Cortes Island: At the Heart of British Columbia's Forestry Clash

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'Heartwood' Explores Clash Between Different Visions for Future of Forestry
by Damien Gillis - The Canadian.org
"Cortes is not just a bunch of crazy tree-huggers...We want to log our lands. We want a community forest," one of the subjects of the forthcoming documentary film Heartwood tells Vancouver-based director Daniel Pierce. The film explores the conflict over logging practices on a remote island on BC's south coast, which encapsulates a larger debate currently shaping the future of forestry in the province. The question it poses is not whether to log, but who does it, how they go about it, and who reaps the benefits.
 
Pierce is in the final stage of a "crowd funding" campaign to raise donations from the public to help finish the project. This relatively new tool is having a profound impact on filmmaking and other creative endeavours, which now have a whole new avenue for financial support.
 
 


Heartwood is the follow-up effort to Pierce's The Hollow Tree (2011), on the battle to save a famous Stanley Park landmark, which was licensed to CBC's Documentary Channel and Knowledge Network. On the Indiegogo.com crowd funding site for Heartwood, Pierce notes, "While that film was about the citizens of Vancouver trying to save a dead tree, it is only logical that my next film would be about people taking a stand for living trees."
 
 
For that, Pierce journeyed to Cortes Island, near Campbell River, off the east coast of Vancouver Island. The small island is at the centre of the battle to protect some of the last remaining stands of old growth forest in the province.
As Ray Grigg explained in a recent Common Sense Canadian story on the subject, "The surrounding majestic forests of Douglas fir, technically designated as CDFmm (Coastal Douglas-fir, Moist Maritime), have been obliterated to less than 1% of their original area. Cortes Island happens to contain one of the last sparse pockets of this once spectacular forest ecology."

The need to conserve BC's old growth forests like the one on Cortes was at the centre of a recent report by the Sierra Club BC titled, "Carbon at Risk: B.C.'s Unprotected Old Growth Rainforests". The report argues that BC can't meet its climate targets while continuing the practice of old growth logging, which releases an estimated 3 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year. "One year of logging old-growth rainforest on Vancouver Island and the south coast eliminates B.C.'s progress in reducing annual emissions," the report suggests.
According to the Sierra Club's Jens Weitling, “We blew B.C.’s entire carbon savings for a year because the B.C. government doesn’t have a plan to protect the rare old-growth forests of Vancouver Island and the South Coast.”

At the centre of Heartwood's narrative lies the conflict between two different visions for the future of logging on the island. On one side is Island Timberlands, the forestry behemoth owned by Wall Street investment giant Brookfield Asset Management and the province's multi-billion dollar investment fund, BCIMC. Island Timberlands wants to continue with large-scale clear cuts on Cortes.
 
In stark contrast is a new vision for small-scale, locally owned and operated logging, which brings together First Nations and non-aboriginal Cortesians seeking a more sustainable form of development for their community. This joint venture between the Cortes Forestry Co-op and local Klahoose First Nation is seeking a Community Forest License that would apply to the majority of crown forest lands on the island.
"They want to see this land managed in an ecosystem-based forestry model," says Pierce. "Unlike industrial clear-cut methods employed by companies like Island Timberlands, this smaller-scale approach would allow the forest ecosystem to flourish, while local communities can extract a living from the forest for centuries to come. In this way, Cortesians are demonstrating in no uncertain terms how they want forestry to be done on Cortes. But Island Timberlands — while making some amendments to its logging plans — has shown little interest in changing its paradigm."

As one interviewee puts it in the film's trailer, "We should do it smaller and slower and on a community scale and have the benefits stay here, rather than be exported into profits in New York."
 
Once the key environmental and economic topic is BC, forestry has seen its profile shrink compared with other issues like oil pipelines and fish farms in recent years. But failed forestry policies are once again stoking heated debate in the run-up to BC's next election in May - from the Auditor General's scathing report on the mismangement of BC's forestry sector last year, to fresh concerns about the privatization of public forests and the climate impacts of old growth logging.
 
Pierce aims to use his film and related media to plant forestry on the agenda in May. "In exchange for your contribution," he writes, "I promise to devote my whole being to delivering this story to you with soul and compassion — on the web, on television, and in cinemas. Together, we can make our voices heard and make BC's forests a key provincial election issue in 2013." Heartwood has been in production since last year. Funds from this crowd funding campaign, which ends March 5, will go towards finishing the project. Donors can choose between a range of rewards for their contribution, including a digital download of the film and forest-themed photographic prints and artwork.


Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon.

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