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Briony Penn

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  1. Canada’s plan to include emissions from logging in carbon calculations points towards a new economic model whereby communities manage (and save) their forests for carbon storage. BRITISH COLUMBIA’S DIRTIEST SECRET—destruction of one of the world’s most important carbon sinks and releasing more emissions than any other province or sector through logging, slashburning and exacerbating fire through failed management—is about to enter the national public record. The logging industry and complicit governments will still continue their polite fiction that depositing pennies, i.e., planting trees, will compensate for robbing the carbon bank of billions, i.e., clearcutting our high carbon storage temperate rainforests, but they can’t sing that song forever. This January with the release of Canada’s 4th Biennial Report on Climate Change, Canada announced its change in approach to accounting for emissions from the forestry sector (included in the category Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) towards its 2030 emission reduction target. This means that when we see those bar charts with emissions from different sectors—like oil and gas, transportation, buildings, electricity, heavy industry—forestry will be there too. And you’ll notice it because it will be the red bar that rises above everything else. As expected, industries’ hand is still evident in the writing of the report: they don’t have to report emissions of harvested wood immediately; they don’t have to report fire in industrial clearcuts/plantations as one of their human-caused emissions; they buried the burning of wood pellets in the energy sector in the hopes that they can chip and burn the last of the old growth. Still, it won’t take long for the bright young minds who will inherit this planet to see that even though they are still buried and scattered, the numbers can be pulled together. And when you add up all the emissions, logging in BC is the worst polluting industry in the nation. Schmidt Creek June 2020.m4v Above, part of a 30-hectare clearcut in Vancouver Island’s Schmidt Creek Valley. Each year, approximately 170,000 hectares of Crown forest in BC are clearcut. That’s equivalent to 6000 clearcuts the size of that pictured above. The carbon released to the atmosphere is far greater than Alberta’s oil sands projects. (Photo by Mark Worthing) Logging hits twice in the climate equation—once with the release of huge emissions and again with the removing of the mature forests that pull the CO2 out of the atmosphere. It takes a plantation of seedlings two human generations to catch up to a mature forest in pulling the same amount of carbon out of the air; it will be over a century or two (depending on the forest) to replenish the overall storage of carbon. The forest industry likes to deceive the public by saying that forests are renewable, but they forget to add “one day.” One of these bright minds is Joseph Pallant, who with his organization Ecotrust Canada, is proposing a system that would fund local communities across Canada to conserve and restore their forests. This is not a Trudeau stop-gap plan to just plant trees, but a real plan for meaningful ongoing livelihoods to restore damaged forests, conserve existing forests and manage forests with the climate in mind. It prioritizes good ecosystem planning, assesses climate impact, and establishes tools to monitor progress. Polluters pay for rural communities to reduce emissions and increase sinks while upholding international conventions on biodiversity, indigenous rights and climate. To get these projects up and running, we need three reforms in federal government policy: First, a methodology (or defensible way) to estimate, quantify and report on the climate, community and biodiversity aspects of a proposed project. There are lots of examples elsewhere, including California. Second, a national fund to invest in improved forest carbon, community and ecosystem outcomes. And third, a way to register these emissions reductions and improvements in carbon storage as part of Canada’s progress toward the Paris Agreement. Having a Forest Carbon Economy Fund would draw its inspiration from innovations in the low carbon economy such as carbon offsets, community-controlled forests and Indigenous Guardian programs. Ecotrust Canada has been innovating in this space over the last 25 years and has worked on a variety of projects that are feeding into this new approach. The Cheakamus Community Forest Offset Project, developed by Brinkman Climate and Ecotrust Canada, is managed in partnership by Whistler, the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation. The project earns significant revenue from sales of carbon offsets, allowing the Community Forest to implement an Ecosystem-Based Management Plan, reduce harvest by 50 percent and double riparian buffers. It protects more old growth, wildlife management areas, and keeps more carbon on the ground. Their carbon revenue funds work to tackle the interrelated risks of fire, drought and flooding, stops clearcutting, and increases resilience in the forest and around the community. The Cheakamus project, like many of the high-quality offset projects in BC, is developed to the provincial carbon offset standard built to supply the Province’s “Carbon Neutral Government” commitment. Implemented under the Campbell government and continued today, all schools, hospitals, universities and core government operations must be carbon neutral. Some funding was given in the early days to implement energy efficiency at these facilities, and they all track and report their emissions annually. Any emissions that are not reduced (currently around 700,000tCO2e/year) must be offset by BC offsets from projects like the Cheakamus project, the Great Bear Rainforest project and others. This system was set to be a trial run, and test for a larger cap-and-trade program that Gordon Campbell had legislated to begin in 2012 for large polluters. Alas, Christie Clark struck that law off the books, and John Horgan’s NDP never brought it back. A second governmental market for offsets in BC exists at the local government level. It is a polluter-pay model and comes from Gordon Campbell’s surprising legacy of legislating local governments into carbon neutrality. While full carbon neutrality was originally the commitment, it got watered down to “make progress to carbon neutrality.” A few local governments have continued to achieve neutrality through organizational emissions reductions and offsets, such as Whistler and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. As Pallant states: “Local governments across the country are aware of the climate emergency, but many haven’t taken the opportunity to reduce their footprint in line with the science. Development of regional carbon offset projects like Cheakamus offer a compelling way for local governments to bolster their climate action, along with emissions reductions achieved in their operations.” After a flurry of innovation, action and successful project development a decade ago, there are still startlingly few offset projects in Canada. Ecotrust Canada has a project under way in the Northeast Superior region of Ontario supporting “improved forest management” a fancy name for ecosystem management on a newly established, 1.5 million hectare “Enhanced Sustainable Forest License” with six Indigenous communities. This project was being developed to issue offsets under the Ontario cap and trade program, but a combination of slow offset protocol development by the government, and the Conservative government’s scrapping of cap and trade was a real setback. There is now hope for change, with the federal government currently developing a national offset system as part of their Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change. Ecotrust Canada and many other organizations hope that this can drive resources into the important work of community-led emissions reductions projects throughout the country. Since Christie Clark’s slashburn of progressive carbon policy, the only other way to generate revenue to finance the higher costs of ecosystem forestry and conservation has been voluntary offset markets or donations through the traditional non-profit sector. According to Pallant, “It’s very difficult to raise the capital and take the risk to develop a truly additional, high quality offset project without an expectation of being able to sell the outcomes, only issued years down the road, into a stable market. It’s exciting that the Canadian government has indicated its strong support in its Pan Canadian climate framework.” Pallant acknowledges that there has been lots of international criticism—some warranted—around offsets in the first 25 years of their use as a transition tool to a new climate economy. He also recognizes the advancements that have been made to ensure that cultural and social equity issues are addressed. He states: “The federal move to create payment-for-performance carbon projects, but basing them on true carbon accounting with goals of lowering the national emissions, will have huge implications for First Nations and other land rights and title holders.” “How will it look?” is the big question that Pallant is hoping to help answer at the federal level. We know there are models out there that promise rural economic development based on longterm nurturing of the forests—rather than mancamps bent on destruction. This begins to look like the future we are all waiting for. For more on Ecotrust’s proposal, see https://ecotrust.ca/latest/blog/forest-carbon-economy-fund-a-new-pathway-for-funding-forest-carbon-and-biodiversity-outcomes/ Briony Penn is the award-winning author of non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side, and, most recently, Following the Good River: the Life and Times of Wa’xaid, a biography of Cecil Paul (Rocky Mountain Books).
  2. Treeplanting offsets (Afforestation, and reforestation) are not what this article is about. It is about Improved Forest Management a technical term which includes protecting the forests or shifting away from clearcutting to a much much smaller AAC ecoforestry type operation:  Improved Forest Management – Reduced Impact Logging (IFM – RIL)  Improved Forest Management – [shifting from] Logged to Protected Forests (IFM – LtPF)  Improved Forest Management – Extended Rotation Age (IFM – ERA)  Improved Forest Management – Low to High Productivity (IFM – LtHP)  Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation – Avoided Planned Deforestation (REDD – APD). In IFM, climate benefits in stopping emissions are immediate and ongoing. One stopped clearcut can keep thousands of tonnes out of the atmosphere. It also could generate revenue—on top of all the climate, water, biodiversity and community benefits—but companies never try it because a) accounting of forest carbon has never been factored in nationally or provincially; b) the price of carbon isn't currently enough to challenge the money that flows with subsidized raw logs, c) the values back to communities and avoided costs of subsidizing the industry are never factored in either. (see Broadland's latest Forestry Doesn't Pay?) Treeplanting is at the end of the forest carbon priorities. Tree planting is only going to have some kind of real climate benefit 200 years after the trees have caught up with all the emissions that were released with the clearcut. That is why they have not caught on and likely won't until we have addressed the real elephant in the room. If we charged every logging company what a tonne of carbon emissions are really worth, they would stop clear cutting tomorrow; waste in both the logging industry and construction industries would be a thing of the past; slashburns would be banned; so called wildfires would seen as extensions of poor forest management; and we would look at wood and forests with a whole new appreciation.
  3. Posted June 22, 2020 Photo: A clearcut in the Schmidt Creek Valley on Vancouver Island. Canada’s plan to include emissions from logging in carbon calculations points towards a new economic model whereby communities manage (and save) their forests for carbon storage. Go to story

    © Mark Worthing

  4. Canada’s plan to include emissions from logging in carbon calculations points towards a new economic model whereby communities manage (and save) their forests for carbon storage. BRITISH COLUMBIA’S DIRTIEST SECRET—destruction of one of the world’s most important carbon sinks and releasing more emissions than any other province or sector through logging, slashburning and exacerbating fire through failed management—is about to enter the national public record. The logging industry and complicit governments will still continue their polite fiction that depositing pennies, i.e., planting trees, will compensate for robbing the carbon bank of billions, i.e., clearcutting our high carbon storage temperate rainforests, but they can’t sing that song forever. This January with the release of Canada’s 4th Biennial Report on Climate Change, Canada announced its change in approach to accounting for emissions from the forestry sector (included in the category Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) towards its 2030 emission reduction target. This means that when we see those bar charts with emissions from different sectors—like oil and gas, transportation, buildings, electricity, heavy industry—forestry will be there too. And you’ll notice it because it will be the red bar that rises above everything else. As expected, industries’ hand is still evident in the writing of the report: they don’t have to report emissions of harvested wood immediately; they don’t have to report fire in industrial clearcuts/plantations as one of their human-caused emissions; they buried the burning of wood pellets in the energy sector in the hopes that they can chip and burn the last of the old growth. Still, it won’t take long for the bright young minds who will inherit this planet to see that even though they are still buried and scattered, the numbers can be pulled together. And when you add up all the emissions, logging in BC is the worst polluting industry in the nation. Schmidt Creek June 2020.m4v Above, part of a 30-hectare clearcut in Vancouver Island’s Schmidt Creek Valley. Each year, approximately 180,000 hectares of Crown forest in BC are clearcut. That’s equivalent to 6000 clearcuts the size of that pictured above. The carbon released to the atmosphere is far greater than Alberta’s oilsands projects. (Photo by Mark Worthing) Logging hits twice in the climate equation—once with the release of huge emissions and again with the removing of the mature forests that pull the CO2 out of the atmosphere. It takes a plantation of seedlings two human generations to catch up to a mature forest in pulling the same amount of carbon out of the air; it will be over a century or two (depending on the forest) to replenish the overall storage of carbon. The forest industry likes to deceive the public by saying that forests are renewable, but they forget to add “one day.” One of these bright minds is Joseph Pallant, who with his organization Ecotrust Canada, is proposing a system that would fund local communities across Canada to conserve and restore their forests. This is not a Trudeau stop-gap plan to just plant trees, but a real plan for meaningful ongoing livelihoods to restore damaged forests, conserve existing forests and manage forests with the climate in mind. It prioritizes good ecosystem planning, assesses climate impact, and establishes tools to monitor progress. Polluters pay for rural communities to reduce emissions and increase sinks while upholding international conventions on biodiversity, indigenous rights and climate. To get these projects up and running, we need three reforms in federal government policy: First, a methodology (or defensible way) to estimate, quantify and report on the climate, community and biodiversity aspects of a proposed project. There are lots of examples elsewhere, including California. Second, a national fund to invest in improved forest carbon, community and ecosystem outcomes. And third, a way to register these emissions reductions and improvements in carbon storage as part of Canada’s progress toward the Paris Agreement. Having a Forest Carbon Economy Fund would draw its inspiration from innovations in the low carbon economy such as carbon offsets, community-controlled forests and Indigenous Guardian programs. Ecotrust Canada has been innovating in this space over the last 25 years and has worked on a variety of projects that are feeding into this new approach. The Cheakamus Community Forest Offset Project, developed by Brinkman Climate and Ecotrust Canada, is managed in partnership by Whistler, the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation. The project earns significant revenue from sales of carbon offsets, allowing the Community Forest to implement an Ecosystem-Based Management Plan, reduce harvest by 50 percent and double riparian buffers. It protects more old growth, wildlife management areas, and keeps more carbon on the ground. Their carbon revenue funds work to tackle the interrelated risks of fire, drought and flooding, stops clearcutting, and increases resilience in the forest and around the community. The Cheakamus project, like many of the high-quality offset projects in BC, is developed to the provincial carbon offset standard built to supply the Province’s “Carbon Neutral Government” commitment. Implemented under the Campbell government and continued today, all schools, hospitals, universities and core government operations must be carbon neutral. Some funding was given in the early days to implement energy efficiency at these facilities, and they all track and report their emissions annually. Any emissions that are not reduced (currently around 700,000tCO2e/year) must be offset by BC offsets from projects like the Cheakamus project, the Great Bear Rainforest project and others. This system was set to be a trial run, and test for a larger cap-and-trade program that Gordon Campbell had legislated to begin in 2012 for large polluters. Alas, Christie Clark struck that law off the books, and John Horgan’s NDP never brought it back. A second governmental market for offsets in BC exists at the local government level. It is a polluter-pay model and comes from Gordon Campbell’s surprising legacy of legislating local governments into carbon neutrality. While full carbon neutrality was originally the commitment, it got watered down to “make progress to carbon neutrality.” A few local governments have continued to achieve neutrality through organizational emissions reductions and offsets, such as Whistler and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. As Pallant states: “Local governments across the country are aware of the climate emergency, but many haven’t taken the opportunity to reduce their footprint in line with the science. Development of regional carbon offset projects like Cheakamus offer a compelling way for local governments to bolster their climate action, along with emissions reductions achieved in their operations.” After a flurry of innovation, action and successful project development a decade ago, there are still startlingly few offset projects in Canada. Ecotrust Canada has a project under way in the Northeast Superior region of Ontario supporting “improved forest management” a fancy name for ecosystem management on a newly established, 1.5 million hectare “Enhanced Sustainable Forest License” with six Indigenous communities. This project was being developed to issue offsets under the Ontario cap and trade program, but a combination of slow offset protocol development by the government, and the Conservative government’s scrapping of cap and trade was a real setback. There is now hope for change, with the federal government currently developing a national offset system as part of their Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change. Ecotrust Canada and many other organizations hope that this can drive resources into the important work of community-led emissions reductions projects throughout the country. Since Christie Clark’s slashburn of progressive carbon policy, the only other way to generate revenue to finance the higher costs of ecosystem forestry and conservation has been voluntary offset markets or donations through the traditional non-profit sector. According to Pallant, “It’s very difficult to raise the capital and take the risk to develop a truly additional, high quality offset project without an expectation of being able to sell the outcomes, only issued years down the road, into a stable market. It’s exciting that the Canadian government has indicated its strong support in its Pan Canadian climate framework.” Pallant acknowledges that there has been lots of international criticism—some warranted—around offsets in the first 25 years of their use as a transition tool to a new climate economy. He also recognizes the advancements that have been made to ensure that cultural and social equity issues are addressed. He states: “The federal move to create payment-for-performance carbon projects, but basing them on true carbon accounting with goals of lowering the national emissions, will have huge implications for First Nations and other land rights and title holders.” “How will it look?” is the big question that Pallant is hoping to help answer at the federal level. We know there are models out there that promise rural economic development based on longterm nurturing of the forests—rather than mancamps bent on destruction. This begins to look like the future we are all waiting for. For more on Ecotrust’s proposal, see https://ecotrust.ca/latest/blog/forest-carbon-economy-fund-a-new-pathway-for-funding-forest-carbon-and-biodiversity-outcomes/ Briony Penn is the award-winning author of non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side, and, most recently, Following the Good River: the Life and Times of Wa’xaid, a biography of Cecil Paul (Rocky Mountain Books).
