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Seeing the Forest for the Trees

April 10, 2010

written by Tzeporah Berman

“The last frontiers of the world are effectively gone.  Species of plants and animals are disappearing a hundred or more times faster than before the coming of humanity, and as many as half may be gone by the end of this century. “
From “The Future of Life”, by Edward O. Wilson, 2002

Several years ago sitting in my little office in the old fish plant on Cortes a report came across my desk that literally took my breath away.  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Reports by the United Nations is the result of four years of work involving over a thousand scientists.  They are the first attempt in human history to evaluate (on a global scale) the range of services that people derive from nature. The reports conclude that two-thirds of the services provided by nature to human kind are in decline worldwide and that,

“Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”[1]

I was thinking about these reports the other day when I walked the new trails through the forests that Island Timberlands plans to clearcut log on Cortes.  The reports go to great lengths to identify ‘ecosystem services’ and conclude that we need to begin to recognize the full value of nature in order to change the way that decisions are made and protect what sustains us.  As I walked through the beautiful and complex forests in the heart of our island I thought about how we need to begin to see and value not only the wood, but the healthy ecosystems that contributions to the air we breathe, the water we drink and a stable climate.

The inventory of species being found on the lands Island Timberlands plans to log is extensive and reads like poetry: red tailed frog, coastal western hemlock, douglas fir, western red cedar, northern goshawk, arbutus, olive-sided fly catcher and more.  Not surprising since 70% of Canada’s biodiversity lives here on the west coast.  These species each play a role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.  Scientists estimate that there are 10 – 100 million species on the planet. While we now have names for approximately 2 million of these species, for the vast majority we have little idea how they function, how they interact or the roles that they individually and collectively play in maintaining the biosphere. We are in effect burning the library before we have ever read the books.

Globally we are beginning to see more discussion of valuation biodiversity and in fact of ‘natural capital’.  We are now seeing monetary estimations of what clean water, biodiversity and carbon are ‘worth’ in economic terms.   Perhaps in our society this is what it will take for us to ‘value’ the last of the wild. Here on Cortes it seems with the pending threat of a significant amount of logging we don’t have the luxury of time and abstract discussions.

In their recommendations to decision makers the Millennium Ecosystem Assessments conclude that,  “Measures to conserve natural resources are more likely to succeed if local communities are given ownership of them, share the benefits, and are involved in decisions.” I applaud the individuals and groups on Cortes who are working to design and create local management and ownership options for our forests.  I am imagining a day when multiple voices and a recognition of multiple services and benefits from the forests are taken into consideration when decisions are made.

In order to make that vision a reality there are difficult times ahead.  Island Timberlands has flagged roads and logging through the heart of the island and while they claim to be ‘responsive to the community’ and ‘responsible stewards’ it seems to me that they are blatantly ignoring the opposition to their logging plans and being purposefully misleading with their claims of certification to ensure ecologically responsible logging. Don’t be fooled. The majority of their logging is traditional clearcut logging with devastating ecological implications that results in either a change of landuse or a dramatically weakened and simplified ecosystem. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) that island Timberlands touts does not ensure strong environmental standards and has little support from First Nations or environmental organizations.  In fact last year we became so disgusted with SFI’s deception that ForestEthics (an organization I co-founded and worked with for a decade) filed complaints with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service about SFI’s greenwashing claims and the legitimacy of SFI’s tax status as a public charity.

Too many forests have been destroyed in this province for private gain with little lasting economic benefit to the local communities and no thought for the long-term impacts to ecological services or natural capital.  We need to find a way on Cortes to create a different future and better options than the cut and run plan Island Timberland has proposed.

Tzeporah Berman is a Cortes resident and homeowner, mother of two, Co-founder of ForestEthics, PowerUP Canada and newly appointed Co-director of Greenpeace International’s Global Climate and Energy Campaign.

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