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Aerial photo of Clayoquot Sound. (SANDER JAIN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Aerial photo of Clayoquot Sound. (SANDER JAIN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

DAVID TINDALL

Twenty years after the protest, what we learned from Clayoquot Sound Add to ...

Clayoquot Sound, home of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, is a visually stunning area on the west side of Vancouver Island; there one sees misty mountains, fiords, inlets, coastlines forested with giant trees, and islands adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. Not to mention orcas, humpback whales, bears, wolves, sea lions, eagles and so on. The Sound contains some of the last remaining ancient temperate rainforests that have been relatively untouched by industrial logging. Some of the trees were seedlings many centuries before Europeans settled in North America. Clayoquot Sound is an important site for biodiversity, and for traditional resources for the Nuu-chah-nulth, and in 2000 was designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

Almost exactly twenty years ago, The Globe and Mail contained a headline on its front page entitled “Taking a stand for the Sound. B.C. protesters risk jail terms.” The Clayoquot Sound protests of 1993 received national and international media attention from the likes of the New York Times and CNN as well as The Globe and other Canadian media outlets. It was visited by international celebrities such as Robert Kennedy Jr., and rock group Midnight Oil. It was a significant historical time, and on this anniversary it is worth revisiting some of the events and their implications.

In the early 1990s, a conflict erupted over logging in Clayoquot Sound. The dispute was ostensibly about the potential logging of pristine rainforests. Environmental groups engaged in a variety of different tactics in order to raise awareness of the issues, attempted to sway public opinion, and to influence government decision makers.

This campaign culminated in 1993 with more than 850 people being arrested for engaging in civil disobedience – namely, blockading logging roads leading into the Clayoquot Sound region. This episode marked the largest instance of civil disobedience in Canadian history. One of the leaders of the protests, Tzeporah Berman, was jailed and charged with 857 counts of criminal aiding and abetting. In the interim, most of the contested land in Clayoquot Sound has remained unlogged: seemingly a testament to the success of the campaign.

In recent years, academic social movement scholars have become interested in trying to assess the causes and consequences of social movement mobilizations and campaigns. While this poses some challenges, it is useful to reflect back on the Clayoquot case.

Campaigns to protect old growth in other parts of B.C. had been going on before the Clayoquot Summer. Local Aboriginal groups and the Friends of Clayoquot Sound had launched various blockades and other types of protest over logging dating back a number of years. Also, the wider environmental movement was contesting the logging of old growth forests in a number of other areas at the time. (Some key ENGOs included the Sierra Club, Wilderness Committee, and Greenpeace – amongst others.)

A number of specific factors probably played a role in producing the scale of the Clayoquot event. A starting point is the outrage that many felt about potential logging in this particular location coupled with the fact that thousands (and perhaps millions of) Canadians had visited this area as vacationers and tourists – so it was a more familiar region to the average Canadian than say an obscure portion of the boreal forest.

Other factors also likely played roles, such as urbanization, changes in the occupational structure, and associated changes in values. Support for the environmental movement was in part a function of changes in values, at the same time, the movement worked hard at changing societal values.

The fact that a seemingly widespread cross-section of the population was seen (on T.V., and in the print media) to be willing to risk arrest and criminal records for what they perceived was a moral cause resonated with many people. Images showed the ages of the protesters ranging from youth to octogenarians.

Before to the “1990s,” forestry was “king” in B.C., and the forest industry primarily viewed forests as repositories of timber, and to a lesser extent, as places for recreation. The environmental movement effectively changed the ways in which many non-Aboriginals saw forests – including increasing the perceived importance of ecology and biodiversity, health, aesthetics, culture, and spirituality.

Whether or not a particular social movement outcome is “good” or “bad” is to some extent in the eyes of the beholder. The tentative protection of substantial areas of oldgrowth forests and the related ecological benefits, was, of course, an obvious and explicit positive outcome. But there were a number of other, perhaps less subtle outcomes.

As documented by film maker Shelley Wine, Clayoquot marked the rise of a strong core of women environmental leaders. While there were a number of strong female environmental leaders working in B.C. as well elsewhere in Canada before Clayoquot, this event led to the rise in prominence of Valerie Langer and Tzeporah Berman (initially both with Friends of Clayoquot Sound), the two main organizers of the campaign. Both have since gone on to do work with a number of other environmental organizations (such as Greenpeace and Forest Ethics, amongst others). A number of other women also played important roles in the Clayoquot campaign.

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