  5. September 2019 A retired physics professor ground-truths the tanker traffic at Burnaby’s Westridge Terminal. FROM HIS LIVING ROOM WINDOW above Westridge Marine Terminal on Burnaby Mountain—the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline—retired SFU professor emeritus David Huntley can see the oil tankers coming in to pick up or offload cargo. It’s August and Huntley hasn’t seen a crude oil tanker at Westridge since June 30. Pulling out his iPad with Vesselfinder.com, Huntley finds the large orange icon that is the closest crude oil tanker and pulls up its information—size, draft, speed, destination, location, port of origin and so on. The next anticipated one, the Nordbay, is drifting west of Juan de Fuca Strait, and is not due in until the middle of August. Nordbay’s recent port of call is Martinez, California, where there is an oil refinery. “California is where most oil tankers are headed,” says Huntley. He tells me only 20 crude oil tankers have left Westridge for China since 2014. Twelve of these were in late 2018 when the Canadian crude price was as low as $11 US per barrel due to a glut of oil in Alberta. When the Alberta premier ordered a curtailment in production, the price jumped back to normal and shipments to China stopped. Westbridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby Why is a professor with two degrees in engineering and physics and doctoral studies at Oxford tracking these tankers? “Because,” states Huntley, “initially what the tankers were doing was inconsistent with the rules on the Vancouver Port Authority website. Now, Trans Mountain and politicians are telling us things that are not true.” For instance, as he notes in a recent report, “The numbers commonly quoted from them are an increase from 5 [tankers] per month to 35 per month, an increase of a factor of seven. In the two years before the application, there never were five per month (i.e. 60 per year) as claimed.” It was more like 3.4. Since the application the rate has varied between a low of 1.2 per month in 2016 and 3.6 in 2018. In 2019 (to date) the rate has been 1.0 per month. Huntley, who built his career on facts and (amongst other things) helping reconstruct the Earth’s climate through dating sediments using the physics of sand grains, has turned his focus from understanding this planet’s paleoclimate to finding the evidence to protect its future climate. “What got me interested in the tankers—besides living next to them—is the lack of good solid data on them,” he says. “How can we evaluate the effects of the proposed increase of tanker traffic in the Salish Sea that would accompany the TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion Project] without this information?” he asks. Huntley’s findings are in direct contradiction to what we have been led to believe: Kinder Morgan’s 2015 business case presented to the NEB stated that “access to Pacific Basin markets is almost non-existent…” Implied is that being able to ship oil to Asia would realize higher prices for Alberta bitumen. As Huntley points out, “These claims about a lack of access to ‘tidewater’ are without merit since there is—and has been—guaranteed access to tidewater. And that access is—and has been—severely underutilized.” Huntley’s research has been rigorous, and he has appeared at NEB hearings in the capacity of intervenor, commenter and observer. He has assembled data—names, dates, and destinations—on crude oil tankers from 1974 to the present using various sources: the Pacific Pilotage Authority, Port of Vancouver annual reports, Trans Mountain submissions to the National Energy Board, a document ironically known as CRED (Conversations for Responsible Economic Development) published in 2013, and AIS (Automatic Identification System) with navigational tracking software like Vesselfinder. With these he has done that indispensable form of research called “ground-truthing,” i.e., observing first-hand which tankers use the terminal, where they are heading, and whether they leave loaded or empty. It should strike anyone as strange that this information has to be assembled by a retired physics professor instead of the pipeline owner, the Government of Canada, to substantiate the business case for buying a $4.5-billion pipeline that requires a further $9.3 billion for expansion, including that of the Westridge Terminal. It seems the government relied on Kinder Morgan’s own business case, which was prepared by Neil K. Earnest of Muse Stancil, a Texas oil and gas consultancy. Earnest provided no evidence for his claim that there was “almost non-existent” access to Asian markets—probably because there is no such evidence. Yet the Government of Canada seems to have bought that. The Westridge Terminal is currently capable of loading over 100 Aframax or 200 Panamax tankers per year. So far this year, the rate is only one per month. And on average, only 30 to 40 tankers a year are loaded, with virtually all of them heading to California, according to Huntley’s research. He notes, “It has been rare for Kinder Morgan to exceed 50 percent of [Westridge’s] loading capacity, and in 2016 and 2017 it was using less than 15 percent of its loading capacity.” The capacity of the current Trans Mountain Pipeline is 300,000 barrels per day. About 55,000 stays in BC, refined for BC usage. About 170,000 barrels per day—over half of the current capacity—heads south via the Puget Sound Pipeline to four refineries in Washington State. (Some of the refined products are sold back to BC.) Reportedly, the US is interested in bringing in a lot more this way. In an April 2019 podcast interview, the CEO of the new Trans Mountain Crown agency, Ian Anderson, said that new capacity of the expanded pipeline might be soaked up by markets in BC, Washington State or California. He admitted he did not have contracts requiring shipping in tankers. “I’ve got contracts to move barrels down my pipeline, but those could go to different places, not necessarily over water. So the market will decide how many ships move,” said Anderson. The oft-quoted—and for many coastal citizens, worrisome—34 bitumen-laden tankers per month plying coastal waters apparently refers to the maximum physical capacity of the terminal once expanded from its one berth to three. Another researcher, a 32-year veteran of the Geological Survey of Canada, scientist J.David Hughes, has shown that historically there has been no appreciable price differential between what oil commands from North America versus Asia, making the main case for expansion seem dubious. As Earnest’s report for Kinder Morgan put it, TMX “enables Canadian crude oil producers [access to] higher-priced Pacific Basin markets.” He projected Asian markets would pay $5–8 more per barrel from 2018 to 2038. Hughes, however, writes “the price in the Far East is $1–3 per barrel lower, plus the transport costs via TMX and tankers will be at least $2 per barrel higher to Asia. Hence building the expansion would mean a loss of $3–5 per barrel compared to shipping oil via new pipelines that will be built long before TMX.” In a recent article, Hughes explains there is a pipeline bottleneck due to the 376 percent growth in oil sands production since 2000, but that “the Line 3 and Keystone XL pipelines…will provide double the export capacity of TMX before its earliest completion date and yield higher prices on the US Gulf Coast compared to the Asian markets that TMX is allegedly being built to access.” Huntley notes, “If there were higher-priced Asian markets, the tankers would be going there.” He writes, “The existing pipeline and Westridge terminal are capable of supplying world markets with far more oil than they have been doing, at least since 2014.” From Trans Mountain’s perspective, one of their most strategic errors was locating a pipeline terminus on the same mountain as a university community of over 20,000 residents. There are a lot of smart people living on that mountain who like facts—starting with biochemistry professor Lynn Quarmby, who successfully led the first challenge to Kinder Morgan back in 2014, and Gordon Dunnett, a retired structural engineer who released a report on the high risk of a catastrophic fire to the 66-year-old storage tanks in the event of an earthquake, and the failure of Kinder Morgan to adequately assess them for failure. There’s also John Clague, professor emeritus at SFU, emeritus scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, and past president of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of the Province of BC, whose work substantiates the lack of risk assessment. Huntley and these other academic heavyweights are just some of those providing contradictory evidence to claims made by the company and government—evidence which has been underreported by the mainstream media. Vancouver Sun reporting has “bordered on nonsense,” says Huntley, as do op-eds by industry shills like Stewart Muir from Resource Works, a PR arm of the resource sector. But if facts aren’t guiding the process, then what is? Huntley answers: “Politics and money.” If there is no plausible business case, what company is going to invest in the expansion, unless it is heavily subsidized by the taxpayer? Currently, the pipeline and some or all of the associated costs are being paid for out of the Canada Account, which allows the federal government to make large investments in higher-risk ventures if they are deemed in the national interest. In April 2019, the international Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) produced a report characterizing the project as “built on quicksand and clear as mud” with “no full accounting of ongoing operations” (see http://ieefa.org). It states: “The government has an obligation to tell its citizens how much the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project is costing.” Perhaps with the October federal election coming, Canadians will demand such answers. But the IEEFA report also notes that getting answers might prove difficult: “The Canadian government has already routed payments to fund and develop the pipeline through a maze of government agencies with different missions, reporting mechanisms and accounting standards.” The other question is: What exactly is in the national interest? Email huntley@sfu.ca for David Huntley’s report on tankers at the Westridge Marine Terminal. Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative nonfiction books including the prize-winning The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, and most recently, Stories from the Magic Canoe with Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul).
