The Clayoquot Sound area is the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, and numerous Nuu-chah-nulth heritage sites have been found on both Flores and Vargas Islands.
The campaign to protect the Clayoquot Sound region has been one of the highest-profile wilderness protection efforts in Canada. The Vancouver Island area, and particularly its impressive coastal rainforests, has been subject to intense logging for much of recent history. By the late 1970s Clayoquot Sound was seen as an important ecological area, and one that was in immediate danger from extensive clearcut logging.
In the early 1980s the citizens of Tofino and the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations became concerned about logging plans on Meares Island, directly behind Tofino. A land use process was convened and an agreement was reached that would have retained the visual quality of the portion of Meares Island facing Tofino, with some logging being allowed on the back side. Unfortunately McMillan Bloedel (the forest company proposing the logging) didn't agree with the consensus reached, and convinced Cabinet to overturn the land use agreement.
The resentment this fostered in the local non-native and native communities was so great that it led to the first forestry blockades in BC's history when McMillan Bloedel loggers attempted clearcutting on Meares Island. The Nuu-chah-nulth then successfully imposed an injunction on logging through the courts and Meares Island logging activities were put in limbo.
The strained relations between the forest industry and the conservationists and first nations intensified from this point and in the late 1980s, when logging was proposed in the Sulphur Passage area north of Tofino, tensions flared again. Once more a blockade was set up, which received extensive media and public attention and led to a stand off. (This action occurred soon after the successful completion of the Gwaii Haanas campaign, which had greatly sensitized public attitudes to the effects of logging.)
Government, again at the insistence of Tofino residents undertook another land use planning process, but now for the entire Clayoquot Sound area. However this time government included Port Alberni (where much of the Clayoquot Sound timber was turned into pulp and paper) as having an interest in Clayoquot Sound and able to participate in the proceedings. The outcome was an imbalance on the land use table strongly favouring the forest industry.
Given the degree of polarisation between the forest industry and environmental interests, there was now no way of bridging the two parties and reaching consensus. The environmental community felt that the process was stacked in industry's favour and walked away from the table. The result was a land use plan for the Clayoquot Sound area that the emphasized forest extraction rather than ecological protection.
Early in 1993 the incoming NDP government received the findings of the Clayoquot Sound land use planning panel and proceeded to implement its recommendations, apparently insufficiently aware of the lack of balance on this panel. The Clayoquot Sound decision only protected parts of Flores and Vargas Islands and not other key old growth area in the Sound that the environmental community felt were ecologically essential. This led to a massive public outcry and resulted in major protests in the summer of 1993, conducted and led by groups such as the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club and the local native bands.
In that summer 856 people were arrested for their involvement in the protests and blockades, thus constituting the largest peaceful civil disobedience in Canadian history. Shortly after this Greenpeace International became directly involved, and effectively depicted the impacts of clearcut logging in Clayoquot Sound to European and North American consumers.
"In that summer 856 people were arrested for their involvement in the protests and blockades, thus constituting the largest peaceful civil disobedience in Canadian history."
Thus the campaign escalated internationally as the first Canadian forest campaign to truly reach global attention, dramatically intensifying the tensions between the forest industry and conservationists. The conservationists' strategy of taking the issue of clearcutting of high value conservation forest to the world market place was effective and subsequently McMillan Bloedel recognised the need to find a solution. Thus this forest company encouraged government to accede to the conservationist demand for an independent Scientific Panel to develop a resolution in Clayoquot Sound.
Although the Scientific Panel didn't recommend further protected areas, its findings led to a major evolution in forest policy in the Clayoquot Sound region, from clearcut to ecosystem based logging. So while no further protected areas were achieved in, the impact of the Clayoquot Sound campaign was so profound that it was an important factor in encouraging government and industry to support land use planning across the province, with the intent of increasing BC's protected areas system.
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