Of Mountains, Mohammed and an Ecosystem-Based Plan

By Russell Collier

Inspired by a Vancouver Sun Article, February 20, 2001
Reporter: Gordon Hamilton

Will wonders never cease?

I've just been reading a Vancouver Sun article in Tuesday, February 20th's edition. In it, Weyerhauser's VP, Linda Coady, representing four major coastal forestry companies, has said that the four companies are ready to try "a new ecosystem-based approach to logging" in an effort to bring peace to the central coast. She goes on to say that since this is the case, it's time for Greenpeace to call off its marketing campaign targeting BC products in Europe.

I recall a story of Islam's founder, Mohammed, wherein that holy man, in a demonstration of his power, commanded a mountain to come to him. It did not. It finishes with him saying, "If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will come to the mountain." Except, in the context of my article today, it appears the mountain moved after all.

Coady mentions four sets of talks currently under way, the government-sanctioned LRMP, the coastal First Nations' initiative called Turning Point, talks between the province and coastal First Nations, and talks between forest companies and environmental groups. She said there is a framework agreement being formulated by all players in the region, which is expected to be ready by the end of March. The framework will cover:

  • new protected areas;
  • ecosystem-based forest planning;
  • what areas can and cannot be logged until ecosystem-based planning is in place;
  • agreements between the BC government and First Nations over development issues; and
  • how to deal with the cost of the changes.

I have been following this talk series for several months now, and I have to say, from a First Nations perspective, this is all very encouraging. There are at least two important principles at the heart of First Nations concerns.

The first is that we have watched the rate of resource extraction accelerate within our territories while treaty-making drags on. There is the very real fear among First Nations that government and industry have shown an attitude of 'plunder what you can get today, before the natives get it tomorrow'. An ecosystem-based approach, which seeks to factor in fish and wildlife habitat needs, the long-term sustainability of any resource extraction, and human needs within those ecological limits, fits nicely with ensuring there is something left for BC's natives after the dust settles.

The second principle is that BC's First Nations have said repeatedly, that we feel a duty to protect the long-term health of our territories. Many First Nations leaders would say we have a sacred duty, handed directly to us by our Creator. That this is a rich land, capable of supporting many people, but that this is also a land under terrible stress, which cannot continue indefinitely. It may be hard for industrially-trained people to understand the depths of such a duty, how important it is to our cultures. But it's true, and an ecosystem-based approach will help us do our duty while maintaining a scientific rationale for changing from 'business as usual'.

Further down in the article come a series of 'tit-for-tat' comments between Coady and Gavin Edwards, a spokesperson for Greenpeace. Essentially, it's Coady saying it's time for Greenpeace to back off, and Edwards saying Greenpeace will not until they see changes in logging practices on the ground. On balance, I have concluded that Greenpeace is correct in this instance. That BC's First Nations cannot afford to trust the promises of government and the central coast forest companies just yet.

We have seen a lot of trust betrayed over the past several years. This marketing campaign has been the lever that has moved the mountain. So far, the mountain has grumbled and shifted some, publically said it is going to move, but it has not actually covered much distance. Promises are wonderful, but many promises made in the heat of the night are gone and forgotten by morning. I think it would be wise of Greenpeace to maintain its pressure at this point.

This is particularly since it is widely expected we're going to re-enter the Dark Ages come the next election, with a BC Liberal victory. Promises made in newspapers, or in meeting rooms might or might not stick past this next election. Gordon Campbell has made it clear he is targeting both environmental and First Nations's organisations as enemies of big business. If this round of pre-election promising is simply the last gasp of an out-going political party, we could soon see an ultra-right backlash against these progressive ventures.

It has taken a lot hard work by a lot of people to get us this far. I would hate to see the hard work of moving this far lost. And so, I'd like to thank all those who have contributed their time and energy to these talks. I would specifically include industry people like Linda Coady, who, although they cannot accurately be described as "green", are still willing to explore ways for all of us to get along.

I appreciate it is not easy for a giant, like a major forest company, to change its ways. But I am also convinced that this kind of change will help resolve long-standing conflicts on all sides. And in conclusion, I would encourage the mountain to continue to come to Mohammed.