  6. July 2019 An appeal before the courts should spark debate about whether Trans Mountain is compatible with a stable climate. AS THE FIRES BURN, storms rage, ice melts, and drought warnings go into effect, a rising tide of climate policy supporters from professional ranks are demanding change. Insurance company CEOs, health professionals, and journalists (like Bill Moyers) are joining scientists and academics to name the threat posed by climate change and continued burning of fossil fuels. Retired Vancouver civil litigation lawyer David Gooderham is one of the latest to put his reputation and his freedom on the line. He is one of the 229 arrestees who defied court injunctions to block the gates of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2018 and could face jail time. He is hoping to bring a novel concept to the attention of the courts—evidence of the magnitude of the threat of climate change. Gooderham, at 74, spent his career constructing cases from evidence of catastrophic losses involving flooding, fire, structural failures, and such. He discovered that no Canadian court or parliament has ever considered the evidence about whether the emissions from the expansion of oil sands production in Canada are consistent with keeping the warming of the Earth below the internationally-accepted increase of 2°C. Jennifer Nathan and David Gooderham (Photo by Holly Nathan) In other words, every large infrastructure project like the Trans Mountain pipeline has been approved without a single inquiry or environmental review considering their implications on the global emission target of the Paris Agreement—or our own national goal of reducing domestic emissions 30 percent by 2030. The Ministerial Panel on the Trans Mountain Pipeline of 2016, appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources, found that the question, Can construction of a new Trans Mountain Pipeline be reconciled with Canada’s climate change commitments? had not been answered. The National Energy Board never asked this question. Environment and Climate Change Canada, when tasked with reviewing emissions estimated for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, admitted that the answer was “not clear.” Yet the cabinet still passed an Order in Council in 2016 authorizing the building of the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline declaring, with no evidence, that it was consistent with our commitments. This failure to answer the question has left Canada pursuing a very dangerous course. Even for those whose concern is only around fiscal matters, it leaves us vulnerable to legal challenges or ending up with stranded assets, including the Trans Mountain Pipeline. With the June 18 federal government decision to green-light the pipeline, more of these types of appeals are inevitable. As Jessica Clogg of West Coast Environmental Law stated on the CBC about her reaction to Trudeau’s decision: “We’ll see you in court.” Gooderham didn’t arrive lightly at the decision to get himself arrested. He had spent the last six years engaged in lawful political activity to “encourage, persuade and induce the Government of Canada to reconsider its plans.” It was the failure of the political process to examine evidence that pushed him into getting himself arrested. At least in a court of law, where there are rules, expert witnesses, cross examination, and consequences of perjury, Canadians might at last have an opportunity to learn whether the government’s plans to continue expanding oil sands production can possibly be compatible with a world that is in dire need of cooling down. But there is a long row to hoe before he gets that particular day in court. On December 3, 2018, Gooderham made his first court appearance with co-accused, science teacher Jennifer Nathan. They informed the court, under Judge Affleck, that they wished to use the defence of necessity. This common law defence recognizes that in rare circumstances, we can be excused from criminal liability if we are faced with an “imminent peril” and where the wrong of disobeying the law can be “justified by the pursuit of some greater good.” Necessity is one of the few legal remedies available for climate supporters around the world, since it enables a legal exploration of what constitutes “imminent peril” and “greater good.” Encouragingly, across the border, in April of this year, the first favourable decision from a state court in Washington permitted the necessity defense to be raised in a climate protest case called the “valve turner’s case.” The conviction of US citizen Ken Ward, who shut off the oil by turning a valve in a pipeline, was reversed, and he will return to court for a new trial where he is able to bring his evidence and expert witnesses forward. Gooderham, like Ward, is arguing for simply that—a fair trial with the right to call evidence on matters of climate science. This is where Gooderham’s civil expertise teamed up with Nathan’s training as a science educator to brief an uneducated judiciary on climate science. For the December court hearing, they prepared an Outline of Proposed Evidence that includes projections over the next 12 years based on current policies, where the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will exceed 450 parts per million CO2 equivalent, bequeathing us all to “a dire future”—or in legal terms, “imminent peril.” The 119-page report, filed with the Court of Appeal, is persuasive and sets this global expansion within the context of Canada’s failing domestic efforts to meet the Paris Agreement of cutting 200 million tonnes by 2030. Their central argument is that the Trans Mountain Pipeline has a pivotal role globally in increasing emissions. Canada’s plan is to continue expanding oil sands production to 2040, but the evidence from the International Energy Association (IEA) and other reports show unequivocally that global oil consumption must start to decline in 2020, or else by 2030 the world will be irreversibly committed to warming above the 2° Celsius limit. Canada is one of the world’s six largest suppliers to the world oil market. Our country’s largest growth in emissions is coming from the oil and gas sector—offsetting most of the reductions in all other parts of the economy. The proposed evidence lays out oil sands production and emissions; the technology available to reduce emissions during extraction, and per barrel; proposed carbon capture and storage; political caps on emissions, gas sector emissions, methane emissions, and other additional measures proposed in climate plans. Findings are brought forward from the National Energy Board inquiry, Trans Mountain upstream emission report, IPCC reports, global oil consumption projections, mitigation scenarios, the global emissions gap with Canada’s commitment, and consequences of climate change. It isn’t easy bedtime reading but will likely illuminate “the magnitude of the threat.” On January 17, 2019, Judge Affleck predictably rejected their request to call climate evidence at their trial—which was held March 11, and at which they were convicted. The judge has rejected three other applications to put forward a defence of necessity, but Gooderham is the first to appeal. In Affleck’s 39-page Reasons for Judgement, he stated: “Despite a historical lack of initiative to curb emissions over these same decades, adaptive social measures may be taken to prevent such a dire outcome. Whether government, private industry, and citizens take these measures is a contingency that takes these consequences outside of ‘virtual certainty’ and into the realm of ‘foreseeable or likely.’” For Gooderham, this ruling was gold. It meant that an appeal to the BC Court of Appeal could focus directly on the crucial question. The judge appears to agree that we are on a path of a 2° Celsius rise in temperature, but asserts, with no evidence, that there is “a contingency” and that our imminent peril is not “virtually certain.” The contingency, however, according to Gooderham’s evidence, would require unprecedented cuts of emissions on a global scale starting in six months, including an immediate halt to the growth of global oil consumption. The question for the Court of Appeal then would be whether a contingency of that kind has, what is called in legal terms, “an air of reality.” That was enough to act on, and following their conviction, Gooderham and Nathan filed their Notice of Appeal to overturn Affleck’s decision. The appeal is due to be heard sometime in the fall by three judges. I asked Gooderham what he anticipates as success. “The best possible outcome will be that Justice Affleck’s decision will be overturned, and we can have a retrial where we call our expert witnesses.” The Crown would have the right to call their own expert evidence to try and show there is no imminent climate threat. If he is not granted a retrial at the provincial level, then he plans to take it to the Supreme Court of Canada. If he succeeds with a retrial with a suitable set of facts, a defence of necessity would apply. Whatever the final outcome, it will still have been a success for Gooderham “to open the public discourse on a subject that has largely been treated with silence.” If in the best case scenario, a defence of necessity is accepted, Gooderham indicates that it would not trigger “some kind of anarchy.” The most dramatic thing that could happen would be parliament abolishing the ancient common law and thus pushing climate change and the evidence for immediate action back into some messy, but better-informed, public debates—something that should have happened long ago. Ironically, just at the same time Gooderham and Nathan brought their case to court in Vancouver, the Federal government found itself obliged to file evidence about climate science in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, where the Government of Saskatchewan has challenged the constitutionality of the Trudeau government carbon-price scheme. The Federal government, in order to defend its carbon tax, has had to provide the court with evidence about the risks of rising carbon emissions, and to persuade the court that it is urgent to reduce Canada’s emissions. The evidence did not, predictably, extend to the prospect of failing to meet the Paris Agreement; that would have been risky to their own climate policy on pipelines. The Saskatchewan court ruled 3-2 that the federal carbon price is constitutional. The case will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. It appears that suddenly, the issue of climate change has found its way into the courtroom, and that it might be “our last chance to help people grasp the magnitude of the threat”…if it can all happen in the next six months. A funding site for the appeal has been launched at www.gofundme.com/help-fund-addressing-climate-change-in-the-courts Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including the prize-winning The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, and most recently, Stories from the Magic Canoe with Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul).
  7. November 2018 Some local First Nations leaders fear the next rounds of “consultation” around the Trans Mountain pipeline may be even worse. GWEN UNDERWOOD, a member of the Tsawout First Nation, chokes back her emotions as she leafs through a binder that contains some of the voluminous materials used to assess and fight the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP) between 2014-2016 for her community. In her capacity as then-lands-manager, it was her task to assemble the legal and scientific team, and the traditional knowledge keepers, to help review the proposal and assess the impacts to “existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.” In that binder is a picture of her grandmother and great-grandfather and the map of SENĆOTEN place names describing the wealth of sea life that has fed her community for millennia throughout the Saanich Peninsula and Salish Sea. She stops at his photograph and says, “I believe our ancestors were with us too,” then pauses; “That’s what makes what is happening now so hard.” Gwen Underwood (left) and Belinda Claxton overlooking the Salish Sea What is happening now is that Ottawa—after losing the court challenge by Tsleil-Waututh and other First Nations for not considering Aboriginal concerns—is returning to “consult” again. Trudeau directed the National Energy Board (NEB) on September 26 to complete what he is calling the “reconsideration process,” with a report due February 22, 2019. The NEB provided only five working days to amend the scope of the environmental assessment to be sent by fax by October 3 (their fax machines were jammed with protest complaints). Many legal experts predict that the timeline is so unrealistic and egregious that it will lead to new court challenges. This time round, Gwen Underwood will not be on the Band’s reviewing committee. In 2016, Tsawout were poised to join the other First Nations in the court challenge, but a new council was elected and they pulled out. “Tsawout did an excellent job on their report submissions. We had the strongest legal case and RAVEN said that they could fund part of it. But our new council said we can’t afford it,” said Underwood. The council is now divided on the issue, and Underwood has resigned from her position. The stress has driven her to a new job with a non-profit, but she is worried for her community’s future. “The government still is not obligated to listen,” notes Underwood; “so my question is: Why are the feds trying again? First Nations still cannot veto the decision.” She fears “that some might see it as ‘it is going to happen anyway so they might as well get something out of it.’” Underwood and I are meeting at the Tsawout Reserve with another member of the original review committee, elder Belinda Claxton, who tells me: “The government tries to starve First Nations out. They wait for people on council who will sign on. It ultimately gets down to divide- and-conquer mentality.” The original committee also included Hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey. For 30 years he has held positions, both elected and staff for the Band, including most recently the position of Douglas Treaty Officer. But he was dismissed in 2015, a decision he is challenging in the courts as unfair. He believes his outspokenness on the Trans Mountain pipeline could have been a factor. “That is what is so maddening in terms of those type of tactics. I think that we have experienced it a number of times in our territory where we go out and fight for our rights and title, and then Canada or BC goes behind our backs and offers resources to come to some kind of side agreement and undercuts negotiations that we are trying to put forward. And that is the type of thing Trans Mountain seems to be doing all the way through the territories—undermine any kind of unity in terms of opposition to the pipeline.” Hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey Flipping through the binder and reading the briefings, it is apparent that Tsawout would have won alongside the other Nations had they gone ahead with the court challenge. They experienced the same litany of concerns. As Underwood notes: “We gave [NEB] a full list of our impacts and concerns backed up by our marine traditional use and scientific reports, and they didn’t address it. We asked about cumulative impacts and they didn’t address that. Climate change wasn’t even in the terms of reference. My brother Harvey Underwood’s submission talks about how important the orca are, and how once they start disappearing, we aren’t too far behind them. The federal government representative said: ‘Well they are dying anyway.’ That was his response; we have that recorded in our minutes. Everything we did, they didn’t address it.” Pelkey adds, “The federal government had already made a decision—even before we made our submission to the National Energy Board—that the transport of dilbit in these ships was in the ‘best interest of Canada.’” Pelkey’s experience was that “the NEB decisions always fall on the side of the proponent. [The federal] government says NEB is flawed but they continue to use it.” Underwood says the length and complexity of the process itself has worn down communities, forcing them to agree to the pipeline. “It is a completely overwhelming process. They sent us five boxes of binders and then we have information requests and you have to understand all the legal and scientific terms. How do councils cope if they don’t have the background or the time to review it? You realize how projects like this go under the radar, if they don’t have good scientific and traditional knowledge experts and a legal team.” In order to hire the legal and scientific experts to do the studies, review the proposal, and argue the case, councils sign “capacity agreements” to receive funding for those purposes. These agreements are often misrepresented by some as agreements to support the pipeline, another tactic that confuses both the public and some members of the community. As Pelkey notes, “We said in our [capacity] agreement that just because we were accepting funds to do the independent research, we were not obliged to give them a thumbs-up to increased tanker traffic in our territory. I personally spoke out against the pipeline because I didn’t want even myself as hereditary leadership to be seen to be bought off by any kind of…agreement.” The binding agreements are “Benefit Agreements”: once accepted, they have to be paid back if a community changes its mind about increased tanker traffic under a new council (they change every two years). The benefit agreement offered by Kinder Morgan in July of 2015 to Tsawout was a $3-million payout over 50 years. The Tsawout community members rejected this offer outright. Claxton, Underwood and Pelkey all fear that this offer might be reopened to the new council, who might be more open to the prospect for a variety of reasons, including the costs to Tsawout council for the process to date which have already put them in debt. The reason councils find themselves in debt, despite capacity agreement funding, is that the agreements do not necessarily cover the unpredictable costs of the process. As Underwood tells me, “Even with capacity agreements, there wasn’t enough to cover the changes in strategy by Trans Mountain or through Intervenor Information Requests (IIRs) that were thrown at us. We ended up spending a lot of our own money because they changed some of their witnesses. Canada should provide the capacity for us to address any changes, but they wouldn’t allow it.” One such Intervenor Information Request reads as follows: “We are seeking feedback from you on the completeness and accuracy of the concerns and issues you have raised and your views on concerns and issues that may have not yet been addressed by proposed mitigation measures or proponent commitments to this point in the process.” These kinds of questions take hours of professional time—first to determine what they are actually asking for, and then to answer them adequately. How can the accuracy of a concern about impacts of dilbit spills to a traditional fishery be measured? In his capacity as hereditary chief, Pelkey continues to speak out against the pipeline. Although the courts have determined that there is a requirement to consult traditional governance leaders, Kinder Morgan made no effort to approach Pelkey, or other hereditary chiefs of the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation, who have responsibilities for the Salish Sea, Gulf Islands and Saanich Peninsula and live in the five reserves of Tsawout, Tsecum, Tsartlip, Pauquachin and Malahat. Kinder Morgan only approached the elected councils of each Band. Malahat and Pauquachin signed a benefit agreement. Claxton states, “It is important for our full council to stand up for our people, recognize our rights and honour our W̱SÁNEĆ way of life in our traditional waters and territory.” According to Pelkey, this is the kind of conflict that is a direct result of the Indian Act governance model. When Tsawout successfully challenged the development of the Saanichton Marina in a court case years ago on the basis of Douglas Treaty rights and aboriginal rights, their lawyers advised council to put their hereditary leadership up front in terms of rights and actions on behalf of the whole WSÁNEĆ Nation. According to Pelkey, that hasn’t happened yet on the pipeline project. But it might now. Pelkey notes, “I believe that the time is right for that type of unified position of the entire W̱SÁNEĆ Nation. The main problem is that the Indian Act divided us up and created these little kingdoms. The W̱SÁNEĆ Nation includes all of us.” Briony Penn is currently working with Xenaksiala elder, Cecil Paul, Wa’xaid, on Following the Good River, due out in 2019. She is also the author of the prize-winning The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan.
