Street scene from Tofino, British Columbia

Balancing Clayoquot Sound

PHOTO: Macro details in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

The nests of these small seabirds had eluded scientists for decades, until a climber found chicks high atop an ancient tree in 1974.  As logging encroached on old growth forests across the North Pacific coasts, the species declined severely.  The population in Clayoquot Sound is healthy, due to the protection of the old growth trees.

But that protection didn't come easily.  Nearly all the old-growth forests of Vancouver Island had been logged.  The islands inside Clayoquot Sound had been spared, due to their inaccessibility.  But as all the forests of Vancouver Island were stripped, Clayoquot Sound looked more and more enticing.

In 1984, the British Columbia Government declared that Meares Island, a giant landmass inside the Clayoquot Sound, would be logged.  The results would be devastating to a wide range of wildlife, from sea life, migrating whales and migrating shorebirds, as well as the rare ancient forest itself and the health of the Clayoquot Sound fisheries.  First Nation tribes began to say, the rest of Vancouver Island has been trashed.  You’re not going to trash Clayoquot Sound.

Locals blockaded the logging company, and tasted the sweet air of a local victory when the government relented.

In 1993, the Canadian Government again agreed to allow logging on Meares Island. 

Protesters, organized by First Nation tribes living in the sound, and environmentalists in Tofino, organized the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. 12,000 people swelled into the Clayoquot Sound and protested, resulting in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.

A lot of people were saying, hey you hosers, you can’t do this because it will be destructive to the environment for a list of reasons.  But others were also saying, hey, you newfie lumberjacks, anybody with half a brain knows that this land is worth much more to the Canadian economy if it doesn’t get logged!

The protests brought international attention to the sound.  Greenpeace and The Sierra Club joined the fight, and musicians played to the protesters.

The government again relented, and the protesters won.

Seven years later, Clayoquot Sound became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and today Tofino swells with tourism.  Its fisheries are productive and profitable.  Clayoquot Sound took something vital to the Pacific Northwest belief and packaged it: balance is not a tipping scale between economy and environment, balance is an act of environmental preservation that invigorates economies.