Texada has done or is doing is illegal. But that doesn’t make it palatable. Or right.

Now Salt Spring, as you may have heard, is a weird place. A place where you might find yourself lining up at Stan’s Groceteria behind anyone from an unreconstructed bush hippy to Bill Gates. From Randy Bachman to Robert Bateman. From Senator Pat Carney to Dave of Dave’s Blasting ("We don’t stand behind our work—we stand behind a tree!").

Salt Spring attracts all kinds. And eventually, if not immediately, it finds a way to wedge itself in your heart. And if Texada thinks Salt Springers are going to roll over for this, they should go back to Vegas. The odds are much better there.

Texada has no idea what a puma’s den it’s wandered into. The fight for Salt Spring will make Temiskaming, Clayoquot Sound and Stein Valley look like powder puff pantomimes.

It’s sad, though. Before we heard the name Texada Land Corporation, logging did not have a bad image on Salt Spring. Hell, lots of the real Salt Springers I know are loggers, have been loggers or have loggers in their family.

But that’s changing now. Nothing like having a marauder in your back yard to make you think of joining the National Rifle Association.

So why even bring all this up at the National Forest Millennial Conference? I don’t know. The theme of the conference is "building a common vision for the use of our forests by all Canadians"—something that is spectacularly not being done, as I speak, on a small Gulf Island just off Vancouver.

The way I figure it, this is a divine moment. A critical interface between forestry practices and people who feel threatened by forestry practices. It’s a chance for foresters to prove they live on the same planet as the rest of us. Maybe that’s why I bring the topic up tonight—because if we can fix this situation, chances are the expertise will come directly from this room.

Can this situation be resolved? Of course it can. That’s what we do as Canadians—we fix things. We may not be as debonair as the French, as flamboyant as the Italians or as forward as the Yanks, but by God, we know how to unclog a toilet, wash down a skunked-up dog or jump start a jalopy at forty below.

A sane, equitable forest policy ought not to be beyond the reach of a country like Canada.