  8. July 2018 The recent renewal of fish farm tenures is just the latest in a long saga of denial of First Nations’ fishing rights. IN 1930, a group of First Nations fishermen gathered around a fire to wait out a storm on Langara Island. They were sheltered by their rowboats pulled up on the beach as the storm set in. Salmon prices were so low, gas so high, and federal policy so targeted to support commercial companies, the fishermen had abandoned motors and returned to hand-trolling to make ends meet. Visiting them that night was Haida elder Alfred Adams, Nangittlagada. He had come with an idea that he had picked up in Alaska—he wanted to form a Native Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) for increased recognition of aboriginal rights in hunting, fishing, trapping and timber harvesting in off-reserve traditional lands. And he wanted to meet with Ottawa officials about these matters. The BC Native Brotherhood was founded in 1931. Another leader of the Brotherhood, Guy Williams (Haisla), who went on to become a senator in 1971-82, wrote, “The men listened long into the night, no one noticing that the fire had gone completely out and the great rollers were still pounding the beaches heavily from the grey cloud wall at the edge of the world…” Ninety years later, at the edge of the world, the Brother and Sisterhood still fight on against a metaphorical grey cloud wall: that of the corporate fish industry, morphed into its latest permutation of farming Atlantic salmon. Three Dzawada’enuxw First Nation Hereditary Chiefs, including Willie Moon (r), deliver an eviction notice to workers at a Cermaq/Mitsubishi fish farm in 2016. (Photo by Tamo Campos) When the NDP government recently announced their decision to continue to allow open net-pen salmon farms until 2022, it was no surprise to the activist descendants of the fishermen on that Langara beach. Dzawada’enuxw First Nation Elected Chief and Traditional Leader Okwilagame (Willie Moon) of Kingcome Inlet stated, “We’ve been fighting fish farms in our territory for over two decades, and that battle does not end with today’s announcement. We will fight it in court through the various legal tools at our disposal…” Fighting fish farms is just one chapter in a century of fighting for aboriginal fishing rights, a battle where traction has only been gained through the courts. Politically, there has been little progress, federally or provincially. The pattern of pushing on ahead with ever more aquaculture, followed by token slow-downs, usually in the form of moratoriums, is all too familiar. The provincial government has no real jurisdiction for regulating the federal fisheries other than the granting of land tenure permits for the farm itself. It has only ever used slow-down-and-study approaches to fish farms over the last 30 years. In the 1980s, a Namgis fisherman, Chris Cook, joined the board of the Brotherhood right about the time the fish farms were being brought into his territory around Alert Bay. He was one of the first to warn his community about the impacts of the farms. He had already experienced the devastating social impacts of the 1971 Davis Plan, which implemented a fishing license buy-back program. The commercial fishing fleets were blowing locals out of the water, at the same time that stocks were declining. The buy-back program was the final nail in the coffin for small-scale native fishermen; it favoured those with capital who could improve the efficiency of their boats to meet increased operating standards. Through the buy-back program, the DFO reduced the number of boats; those who couldn’t afford to upgrade had no alternative but to sell. DFO further consolidated the fleet by giving larger boats the ability to obtain rights to fish in other areas. A token grandfather clause provided a special Native licence, but it only provided a right to fish, not the ability to sell the licence. The Brotherhood had some influence on the Indian Fishermen’s Assistance Program, in which capital was made available to upgrade equipment, but again it favoured existing boat owners who had the down payment necessary to get in on the scheme. Fishing policy did not change substantially when, in 1996, the federal Mifflin Plan replaced the Davis Plan—and neither did the results. Corky Evans, then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for BC, summed up the two world views of fisheries at a standing committee on fish: “If you’re an economist, you would say that the Mifflin Plan to reduce the fleet to increase the viability of the remaining operators was a perfectly rational response to a changing technology and market conditions. If, however, you were a resident of Ahousat, or maybe a lot of the people in this room, you would say that it’s the elimination of half the jobs in your community.” Atlantic salmon open-net fish farms arrived on the coast in the early 1980s as mom-and-pop operations around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. There were just 10 farms in 1984, but within a couple of years, the industry had consolidated and grown ten-fold, and started shifting from farming local species of salmon to Atlantics. In the north, only the tiny remote village of Klemtu brought fish farms in. The village didn’t have much choice: it had lost all its fish boats through the Davis and Mifflin plans. It had a fish processing plant standing empty and few other options to sustain its community. Cook says Indigenous bands were left with no choice but to turn to aquaculture because of erosion of their fishing opportunities. He speaks about the divide-and-conquer tactics and his people “being used as pawns by the aquaculture industry.” A moratorium on further expansion of fish farms was put in place in October 1986, after pressure from fishers following a massive bloom of phytoplankton on the Sunshine Coast that killed an estimated 100,000 fish. That same year, a commission led by David Gillespie explored some of the stickier issues of growth. Again the Brotherhood raised alarms on the impact to their own salmon fishery, the commercial fishery, and the environment. But many fishing families had already lost their fish boats and livelihoods and so were left with no alternative to get any fish. The recommendation of the Gillespie commission was to lift the moratorium but introduce stricter, clearer guidelines. The moratorium was lifted in 1987 by the Socreds. During the early 1990s, salmon farms became increasingly owned by transnational corporations and more operating processes became automated, resulting in fewer jobs. Farm locations became concentrated off the coasts of the mainland and east Vancouver Island. In 1995, the NDP instituted a moratorium on the issuance of new salmon farm licences. Production at existing sites, however, was allowed to intensify. During this time, aquaculture companies ramped up their operations, forging an agreement with some Native villages, and increasing tension between neighbouring First Nations who had placed their own moratoriums on the farms. By 2000, the aquaculture industry accounted for 15 percent of BC’s total agriculture production. In 2001, fish farm expansion once again hit the pressure valve. The federal Auditor General’s Report came out, followed by the Standing Senate Committee, and the David Suzuki Foundation-funded Leggatt Inquiry. Not one of the three inquiries gave green lights to fish farms. Stuart Leggatt, a retired judge, was given independence to hear and review the evidence. Leggatt gave a definite red light and recommended a permanent moratorium and switch to closed-containment, land-based operations. Cook spoke at its release: “I’m tired of sending letters. I’m tired of talking. I hope my people stand up and start to fight.” The Standing Senate Committee recommended the precautionary approach, while the Auditor General reported that DFO was “not fully meeting its legislative obligations under the Fisheries Act to protect wild Pacific salmon stocks and habitat from the effects of salmon farming.” It recommended keeping the moratorium while more public review was conducted. In 2001, a Liberal government was elected provincially. Despite the recommendations of the three bodies, the moratorium on new locations for fish farms was lifted in 2002. The south was now wide open for expansion, while a battle was waged in the northern communities where there were still livelihoods to be made in the wild salmon fishery. By 2008, a total ban was placed on open-net fish farms on the north coast (north of Klemtu). In 2012, the $37 million Cohen Commission reported on its examination of the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, making 75 recommendations, most still unmet, though a moratorium on fish farm tenures around the Discovery Islands was put in place by the Province. In 2016, Chief Bob Chamberlin noted to the press, “The part I find disingenuous with freezing [licences] of the farms in Discovery [Passage], is that just up the coast, five or ten miles from there, they’re expanding the industry and creating new farms.” In 2017, Chris Cook was still fighting in his territory on Vancouver Island for a southern moratorium. His First Nation, the Namgis, led the way in setting up the first closed containment, land-based fish farm. At age 75, Cook told the press: “What happened to us, the coastal First Nations people? My words would be ‘economic assassination.’” Most recently, on June 20, 2018, BC Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham announced that any fish farm will need approval of local First Nations to operate beyond 2022. Fish farm operators will also have to “satisfy Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that their operations will not adversely impact wild salmon stocks.” Is this a true turning point, or just another twist in the tale of fish farms destroying the wild salmon fishery? Does it spell the end of open net-pen salmon farming on BC’s coasts? What happens if the NDP government gets defeated? How much damage has already been done? While the Union of BC Indian Chiefs views the new plan as “an initial step on the pathway to preserve and safeguard the future of wild salmon,” others are disappointed and wary. Chief Willie Moon of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation is leading the legal challenge. The Dzawada’enuxw First Nation is not waiting around for another four years of negotiation with the fish farm operators while fish stocks continue to decline. The Nation’s lawyer, Jack Woodward, said, “What the Dzawada’enuxw require is legal rights now, not political promises four years from now, when there may be a new government in power with no obligation to follow its predecessor’s policy.” Meanwhile, six Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations, including the Dzawada’enuxw, continue their occupation of a Broughton Archipelago fish farm, which they began on August 24 of last year. As for the requirement that fish farms show they are not harming wild salmon stocks, many of the Indigenous salmon protectors of the north island have no trust in what they see as a politicized scientific community. Yet another standing committee has formed, and the prospect seems probable that the struggle over salmon fish farms on BC’s coast will become a 100-year war. Briony Penn is currently working with Xenaksiala elder Cecil Paul, Wa’xaid on Following the Good River, Stories from the Magic Canoe of Cecil Paul. Rocky Mountain Books, due out in 2019.
