Clayoquot Sound is not a type of music, it’s a coastal rainforest. But Clayoquot Sound in the 1990’s was to forest activism what Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” was to music in the 1960’s. It was a life affirming, edgy, groundbreaking campaign that inspired a movement and was in many ways very successful – both for the place itself and by measure of the number of environmental campaigns that have sought to do a rendition of it. I helped design the campaign for Clayoquot Sound and was in turn shaped by it. I am by no means the only person who feels the place is magic. Thousands upon thousands of people have given their time and energy to protect its ancient cedars and towering Sitka spruce and support the ancient First Nations culture that is intertwined with the forest and ocean ecosystem.
A Big Deal Announcement After Years of Silence
It’s been a very long time since a government had anything to say about Clayoquot Sound (pronounced Kla-kwhat by non-natives). So, on August 19, 2019, when the Federal Government of Canada announced a commitment to “advancing the protection of additional hectares of land and water in Clayoquot Sound, in partnership with the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations and non-profit organizations”it was a big deal. Many people think Clayoquot was “saved” after the ‘War in the Woods’ protests and negotiations in the 1990’s. But, while logging was decreased then, numerous intact rainforest valleys and islands remain endangered, and First Nations title rights remain unresolved.
The Federal announcement was in response to a land use vision proposal put forward by the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations with environmental group Nature United to conserve the remaining ecologically rare old growth rainforests in this iconic region while concurrently creating a conservation-based economy that supports the communities. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Katherine McKenna was short on detail, although she indicated there would be funds dedicated through Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation program which would likely help enable the First Nations’ plans for economic, social, and ecological well-being. A greener economy could see growth of businesses like value-added processing of fish and shellfish, farming seaweeds for food/nutritional supplements, forest carbon credits, eco and cultural tourism, marketing of indigenous arts, and filling gaps in the communities’ business infrastructure (like plumbing, boat engine and small appliance repair).
This approach – protecting large areas of critically important forests in a manner that helps amend past wrongs, leaves communities better off than they are under industrial logging regimes, and recognizes that culture and environmental health are inherently linked – is the face of modern conservation work. Canopy was founded in Clayoquot Sound 20 years ago and is part of a collaboration between environmental organizations called the Clayoquot Sound Conservation Alliance, which works with First Nations to support both forest protection and indigenous rights there.
Where Is this Iconic Rainforest and What Brought it to Fame?
Clayoquot Sound sits on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It is bigger than its size. What I mean is that it is much more than 262,000 hectares (600,000 acres) of stunningly beautiful ancient temperate rainforest; the area is an icon for the good fight to protect forests and indigenous rights. Back in 1993, it was the site of the largest act of (peaceful) civil disobedience in Canadian history. From that isolated place at the very end of the TransCanada highway (that ends at a wooden dock on the Pacific ocean) the local grassroots organization created alliances with international groups to launch a market based campaign to affect MacMillan Bloedel’s supply chain– getting major customers of the logging company in the region to cancel their paper and lumber contracts. The big customers were corporations in the US, Japan, the UK, Germany and beyond. The strategy was a turning point and an inspiration that has been refined over the decades and lives on in campaigns for the Amazon, Indonesia’s rainforests, Canada’s Boreal and other forests to this day.
The blockades and the market campaigns turned Clayoquot Sound into an international phenomenon. During the tumult, the First Nations of the region were negotiating the first interim measures agreement to a Treaty in BC, and the Clayoquot Sound Science Panel came out with recommendations to change logging practices dramatically.
Over the last 25 years, there has been a consistent drumbeat from First Nations and several environmental groups, including Canopy, to keep to the intact forests safe and support First Nations communities.
A Breath of Fresh Air
At a time when the world’s Ancient and Endangered Forests are under siege, the news of Federal support for the old growth conservation vision that the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht have championed for Clayoquot Sound is a breath of fresh air.
Picture by Sander Jain