Just got back from a day long haul around Vancouver island with some colleagues...we probably only covered a mere 15% of what’s here. When the car rental guy hooked me up with an SUV I crinkled my nose at the gas prices, but it saved us today, when I got us lost on logging roads for about 4 hours, my passengers silent, praying for us to make it back to civilization. We were at lake Cowachan, the largest lake on the island and wanted to see it in all its glory. We headed around the south side, I was eager to explore some dirt roads when suddenly, we were amidst the wilderness…a beautiful clear blue wavy lake on one side, breathtaking mountains all around, snow-capped peaks…only the landscape was scarred by giant slabs of forest that sheared off into clear cuts. Giant wounds, covered by dirt, stumps and branch piles. It was breathtaking…breathtakingly sad. We sped along, speechless at the simoultaneous natural beauty and anthropogenic disease, periodically blinded by the dust and deafened by the sound 18-wheelers speeding by at a warp speed with loads of trees, trunks as wide as our puny ford escape. I could barely keep the car on the road at 40 mph, and these guys were blowing by at twice our speed in an endless convoy. The cute young girl at the tourist office had warned us about these trucks, subcontracted drivers who have no regard for local traffic, the growing resentment towards these large faceless corporations who rule the lands around town like midievel kings.
And then my mind shuffled back to grad school, when I studied the socio-economics of British Columbia, with literacy, poverty, unemployment and environmental disregard alarmingly similar to developing nations who clear their forests faster than they can replant them. Over 70% of B.C.’s old growth forests are leased for logging. The province’s main natural resource, home to the few remaining temperate rainforests and all its associated species (we saw a confused black bear crossing the road at one point, seemingly oblivious to us – cars are nothing new to these animals) is rented to international firms for logging, these companies who have no stake in local communities or economics simply clear the land as they please and move on when there’s nothing left. Unlike in the U.S., where we have regulations on riparian buffers, slope, and replanting that limit where and how we clear and manage forests, in Canada it appears to be a free-for-all. An antiquated perspective of an unlimited resource. Simply frightening. And so we sped along miles and miles of these roads that sliced beautiful forests into pieces. Every panorama I wanted to capture on camera was marred by this overwhelming evidence of human abuse. And it went on and on and on until finally I just decided to keep heading west and we finally reached the sea, with the amazing ridge line of Washington state across the water, not so far away.
And then it’s back to the conference tomorrow…to learn of crashing salmon stocks, decreasing water quality, warming oceans…Canada, just like the US, no matter where you go, just isn’t so natural and pristine anymore. boo.