  9. January 2018 One man’s graphic video evidence spawns new awareness of fish farming dangers—and a government review. IT IS MIDNIGHT ON BARANOF ISLAND, off the coast of southeast Alaska. Tavish Campbell, captain of the schooner Maple Leaf, has woken all of us up—crew and guests—to witness a mysterious phenomenon: the mass migration of small opalescent squid to spawn. The water is shimmering with millions of squid that have made their way up from deep on the continental shelf to spawn in the shallow bay in which we are anchored. Few people other than fishermen witness this summer spectacle, and it takes a certain passionate eye with experience to anticipate this kind of event. Campbell has shared many of these types of moments with people around the world, whether it is the lucky guests aboard the ecotourism boats he captains, or the followers of his powerful videography blog. His latest video has gone viral, but it isn’t about squid or the extraordinary diversity of life on our coast—it is about blood…diseased blood, and lots of it. Tavish Campbell On November 27, Campbell released his mini-doc Blood Water, documenting an underwater pipe spewing out blood and guts from a fish processing plant at Brown’s Bay, right on the edge of Discovery Passage, through which one-third of BC’s wild salmon migrate. The video points to the poorly-regulated and under-monitored treatment of waste from processing Atlantic salmon from open net fish farms. These farmed salmon threaten the native species, first when they are alive, and then when they are dead, by exposing them to viruses in the offal and blood. Blood Water is a visceral video, and was linked to and reported on by many news organizations. Campbell was busy responding to calls about the video when I reached him where he lives in the Discovery Islands, near where the fish farms in the video operate. The response was international, and is finally getting the attention of the people that can change the narrative once and for all—Dominic Le Blanc, federal minister of fisheries and oceans; and George Heyman, BC minister of environment. On December 20, Heyman announced a review of fish farm processing plants to ensure that contaminated effluent does not endanger wild salmon stocks. What has been most gratifying for Campbell is how the Blood Water video told the story of disease and viruses in a way that other attempts to raise public awareness of fish farming have failed over the years. “I was surprised at how far the video went and is still going. When we captured these images, we knew it was going to be an incredible opportunity to tell a story. Viruses are difficult things to show visually, and then suddenly the image was there to show viruses being released. What we have to do now is to direct the conversation, that even if the effluent is cleaned up, the fish are still infected by virus, and there is still the spread of disease to wild salmon.” The release of the video coincided with the 100th day of the occupation of two fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago by the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, a cause which Campbell supports and hopes people will connect to the Blood Water issue. “We are all coastal people who care about salmon and want open net fish farming to stop.” Campbell has been working on environmental issues as long as he has held a camera and sailed a boat, which has been most of his life. He was described by CBC’s The Current as a naturalist and underwater videographer, which he was pleased with. “Sure beats being called an activist!” he laughs. “An activist is someone who wants change. I just want the systems that have been around for thousands of years to stay the same. I think the radical activists are the corporations wanting to change everything.” Campbell is also a captain aboard various ecotourism boats like Maple Leaf, research vessels for organizations like Pacific Wild, and his own family mothership, Columbia III, which takes kayakers around the coast. A captain since he was 19, he has had the opportunity to explore a lot of the coast since his voyages on his first boat, which he and his twin sister, Farlan (also a captain), got at the age of 12. “We were allowed to sail anywhere on multi-day adventures as long as we could reach our parents on VHF radio. The only thing that limited us was the range of the radio.” Today, there are few places at which Campbell and his extended family haven’t aimed their cameras. They still keep in touch from their respective boats by VHF. “Anytime we go out and poke around and ask questions, we find things that are surprising and unexpected.” In his travels, Campbell has worked with the Heiltsuk nation documenting the impacts of the commercial herring kill industry—largely owned by Jimmy Pattison—that included filming the incredible herring spawns of Spiller Channel. That fishery has now been stopped in Heiltsuk territory. Some of his footage has been used in CBC’s “Wild Canada” and BBC natural history productions. He also captured the ill-fated tug Nathan E. Stewart when it grounded and leaked over 100,000 litres of diesel into the pristine waters near Bella Bella. “While my colleague April Bencze and I were documenting the damage, a hurricane-force storm came in. We spent the night out in Gale Pass where the boat ran aground, and got footage of the big storm and the tug being bashed out by the storm.” It’s worth noting: No one else was out there from the “world-class” oil-spill team at that point. Campbell’s biggest passion has been documenting the clearcutting of old growth around his home in the Discovery Islands. The government has failed to live up to the spirit and intent of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, leaving decisions to industry. He attributes the problem to the BC Liberals’ “professional reliance” system, currently under review, where government sets the management objectives to be achieved, and professionals hired by corporations decide how those objectives will be met. Critics call it the “fox guarding the hens.” Professional reliance coupled with deregulation, leaves the public interest high and dry. Campbell has recorded the details of the clearcuts, the stumps of old growth, the trashed wetlands, and riparian areas that even the companies’ foresters haven’t walked. He says, “The trouble is that no one is out on the land anymore, and the people who are, are involved in industry. That means people can get away with whatever they want because no one is watching. If a company’s sole motive is making profit, they are going to do surprising things. We are always able to find something that shocks people.” For Campbell, the bigger story he wants to tell is that issues are related—from bloodwater to oilspills to clearcutting old growth. He also aims to encourage people to support a better regulatory system with rigorous, independent monitoring and oversight, instead of citizens having to monitor their own water and wildlife. When Blood Water went viral, he was accused of having some bias. “People asked, ‘Why are you doing these films, what is in it for you?’ I was fortunate enough to grow up in the islands with a connection to the natural environment. If you see something you love getting hurt, you go to help, not because it benefits you, but because you care, and it hurts not to do something. It isn’t theoretical or academic; I genuinely care about the area, and that is what drives me to do what I do.” Campbell fits his thoughtful documentations of coastal life into his work and spare time. It’s a labour of love, like getting up at midnight to witness the opalescent squid migration. To get a sense of this labour, go to his other viral video, This is Why I Care, and celebrate our wild beautiful place and the citizens who have tried to stop its destruction for the last 17 years. If you are a community member who has seen land use practices that you don’t feel are in the public interest, you can submit your comments to the Engage BC professional reliance input process available until January 19: www.engage.gov.bc.ca/professionalreliance/ Briony Penn’s most recent book, The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
  10. November 2017 A ceremonial trip into grizzly territory with the Kitlope’s elder watchmen. IT'S 6 AM AT THE DOCK IN KITAMAAT VILLAGE. The spiders are busy weaving their last webs around the dock lights before the winter storms catch up with them. It’s drizzling and the morning light is just beginning to creep under the blanket of cloud. Cecil Paul, Waxaid, a Xenaksiala elder, clambers aboard the fish boat despite his recent broken foot and an illness that has reduced his solid frame to a lean one. He looks more like a young grizzly in March than the grandfather bear that he should be at the end of salmon season. Next to board is Gerald Amos, Haisla elder, who also shows a surprising agility, given his recent cardiac arrest from extreme sepsis that robbed him of much of his mobility and his famous oration skills. The two men, with family and friends, are taking their friend, Bruce Hill, back to the Kitlope where their work together on a coastal grizzly moratorium first began over 25 years ago. The voyage was originally planned to unite the three of them in a last trip to Qos Lake. Bruce Hill’s cancer overtook him, so they are taking their friend’s ashes in a glass jar to Qos to be watched over by Paul’s ancestors. Otherwise known as Kitlope Lake, Qos translates to sanctuary, or cathedral, in Paul’s Xenaksiala language. Bruce Hill, telling a story Hill died on September 18, 2017, one month after the grizzly bear trophy hunt was banned in the Great Bear Rainforest. It’s a fitting tribute to a man who, to quote Paul, “put his power saw away and came aboard the canoe.” Paul is referring to what he calls the supernatural canoe that he launched with Amos and his sister, Louisa Smith, in 1990 to guide the protection of the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world—the Kitlope or Huchsduwachsdu. The metaphor of the supernatural canoe captured the idea that no matter who came to save the Kitlope, there was always room for them. Bruce Hill, a one-time logger, sawmill operator and sport fisher guide was one of the first non-native people to turn up to help the Haisla—an unlikely ally being a “hippy ex-logger,” as Hill described himself. The Kitlope Agreement that established the Huchsduwachsdu Nuyem Jees/Kitlope Heritage Conservancy was eventually forged with the provincial government in 1996, the genesis for the later Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. It followed a ban on grizzly bear trophy-hunting, which was the forerunner to the ban in the whole Great Bear that is in place today. In the late 1980s, the impetus for the grizzly bear moratorium started with the elders, people like the late hereditary Chief Kenny Hall, coming to the Kitamaat Village Council with reports that the grizzlies of the Kitlope were disappearing due to trophy-hunting and poaching. Grizzlies are considered the guardians of the forest, so the Haisla started training band members as guardian watchmen to monitor and enforce the protection and stewardship of their Kitlope territory. They also started a children’s rediscovery camp, introducing a new generation to culture and science and providing hope for a community in crisis. The programs were run under the banner of the Nanakila Institute, which was the brainchild of the Haisla, along with Ecotrust, a group that joined the magic canoe early on. Nanakila Institute invited Hill to be its first executive director. A tipping point came very early on when Paul was with a group of children from the rediscovery camp. A grizzly-hunting guide, angered at the presence of children in prime grizzly area, threatened to shoot through the kids if a grizzly was there. Hill brought a deep understanding of how the trophy-hunting lobby and resource industries thought and worked. He helped point out that the Wildlife Branch had no capacity to accurately count the grizzlies in this huge remote watershed, monitor for poaching, or enforce regulations. Hill and the Haisla argued that, given so many unknowns, the grizzly quota, according to their scientific habitat modelling, should be brought down to zero. The next strategic step of the Nanakila Institute was to generate its own data by hiring independent wildlife biologists to do an inventory, with the Haisla watchmen to help. The inventory was the final bit of evidence that convinced the government to ban trophy hunting in the Kitlope, which met with international support on one hand, and threats of litigation from the trophy hunting lobby on the other. The Kitlope was one of the first places in BC to have trophy-hunting banned, and it helped precipitate the first-ever provincial grizzly management strategy. Hill, Amos and Paul continued to work for the protection of indigenous culture and the land, welcoming a growing community of British Columbians who stepped into the canoe to join them. The fledgling watchmen program has since spread to the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network, an alliance of the coastal First Nations, one of the big success stories of the coast. Bruce Hill went on to help in every major campaign in northwestern BC from the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena (the river he lived beside), the Nass and the Stikine, to Lelu Island. His obituary describes his ability to “foster unstoppable alliances between First Nations and non-indigenous conservationists.” Those alliances were formed in the magic canoe that Paul attributes to the teachings of his granny and matriarch of the Xenaksiala people, Annie Paul, born in the Kitlope in 1870. She lived to the age of 96 and weathered every arrow that came her way, from influenza to tuberculosis, and her grandchildren being taken away to residential school. IT'S AT THE VERY PLACE WHERE ANNIE'S GRANDSON CECIL PAUL was abducted in 1941 by government representatives that Amos, Paul and I arrive in our boat at dusk: the old village of M’skusa, at the mouth of the Kitlope River. At M’skusa is a replica of the Gps’golox pole, from which a supernatural grizzly bear looks over us as we load everyone into a smaller boat to get up the river to the watchman cabin before dark. The original pole was carved when Chief Gps’golox lost all his children and many members of his clan to smallpox, which was brought by white traders in 1863. Cecil Paul’s great grandfather was one of the carvers. As we trade boats, a real grizzly stands up close to the pole to see who has arrived in the estuary, and his well-beaten stomp trail around the pole marks his territory in the estuary. Diggings for rice root and browsed sedges are everywhere. The next morning, we travel the rest of the way up the Kitlope River in the smaller boat, layered up in wool and rubber raingear. Getting to the lake, Qos, is never guaranteed; the channels shift and get blocked with huge spruce trees and debris during seasonal floods. In Xenaksiala there is a word for the person who steers the canoe, dla laxii layewy. To be a true steersman requires skill and judgement. We come round the huge granite cliffs, cloaked in mist, that form a portal where the vista opens up to a lake flanked by ice-capped mountains that plunge into the milky blue water. We get to one of the old village sites that has a fine golden sand beach and unload the precious cargo. A fire and lunch are prepared, and then Paul begins the ceremony to ask his ancestors to welcome his brother, Bruce Hill, back to the Kitlope and watch over him. Paul is the last male fluent speaker of his language; his two sisters and a cousin are the last three fluent matriarchs. His beautiful language floats out over the lake like birdsong. Paul asked his ancestors for a sign that they will welcome a non-Xenaksiala man to the valley, and at that moment the skies parted, a beam of light lit up the group, and a rainbow appeared. A red-necked grebe swam by too, the last little joke from Bruce Hill that there is room for everyone, even rednecks, in this canoe. The ban on the grizzly trophy hunt will generate much more than many of us will ever understand. It is part of the process of reconciliation for culture, nature, the survival of humanity and rich ideas—beautiful ideas that will continue to help us all get in the canoe and paddle together with skill and judgement through the troubled waters of our time. Donations can be made in Bruce Hill’s honour to the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust for a bursary that will be used to provide leadership training to young conservation activists in the community. SkeenaWild.org. The new grizzly ban in the rest of BC excludes grizzlies hunted for meat. Consultations are being carried out with the Haisla, other First Nations and other stakeholders like Raincoast Conservation Foundation, which bought up coastal guide outfitting licenses to stop the hunt. Briony Penn’s most recent book The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
  11. March 2017 Despite all the noise, pollution and overfishing—the orca are still here. IT IS A COLD, WINDY MORNING in the new year at Deception Pass, a spectacular narrow channel between Whidbey Island and the mainland at the US end of the Salish Sea. Around 70 people are gathered to mourn the death of 10 members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in 2016 alone. Amongst the deaths are Granny, J2, believed to be over 100 years old, and nine other members of this endangered orca population—three of them newborns. The Samish people (relatives of Saanich First Nations) are holding the ceremony, sending cedar planks graced with chinook salmon and boughs of cedar out to sea as an offering to the whale families—J, K and L pods. Samish elder, Rose James, a granny herself, wraps the witnesses in blankets; drummers accompany the singers as they push the fish out on the makeshift boats. For the Samish, the whales are their family. The stories and songs have been composed from thousands of years of co-habiting these waters. James thanks S’ila (Granny) for showing herself to people and making them happy. Loons, scoters and buffleheads bob offshore and bald eagles, gulls and some wily crows eye up the salmon. The human witnesses are from all around the Salish Sea: whale scientists, ecotourism operators, members of orca-related non-profits, journalists and people who just love whales. With the population of resident orca now down to 78 individuals, our little human group mirrors the whales in more ways than just numbers and range of ages. Like us, these orca have complex cultures and diverse languages. They care for their families and are led by matriarchs, long after their reproductive years. They have rituals for sharing territory. They sing, share their food, play, court, nurse their babies and, like us, grieve at loss. I look around at the faces and reflect on what it would be like if this was all that was left of my community. I imagine the decimation is not unlike what the Samish and other indigenous groups endured through colonization. What would it be like to lose 10 percent of this clan in one year? Losing three of the babies to accumulated toxins in mother’s milk would be devastating. Young adults are dying from accidents with ships and starvation. For the orca, the prime food (80 percent) is chinook salmon, which have been overfished, their spawning rivers dammed and polluted. One of the Samish speakers notes that when matriarchs like Granny die, a century of knowledge is lost for the families. The genealogical history of Granny carries not only orca and Samish history, but our western environmental history. Moby Doll, the young L-pod male who was captured in 1964, launched international awareness of orca societies, but also led to their popularity in aquariums. Moby Doll was likely Granny’s son. Lolita (Tokitae), who has been incarcerated for 46 years in a Miami aquarium, galvanized an international community around her release. She too is an offspring of Granny. Both were captured within sound range of where we are standing. Every five minutes, the ceremony is interrupted by fighter jets—flying barely 100 metres above us. They are so loud that everyone immediately puts their hands over their ears. The speakers, singers and drummers stop and wait until the jets have descended to the naval airbase at nearby Oak Harbour, and then resume. The orca likely have a similar reaction to the noise of ship traffic. In order to catch chinook, orca need to echolocate, but if the equivalent of a fighter jet flies by every five minutes, they have no choice but to go silent and wait out the noise like we do. Earlier, I had asked a local walking her dog how she and her pet coped with this ear-shattering noise. She looked at me suspiciously and said: “It’s the sound of freedom.” At the ceremony, however, a young woman tells me she left Texas where she was born and raised, the offspring of a petrochemical engineer, to find a culture for whom whale calls were the sound of freedom. And I’m reminded of how whales draw people from all cultures to a greater awareness and connection to the natural world. For those who have been raised to believe humans are separate from the rest of the natural world, often their first inkling that we are all connected comes from these animals. Through the story of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, people see how orca survival is intrinsically linked to their own. MANY OF THE PEOPLE AT THE CEREMONY have made the pilgrimage there after attending a full-day research workshop hosted by the Orca Network. Howard Garrett, the co-founder of Orca Network, started working for the Centre for Whale Research in 1981. He and his partner Susan Berta have been tireless educators and activists ever since. The workshop raised the question: Is there hope for reversing the orca population decline? The answer, according to researchers, is yes, but it will require cooperation throughout the watershed in both countries. From the American side, they are working against the ecological clock to get permits to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River and restore key historic chinook spawning grounds. Jim Waddell, retired US Army Corps of Engineers who leads the charge, told me Obama had given the OK but they got stalled at the state level. Now with President Trump, they are back at square one, though no less determined. On the noise issue, acoustic researchers Val and Scott Veirs have documented the range of acoustical noise of large ships in US waters, measuring the noise-output of 1600 vessels in all. The Veirs team have narrowed down the offenders to specific bulk carriers, tankers and container ships. Since the 1960s, the growth of commercial fishing has resulted in a 10-fold increase in low-frequency noise. Reducing the traffic, both in terms of number and noise frequency is part of the solution. A traffic reduction or limit in terms of area would also help to reduce ship strikes, which was what killed J-34, Doublestuff, this December. Canadians have also started their own acoustic research project, ECHO, with Port Metro Vancouver setting up a hydrophone listening station to monitor underwater vessel noise. At the research workshop, attendees also heard about Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Population Viability Analysis which ranks the various threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whales, and determines the ability of the population to recover. The analysis shows that by increasing chinook populations and quieting the sea, we can almost eliminate the risk of them going extinct within the next century. As a result of its analysis, Raincoast has launched a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion. The judicial review is requested on the basis that legal protections for marine species at risk were not applied. Raincoast wasn’t the only one stating that the Southern Resident Killer Whales would have a high chance of extinction with the project. Kinder Morgan and the National Energy Board came to the same conclusion, with NEB acknowledging there would be “significant adverse effects.” Despite that, the project was greenlighted by both federal and provincial governments in their determination to expand ports to get bitumen to market. As for increasing their food supply, according to a 2010 DFO scientists’ study on chinook salmon, the Southern Resident Killer Whales need 67,000-81,000 chinook over the peak summer feeding period. The conclusion was that chinook fisheries management plans should take the orca’s needs into account “in order to ensure adequate chinook availability for the whales in their Critical Habitats.” Not surprisingly, the federal government under Stephen Harper in 2015 ignored its own scientists and drew up an Action Plan for the Southern Residents that would only “investigate” fisheries closures as a “possible” tool in poor chinook return years. Fishing levels of chinook are pretty high these days, sometimes at 40 percent or more of stock assessments. This is in a population where spawners have declined in rivers by more than 50 percent over the last 15 years. A 2015 study by Lacey et al showed that just a 20 percent increase in chinook consumption would reverse the decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whales and provide a 1.9 percent growth rate of the pods. But the forces are stacked against that happening. In 2015, the US and Canadian fishing industries caught close to 2 million chinook. About 80 percent of the salmon caught in BC waters is harvested by Jimmy Pattison Group’s Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco), and there seems little appetite to let a pesky pod of orca get between the corporate fishing industry and its profits. Another division of the Pattison Group, Westshore Terminals, is Canada’s busiest coal-export terminal, catering to those noisy coal bulk carriers at Robert’s Bank. Pattison has been a big supporter of the BC Liberals; in total, Pattison-related corporations have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberals over the past decade. IT WASN'T ALL BAD NEWS at the Orca Network’s research workshop. Veteran whale researcher John Calambokidis brought some good news about the other whale populations of the Salish Sea. Since 1990, researchers have noticed growing numbers of what constitutes a Salish Sea resident grey whale pod, affectionately known as Sounders. With grey whales returning to historic levels and reaching a carrying capacity on the feeding grounds off the outer coast, a group of greys have moved into the Salish Sea where they spend their spring. Using amazing footage from suction cup video tags, Calambokidis’ research shows that these whales forage on ghost shrimps in the mudflats of the Snohomish Estuary. As their numbers rise, they could well return to the mudflats of the Fraser Estuary. Calambokidis has found these animals equally as sociable and complex as orca. Unfortunately, they are subject to the same threats of oil spills, ship strikes, and habitat destruction from shipping ports that orcas are. Humpbacks are also returning to their historic numbers with a population that has levelled off after increasing at 7-8 percent a year. Humpbacks are recolonizing the Salish Sea not just seasonally but overwinter, providing frequent sightings on ferries for visitors. Likewise, fin whales are increasing at 3-5 percent a year and were spotted in the Juan de Fuca Strait last summer for the first time in a century. Fins are the second-largest whales in the world and forage after krill (small crustaceans). Prior to the voluntary arrival of the fins, the only time you would see these whales around here was dead, wrapped around the bow of a ship. The US banned krill fishing in 2009 to provide for marine mammal foraging and the well-being of other species; Canada wouldn’t follow suit. BACK AT DECEPTION PASS, the ceremony ends with a feast for the humans. We retreat into a little park hut to get out of the cold wind and reduce the jet noise. There we find a welcoming table of bannock, smoked salmon and hot drinks. The Samish ceremony left me with a lot of hope. The whales are still here, despite everything thrown at them. They are strong, determined, and have kept their language even with a century of suppression. They are reminding us all what the real sound of freedom is. Briony Penn’s most recent book The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
  12. July 2016 Business interests, scientists, environmental groups and First Nations call for new policy on the Island's remaining old growth. WHEN THE BC CHAMBER OF COMMERCE and the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) recently came out championing the protection of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island, it was hailed as a historic and tectonic shift by environmentalists. Yet it’s probably more accurately described in earthquake terms as “fault creep”—the “slow, more or less continuous movement occurring on faults due to ongoing tectonic deformation.” Political and business associations have finally caught up with the economic reality, climate change, public attitudes, business opportunities, and scientific data—and not a moment too soon. In typical island fashion, it takes a poster boy from elsewhere with home-spun prairie logic to signal that shift. Handsome Dan Hager, the head of the Port Renfrew Chamber and business owner of Handsome Dan’s Wild Coast Cottages, looked in his guest books one day and noticed that his guests were coming year round to visit old trees at the Avatar Grove. Since then, with just a handsome Saskatchewan smile and anecdotal stories of full beds and full-time staff, he’s managed to convince the entire BC Chamber of Commerce of the value of leaving old growth close to towns. This likely amuses botanist and Metchosin Councillor Andy Mackinnon. His 30 years of collecting compelling scientific data on the value of old growth on Vancouver Island is not as “hot” on the current media radar, although he’s being effective in other ways. With his own moniker the “fun guy” (pun on fungi, his research specialty), Mackinnon has spread his own charismatic mycelia alongside Hager’s in the slow and continuous movement towards improving Vancouver Island land use planning. Mackinnon, a forest researcher with the provincial government, has recently retired from public service and jumped into political life. He won a seat on Metchosin council in 2014 and has been looking for ways to get science back into policy and planning ever since. Mackinnon managed to get a resolution asking for a moratorium on the logging of old growth on Vancouver Island passed by his Metchosin Council, and then Colwood’s, this spring. That was subsequently endorsed at AVICC’s AGM in April. His advocacy was triggered by his frustrations as a government scientist. He says, “You felt you were gathering a lot of good information that wasn’t being incorporated into policy and management.” Mackinnon’s first priority was to stop the old-growth logging while Vancouver Island still had some left to save. His resolution for a moratorium was borrowed from the Ahousat chiefs—also known as the Hawiih of Clayoquot Sound— who had announced their own moratorium on industrial logging of old-growth forests in October last year. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mackinnon that the Ahousat have been slowly, more or less continuously, suggesting to Western governments the values of old growth. Their data goes back several thousand years. Their resolution included a community “Land Use Visioning” process intended to protect a traditional way of life while diversifying livelihoods. The mayor of Tofino shared this resolution with Mackinnon and he fashioned a similar moratorium for Metchosin with a request to the provincial government to revise the old Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. The resolution’s preamble states that old-growth forest is increasingly rare on Vancouver Island and has significant values as wildlife habitat, a tourism resource, a carbon sink and much more. It also noted that current plans on provincial Crown land call for logging the remaining old-growth forest outside of protected areas, Old-Growth Management Areas (OGMAs), and similar reserves, over the next 10-20 years. Mackinnon is not new to the science of why it is important to protect old growth. He was on the scientific team that wrote the provincial Old Growth Strategy (OGS) starting in 1989. At the time, the OGS was cutting-edge policy. The 1992 report began with the acknowledgement that old-growth forests “represent a wide range of spiritual, ecological, economic and social values” and outlined the framework to plan for conserving old growth. It was the time of the “war in the woods”—from Clayoquot Sound to Carmanah—and logging still constituted the dominant industry in parts of northern Vancouver Island. The same year, the NDP created the Commission on Resources and Environment to provide independent land use recommendations to cabinet for Vancouver Island, and the OGS was folded into this new Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (VILUP) and the Forest Practices Code. (Clayoquot Sound was excluded from VILUP because it came under a separate scientific commission.) According to Mackinnon, “those were exciting times with the opportunity to do broad land use planning and establish new protected areas.” Before 1992, only 6 percent of Vancouver Island had any protected status and what was protected was mostly rocks and ice at the top of mountains. By the end of the planning process in 2000, the protected areas reached 12 percent of Vancouver Island with a slightly better representation of diverse lowland ecosystems. That included some of the big, old trees in valley bottoms known as “productive lowland old-growth forests.” The VILUP decisions established the upper Carmanah Valley, the lower Walbran Valley, Tashish Kwoi and Brooks Nasparti Provincial Parks as large protected areas. The target of protecting 12 percent of the land base had come from the international Bruntland Commission and its landmark report Our Common Future. The report called for doubling the area of protected areas globally—which, at that time, also sat around 6 percent. Mackinnon supported the plan then because it at least doubled the protection and was achievable politically, but it fell short in many regards. Many scientists had recommended quadrupling the area protected to take in forest stand and ecosystem diversity, and climate change wasn’t being factored in yet. The compromise was partly addressed in a series of special management zones created to maintain areas of old growth and high biodiversity within forest tenures on Crown land. In 2001, with a change in provincial government from NDP to Liberal, the Old Growth Strategy and VILUP were sent to the shredders, special management zones were cancelled, and the Forest Practices Code was gutted. Since then, apart from a handful of tiny isolated groves, like Avatar Grove, being designated OGMAs or Land Use Objective areas, no ancient forests have been set aside in protected areas on Vancouver Island. In the absence of any provincial leadership on island old growth, the Sierra Club has taken the lead role in mapping island forests. Mackinnon says, “When people asked my ministry how much old growth there was left, I would have to say: ‘Go talk to the Sierra Club.’” Jens Wieting of the Sierra Club of British Columbia notes that, as of 2012, less than 10 percent of the productive lowland old-growth forests remain. These are the forests that businesses like Handsome Dan’s benefit from, not the older, scrubby trees in the mountain tops that the provincial government still includes in their tally of old growth. According to Wieting, the state of old growth on Vancouver Island is now an ecological emergency. Of that 10 percent that remains, only 4 percent has been set aside in parks or OGMAs and 6 percent is up for grabs. The Sierra Club’s recent Google Map press release visually shows how that remaining unprotected old growth is at risk. This situation has brought a return of the wars in the woods, with conflicts over Walbran, Klaskish and East Creek. The battle is being led by the Ancient Forest Alliance, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and others. These last watersheds of remaining unprotected old-growth lowland forest are where the greatest value are for all stakeholders. The stakes are even higher with an increased understanding of the value of these forests for sequestering carbon. Sierra’s data shows around 9400 hectares of Island old growth being logged annually and 17,000 hectares of second growth, some of it highly endangered ecosystems. Second-growth forests eventually become old-growth forests so we need to pay attention to these as well. Only saving old-growth forests is like only looking after elders and not nurturing the young. For forest ecologists, this is a compelling rationale for reopening the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan and reconsidering the mix of different forests and age classes of stands. This would entail planning for future reserves of old growth in forest types where there is hardly any old growth left, like the Douglas-fir forests of Vancouver Island where old growth has been reduced to 1 percent of the remaining stand. Wieting’s argument is that “with every new clearcut, more biodiversity of the original ecosystem disappears.” That’s the ecological argument for a new target of quadrupling protected areas—nature needs half. But what about the economic argument? The 1992 VILUP included a careful economic analysis with projections to 2012. What is most interesting is how accurate those projections were. They predicted continuing declines in the resource sectors and continuing increases in importance of tourism and other service industries like high tech and filmmaking, light manufacturing and pension and investment incomes. The plan states, “These shifts in economic structure will be reinforced by the in-migration of retirees to the Island, the aging of the resident population, increasing demand for and scarcity of wilderness recreation opportunities, technological change, and resource depletion.” According to the VILUP, back in 1992 forestry and logging provided 10,565 jobs (3.6 percent) on Vancouver Island. By 2012, StatsCan numbers show, that had declined to 4700. Pulp and paper mills employed 12,900 people in 1992, but by 2012 that had fallen to one-half of that. Compare that to 4800 jobs in the “information and cultural industries,” 9800 in the “arts, entertainment and recreation industries” and 5800 in the mysterious-sounding “personal and laundry services.” The largest employers—by far—on Vancouver Island are in the service industries with 20,000 to 50,000-plus jobs, per sector, in health, education, professional services, high tech, trade and tourism (accommodation and food services). Even the recent Vancouver Island State of the Economy report by the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance, in a curiously conservative analysis, points out the only fast growth areas are in the professional, scientific and high tech sectors—the people who fill up Handsome Dan’s Wild Coast Cottages. The age-old problem for northern Vancouver Island rural communities of boom and bust resource-based economies was pinpointed accurately in the 1992 plan, with various recommendations for diversification. In the ensuing years, though, there was minimal action taken to diversifiy. There was little public investment in a number of critical areas: infrastructure for making value-added wood products, transportation systems, an old-growth strategy, marketing of tourism to these areas, and creating value for ecosystem services. The BC Liberals weren’t, apparently, paying heed to the shifting economic landscape. New Zealand, with roughly comparable economic forecasts, land base and population, looked at its data back then and brought in a moratorium on old-growth logging while investing heavily in ecotourism infrastructure and marketing. Total tourism expenditure today in New Zealand is $29.8 billion, increasing at 10 percent per year. Vancouver Island tourism generates $2.2 billion annually. Better late than never, Mackinnon’s resolution will now go to the Union of BC Municipalities AGM in September. So far the provincial government hasn’t responded to his request for a meeting. With Hager working the business community on a modified resolution specifically referring to old growth close to settlements, both Mackinnon and Hager argue that it will be hard for the provincial government to ignore both local governments and the business sector. Once a moratorium is in place, Mackinnon would like to see innovative planning—with a foundation based on scientific principles—adapted for Vancouver Island. He points to the land use plans for Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest, both of which he participated in and which were spearheaded by First Nations. The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements in particular incorporated First Nations concerns, economic realities that included real conservation financing, and carbon credit projects for First Nations. As Jens Wieting suggests, “We have a lot to learn from what went on in both these regions—and fast, because climate change means that we have even less time to save rainforest as we know it.” As for Handsome Dan, he says, “I’m no treehugger and I don’t need to rely on any science. I just see the logic because the economics are black and white. The trees left standing are good for my business.” Hardly earthshaking, but a welcome tectonic nudge to an island that has so much natural capital to offer its inhabitants and the world. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).
  13. November 2015 The rise and fall of fish farming in Ahousaht territory. QAAMINA HUNTER starts our telephone conversation by telling me I’ve reached the general store in Ahousat village. I apologize that I have called the wrong number (Is there a general store in Ahousat?). Then I hear him laugh. Judging by the children’s voices in the background, it might as well be a general store I’ve reached. Qaamina’s house is certainly some kind of major hub for this First Nation of 2000 people. Carver, fisherman, wilderness tour guide, youth counsellor, activist, ex-fish farm worker, grandfather, basketball coach and wise guy, Hunter laughs again when I cautiously ask him what his western title is. “Better say carver because that’s the one I’m famous for.” His masks are famous—in more ways than one. They have been all over the media lately. Masks with the tears of swimming salmon on them, strapped to boats of Ahousaht protestors who—for the first time in BC’s conflicted history with fish farming—successfully stopped one. The offending proposed farm was due to go into Ahousaht territory, at a place called Yaakswiis—a real general store of the region, a bay near the salmon-bearing Atleo River where you used to be able to get all the food you needed before the fish farms arrived. (Careful readers will notice two apparently different spellings of “Ahousat” in this story. Ahousat refers to the village, Ahousaht to the people and their land.) Qaamina, as one of the elders, provided support to the younger Ahousaht activists led by Lennie John, who camped out on the new floating catwalks and successfully blocked fish farm giant Cermaq’s access to the net pens. How and why did a carver grandfather turn into an activist? Qaamina describes how from the day the fish farms arrived nearly 20 years ago, he had concerns about them. A fisherman of 45 years, there isn’t too much on the sea that misses his notice. “Our fishing collapsed, it went downhill and that is all we knew. Our people have been suffering.” Luckily Qaamina could turn to wilderness guiding as an alternate livelihood, something he had done since a boy of 11 taking visitors to the hot springs for 5 cents. “The fortunate thing for me was that I knew tourism was going to be there,” but others in his community, with declining fishing, were drawn to big promises of lots of steady jobs in the industry made by Pacific National Aquaculture (PNA). “So our people said: OK, it is money coming in.” Fish farming was welcomed by the leadership. Yet over the years, the 14 fish farms in the territory have resulted in only about 15 total jobs for local people. Mainstream purchased PNA in 2000, acquiring farms in Chile and Norway, as well as the 14 farm sites in Clayoquot, all of which are in Ahousaht territory. Then Cermaq, a Norwegian company, purchased Mainstream. And last year, Cermaq became part of the giant Mitsubishi empire. In the beginning, Qaamina said, “We didn’t know what the impacts were, if any.” In 2007, he decided to go work on the fish farm “to see what it was like.” He worked for three months when the first disaster struck. In September 2007, a containment net of a pen near Ahousat village was torn and salmon started escaping. The deputy manager of Mainstream told the Globe and Mail at the time that 5000 Atlantic salmon had been pulled out of the water in between that net and the predator net. Meanwhile, outside the pens, Ahousaht fisherman were pulling up Atlantics in droves with buzz bombs and their own nets, to keep the non-native species from intermingling with the returning Pacific salmon species. “There was a lot more escapees than they said,” says Qaamina. He and other Ahousaht fishermen protested and Qaamina lost his job: “They let me go because they saw my boat out there protesting.” He says he had seen enough to know that there were other problems. “I noticed the deterioration of our fish, but also the divide it has created, not only bleeding our stocks but bleeding our ties together.” But the leadership of Ahousaht had signed an agreement with Mainstream/Cermaq in 2002. The protocol was renewed in 2008, 2010 and then extended for another 5 years last January. The most recent iteration identified problem sites, like Dixon Bay west of the Megin River, that needed re-siting away from what were referred to as “Pristine Areas.” Yaakswiis was intended to be a replacement site for the Dixon Bay farm, which was believed to be more vulnerable. But for Qaamina and others, no location is good. Qaamina’s 87-year-old father Stanley Sam— or Tsahsiits—told his son that these sites are too culturally important to be invaded by farms. He told Qaamina that below one of the farms, “is a cave underwater that our people used to swim down to become what they wanted to become—whether it was a great speaker or a warrior in the village.” They put a farm right on top of it without consulting the elders, Tsahsiits told him. Qaamina also points out, “People didn’t know the impacts of the fish farms to our territory. They didn’t know about all the sludge and the crap that dumps into the ocean. One of my nephews who worked on a farm says: ‘I can’t speak. There are a lot of things that they tell us not to say.’ So my encouragement was: Just do the right thing.” According to Qaamina, every family had someone working for Cermaq. One of his own sons worked for Cermaq, as have nephews. His son knew what was going on in the inside and had decided he wanted out; he planned to become an RCMP officer. Unfortunately, a week after he quit the fish farm, he was in a fatal float plane crash. Qaamina took in two of his orphaned grandchildren and started on a project to ease his loss through carving masks for all his grandchildren to celebrate a teaching that his mother, Katie Sam, had provided. “My mother always told me about the sacred salmon; how they searched for you and you didn’t search for them. And that is the theme for every carving, so I basically put salmon-are-sacred tears on the masks.” It is these masks that have found their way, lashed to the bow of protest boats, into the media recently. “I thought of my mum when I told her I hated these farms. I just despised them. Not the workers, not the humans beings. I respect human life, but I just couldn’t stand what they were doing in our territory and to me as a fisherman—taking our jobs away.” The issue came to a head this summer with a decision by Christy Clark to issue two new tenures on the August long weekend despite the recommendations of the Cohen Commission for DFO to review and change the siting criteria and analyze all current licenses to meet the new criteria. DFO did review the sites with some criteria and rejected one at Hebert Inlet (a first for DFO), but Yaakswiis got the green light, perhaps as the sacrificial lamb for re-siting Dixon Bay. Ahousaht warrior Lennie John spearheaded a petition to the hereditary leadership (who had approved the farm’s site), while biologist Alex Morton took a 106,000-signature petition to the legislature. When the catwalks and pens started accumulating on Tofino docks late this summer, they knew a protest would be necessary to protect Yaakswiis. Qaamina’s role in the blockade was doing what he always does at basketball tournaments, potlatches and functions of the village. “I supported them circling the farm doing silent prayers and I made a statement: that the power that we carry from our ancestors is still alive within us.” Qaamina has coached most of the young people of the village at some time or other, as well as being a parent, foster parent, uncle and of course grandparent. With the general store of the Hunter clan supporting them, the younger warriors were on solid footing. The blockade continued for 13 days and on September 21 the company agreed to remove the farm. Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck of Clayoquot Action were witnesses in Qaamina’s boat and they report that in the final hours of the blockade Qaamina left them to do a stream purification ritual. He explained, “A long time ago, we were all praying people for our salmon. We all went onto the ocean and swam together praying for the fish to come…We have to start by putting everything back to the way it was. The old way.” The Ahousaht fisheries boat arrived at the floats being dismantled and the hereditary and elected chiefs asked Qaamina to join their ceremony. When asked why he thought the leadership rescinded their approval of the farm, Qaamina said: “I think because of pressures. Even though a Chief can make a final decision and say the way it is going to be, people have more of a voice.” Qaamina is full of plans to see the return of the salmon “back for our grandchildren.” He wants more information for his people. Tsahsiits wants native names re-established for all the places where the fish farms are because “they all have a story and a meaning and they were given to us by the creator.” According to Glambeck and Lewis, “the social licence to do fish farms is almost gone. People don’t want an expansion, they don’t want the farms.” Qaamina believes the salmon will come back but “we have to work together to make these things happen. It took nine very strong people to get it overturned with support and supporters. I’m thinking of Lennie John’s words: ‘Imagine what we could do as a nation?’” Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
  14. July 2015 Eight planned cutbacks in the Walbran are raising the temperature among those concerned about BC's old-growth forests. IN 1991, Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WC2) campaigner, Torrance Coste, was a three-year-old growing up in Lake Cowichan. Barrelling through his community at the time were logging truck loads of old-growth logs coming out of the Walbran Valley and buses of protestors coming in. “I even remember the hand-painted signs: ‘No raw log exports’ which I could just about read.” Coste adds, “Though I didn’t have a clue what they meant then, I do now.” On one of the buses of protestors was Ken Wu, a 17-year-old first-year biology student at UBC, fresh from the prairies and new to activism. Ken was dropped into a grove of old-growth western red cedar and spruce and, according to Wu, “I lost my ecovirginity.” He returned to UBC and organized his first rally to save the old growth of Walbran. One hundred people turned up and he has continued organizing ever since, first as a campaigner for WC2 and then under his own banner of the Ancient Forest Alliance. After years of protest in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the BC government bowed to public pressure and created Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park by purchasing back Tree Farm Licences from MacMillan Bloedel for $83.75 million. But not all the valley’s forests were saved. Now the Walbran is poised once again to become ground zero for the latest “war in the woods”—civil disobedience in the form of peaceful blockades of logging. Environmentalists are condemning the plans of Teal Jones Group—a logging company that has held Tree Farm Licence 46 since 2004—to log in the Central Walbran Ancient Forest. The eight cutblocks proposed are in the controversial “bite” out of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park—literally a big chunk of very high value western red cedar groves left outside the park when the boundary was drawn. The cutblocks are near hiking trails that lead to massive old trees, including the 1000-year-old Castle Giant, more than five metres across at its base. The BC government has approved Teal Jones’ Forest Stewardship Plan, although it has yet to receive plans or issue permits for the cutting. Coste believes that if it hadn’t been for early campaigners, nothing of the Carmanah/Walbran forests would have been saved for his generation. So he asked himself what his generation is going to save for the next. “We are going to revive the war in the woods. Every time there has been a presence, changes are made. There is a willingness to make the Walbran this year’s Burnaby Mountain. Of course,” he adds, “we would prefer to see this resolved by government action rather than blocking roads.” The Sierra Club of BC is also wading in, brandishing facts and figures. In 2004, the Sierra Club produced a map of what was left of productive old growth temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island. A decade ago, 90 percent of the valley bottom forests, where the biggest trees were, had already gone. Not surprisingly, things have only become worse in the last decade. It is a finite resource. Jens Wieting, forest campaigner for Sierra Club, who has also been on this file for most of his professional career, says his frustration comes in a variety of forms. Although new conservation-oriented economic tools exist in BC, such as those being implemented in the Great Bear Rainforest which allow for 70 percent protection of the landscape, no such effort at conservation is happening on Vancouver Island. “Ten percent protection of these temperate rainforests, which have the highest sequestration rates of carbon in the world, is not enough,” notes Wieting. The old Vancouver Island Land Use Plan, which was never properly implemented, hasn’t been updated for two decades. After being eaten away by industry, bit by bit, only 10 percent of the entire land base has been set aside in a fragmented collection of parks, Old Growth Management Areas, Wildlife Habitat Areas, and Wildlife Tree Patches. The latter, referred to as WTPs, are a specific designation protecting “a group of trees that are identified in an operational plan to provide present or future wildlife habitat.” Retention requirements in any cutblock are regulated at 10 percent. Typically these WTPs are less than two hectares wide and are frequently subjected to blowdown, yet WTPs are about the only tool being used by Teal Jones. These old designations have resulted in a patchy landscape that doesn’t serve wildlife or forest health. The relationship between preserving carbon sinks and mitigating climate change is the other big factor missing in current government policy on Vancouver Island. A report released last year by the Sierra Club—Carbon at Risk: BC’s Unprotected Old-growth Rainforest—called for the elimination of old-growth logging on Vancouver Island. It showed that one year of logging old-growth rainforest in southwest BC was responsible for releasing approximately three million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Wieting pointed out, “We blew BC’s entire carbon savings for a year because the BC government doesn’t have a plan to protect the rare old-growth forests of Vancouver Island and the South Coast.” This year appears to be no exception. So long as we continue to log at the same pace on Vancouver Island, we nullify any progress on reducing provincial carbon emissions. INSPIRED BY HIS LOVE of the ancient forest near his hometown, Torrance Coste represents the next generation of activists: well versed in biodiversity, carbon science, economic analysis, and endangered species legislation. Many endangered species inhabit these forests, including Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies, Marbled Murrelet, Western Screech Owl kennicottii subspecies—all of which Coste says he discussed with Teal Jones representatives over the last nine months. “I guess I was naïve. I thought that they were listening to us when we asked them to at least stay out of the bite, which is only 486 hectares or 0.5 percent of their total 99,130-hectare TFL.” Teal Jones did a “surprise” clearcut in this “bite” in 2013, an act which put ENGOs on high alert and running to company offices to discuss the situation. “When we recently got the plans for the eight cutblocks in the bite and found orange flagging tape near the famous Castle Grove, after all our conversations, we knew there was no sense in talking anymore,” Coste says. (Focus requested an interview with Teal Jones officials, but the company didn’t respond. The company website notes it complies with a Canadian Standard Association Sustainable Forest Management certification, a low bar over which the company can easily step and then claim it complies with existing government rules and policy.) Neither Coste nor Wu were old enough to be involved in the extensive negotiations and planning in the ’90s that resulted in British Columbia leading the world by being the first to sign the landmark 1992 Earth Summit Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification. The 1991 Walbran protests led to the setting up of the Wilderness Advisory Committee, the Old Growth Strategy, the Protected Areas Strategy, the Clayoquot decisions, and the Commission on Resources and Environment, which in turn led to the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (VILUP) in 1994. Few young activists today can believe BC was once a world leader in forest ecology, biodiversity, climate change, and best practices for public consultation. What they see now is a bare-bones lip-service approach, the result of a gutted Forest and Range Practices Act. “Professional reliance”—whereby forestry companies have been given much of the responsibility for oversight previously conducted by government officials—and pseudo consultation have become the operating principles by which Crown forests are managed. Masters student Sabrina Schwartz at the University of Alberta reviewed the 20-year-old VILUP in 2014 regarding its “ability to cope with past, current and future demands of its stakeholders.” She concluded: “The VILUP was a necessary government tool, to solve the intense conflicts of the ‘War in the Woods’ and to clarify the general land use management on Vancouver Island; it was, however, not able to establish a province-wide sustainability guideline, which would have left an organized, focused and fair land use and resource management on Vancouver Island.” In less diplomatic words, the disorganized, scattered and uneven policy of the BC government is laying the province wide open to a future “war in the woods.” The BC government responded to Focus’ questions with the statement that Teal Jones is within its legal rights to log in the area. It failed to respond to questions about the role of forests in its climate action plan. Coste is quickly finding out “you have to get out there and protest to get them to listen. Grass roots pressure has worked in the past. It is going to work again.” Coste’s sights are on the Walbran—his home patch. For Wu, “these cutblocks are the cherries on the cake, we still have to address the cake. We need a new land use plan for Vancouver Island.” For Wieting, that is a plan that is province-wide and integrates biodiversity, diversification of economic opportunities, and climate change. Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
  15. May 2015 A scientific communicator takes on big oil and its so-called regulator. WHEN THE BURRARD OIL SPILL started seeping onto English Bay beaches in April, the backstory of the oil industry’s corresponding rising share prices was already in the blogosphere. Kinder Morgan (Trans Mountain) owns half of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), a company that has a monopoly on cleaning up spills on the coast. Lori Waters, a scientific communicator in rural Saanich, was connecting the dots for her blog followers in graphic detail. Waters is not your typical David taking on the goliath oil industry. With two Masters degrees, one in science (in biomedical communications) and the other in fine arts, rather than wielding more conventional weapons of mass research and lengthy reports, she has sharpened her pen (and mouse) to generate images of key concepts that get the kind of viral exposure useful in challenging giants. Waters triggered a tsunami of protest in January of 2013 with her animated video submission on the last day of the Enbridge Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board (NEB). She inserted the missing islands in Enbridge’s “tanker safety” advertising videos and recreated what the tankers would actually be navigating—a tortuous archipelago of 1000 square kilometres of islands rather than the placid “gaping maw” that Enbridge had portrayed as Douglas Channel. Her recreated videos went viral, reaching international newspapers. She also lodged a complaint with the Competitions Bureau and Advertising Standards Canada that Enbridge’s ads were false and misleading. In response to the bad press, Enbridge withdrew their videos. Waters is a new kind of scientist-artist-activist who understands the power of images that quickly and succinctly communicate key issues. It was natural for Waters to turn her attention to the Kinder Morgan pipeline hearings given the potential impacts of tanker traffic on her own home stretch of the Salish Sea. These hearings have been declared a sham by high profile folk like ex-CEO of BC Hydro, Marc Eliesen. In November last year Eliesen withdrew from the hearings with a widely circulated letter claiming, “This so-called public hearing process has become a farce, and this Board a truly industry-captured regulator.” Eugene Kung, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law, recently wrote: “The myriad of criticisms (too numerous to list exhaustively) includes limiting public participation and expression (now seeking leave at the Supreme Court of Canada); excluding climate change from its scope…; inadequate testing of the evidence by cross examination or even answering the written questions asked; and participant funding disputes with directly affected landowners to name a few…We have serious concerns that the current NEB panel is neither independent from the oil industry proponents nor ready or able to assess the public interest of British Columbians.” During the last round of hearings, economist and ex-CEO of ICBC Robyn Allan waded in with a detailed economic critique of who actually benefits from Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline (not Canadians—see Focus, January 2015). The National Energy Board incurred further criticism recently when it denied a motion by the Province of BC to have Kinder Morgan’s spill plans made public, even though similar plans were made available under Washington State legal requirements. One of the issues Allan brought to light that caught Water’s attention was the revelation that Trans Mountain Pipeline (Kinder Morgan) was in a conflict of interest about marine spill responses because they owned 50.9 percent of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC). This is the same company that failed to quickly contain a relatively tiny bunker oil spill on a dead calm April evening in Vancouver’s English Bay. Trans Mountain also owns a quarter share of Western Canadian Spill Services Ltd (WCSSL), another company that cleans up their oil spills on land and water along with those of Enbridge and other oil industry companies. Among other things, Allan’s submission identified the lack of transparency around this close connection. Trans Mountain referred to WCMRC and WCSSL as “third parties” in their communications to NEB, which Allan pointed out was misleading and inaccurate. Mysteriously, Allan’s submission was removed from the NEB website. That was the trigger for Waters. Waters zeroed in on the ownership question and produced the headline with a twist and image to match. Instead of asking: “Who will profit from the pipeline?” she asked “Who will profit from an oil spill?” According to even Trans Mountain’s conservative estimates, there is a 10 percent chance of an oil spill in the Salish Sea. Recent events in Burrard Inlet confirm that these kind of statistical guesstimates are actually just a distraction from the real issues. Spills will happen—and there is money to be made from them. The public should be asking, “Who stands to get rich when they do?” In Vancouver, the estimated costs of the tiny bunker fuel spill are in excess of $1 million. A major spill clean up of bitumen in Burrard Inlet (500,000 barrels or 70 percent of an Aframax tanker) has been estimated to be as much as $40 billion dollars (more than the provincial budget) according to the 2012 calculations of Pulitzer-nominated journalist Rex Weyler. That figure, based on research done from other oil spills and the cost incurred based on the cost per barrel of oil that was spilled, includes clean-up costs, resident evacuations, tourism loss, losses to the BC fishing industry, health costs and port losses in annual wages and salaries. Someone has to pay for the clean-up, and under the current regulations, the bulk of that someone will be the people of British Columbia. Technically, under the four tiers of funding for the polluter-pay oil spill model, the company responsible for the spill is on the hook for the first $1.34 billion. Kinder Morgan’s own website notes that when the actual costs are higher, though, the public pays. If you look at Exxon Valdez, although $2 billion dollars was spent on clean-up, the spill was never properly completed and costs continue to mount, borne by a myriad of other jurisdictions and the people of Alaska. “The real story,” Waters points out, “is that it doesn’t matter how much the company is obliged or bonded to pay in a spill if the government has difficulty getting the company to pay. The US government is still in court and Exxon continues to appeal court-ordered punitive damages a quarter century later, despite it being one of the most profitable companies on the planet. If Canada were in a similar position, I wonder what chance Canadian taxpayers would have at extracting funds from a company whose corporate structure already appears to be designed to shovel money out of Canada? We have a 10 percent chance of a catastrophic oil spill that will change all our lives, and it could cost us multiple billions of dollars at the expense of our public services. Not only that, but we’d be directly paying the lion’s share of those funds to the polluting company responsible, for the project that we didn’t even want in the first place. Kinder Morgan has hedged its bets towards profit—with or without a spill.” Waters’ training included several years in Ghana working on a masters in fine art. There her activist leanings were heightened through witnessing the tragedy of AIDS and water inequity. She returned to Toronto to get her second masters in medical and scientific animation so she could communicate educational concepts to the people that needed to understand them most. Returning to the coast, her skills were employed by Elizabeth May as a researcher/communications specialist. And now Waters is lending her sizeable talents to Raincoast Conservation Foundation—one of BC’s most respected scientific research-based environmental groups—where she has been hired to communicate Raincoast’s extensive coastal research, which includes the large body of evidence compiled regarding pipeline proposals. Raincoast has been an intervenor in both pipeline enquiries. It has made it its job to research and speak out about the probabilities of risk and the consequences of the two massive pipeline/tanker schemes. Waters sees her role as helping to “boil down” complex evidence, putting it into a more communicable form, one quickly understood by a broader range of people all over the digital universe—and locally too. Visual images of “Who benefits from the oil spill?” for instance, have been brought to audiences around BC through Raincoast’s public talks and its Directly Affected film. Waters is providing access to a younger and a wider audience that doesn’t read research scholarship by the likes of Robyn Allan (even if it hadn’t been deleted) and others that gets buried in the archives and libraries of our government’s institutions. Since her experience with the NEB, Waters has also been resurrecting and posting deleted reports like Allan’s, and challenging the institutions to properly safeguard the reports they are charged with safekeeping. Problems with the NEB go back further than recent pipeline hearings. The first national enquiry into the NEB in 2000, called the Purvin & Gerz report, drew attention to the failure of the institution even then to address environmental concerns, assess cumulative impacts, provide transparency, and address public and aboriginal participation adequately. Subsequent critiques and audits by the Auditor General have all referred back to the Purvin & Gerz report as a benchmark against which this national regulator has never improved its performance. In fact it appears to be getting worse. (Eugene Kung of West Coast Environmental Law has warned that it will continue to get worse, given recent announcements that the NEB is going to cut its operating budget by close to 25 percent over the next two years.) In her research, Waters had seen references to the Purvin & Gerz report, but discovered it was no longer in the Library of Parliament where, by law, it should have been lodged. It had apparently “gone missing.” Waters could only retrieve half of the report from the NEB library. The missing pages were the meat of the critique and recommendations for reform. She finally was able to acquire a full copy of the report from David Core, the head of the Canadian Association of Pipeline and Energy Land Owners Association, who has been an outspoken critic of the regulator. In her letter to the NEB and Parliament libraries, she writes: “I am concerned in general about this type of information going ‘missing,’…the current national administration appears to have a penchant and/or propensity for information destruction, such as the deletion of the majority of Canada’s public fisheries libraries…As an older report critical of the NEB at that time as a ‘captured’ regulator, this report allows determination of the scope and duration of these types of perceived issues at our ‘National’ quasi-judicial organization.” Waters feels there must be a better way to safeguard the public interest in relation to energy projects. “If we had a real National Energy Board instead of the Calgary Pipeline Approval Board, it would be comprised of people all over the country and not focused in one small jurisdiction—a city like Calgary [the Act requires that the NEB is based in Calgary] and it would consider all aspects of national energy, not just fossil fuels and pipelines.” Waters wants to contribute to a national conversation around planning a sustainable energy future for Canada. “We are being sold a bill of goods by Harper that our national economy is dependent on the oil sands when it only supports two percent of our GDP… [A national energy plan] would consider alternatives that reflect a much wider part of our energy structure.” One of Water’s ideas is a graphic that demonstrates there are more jobs making craft beer in Canada than there are in the tar sands. “A national energy plan, though, is a taboo subject; people think we still can’t talk about it a generation later, but why? Why wouldn’t you have a national energy policy? If you had a national energy plan, wouldn’t you have a national energy board to help Canadians put it together?” Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
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