Bearing Witness to Changing Landscapes

“Pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth that I am meek and gentle with these butchers”
– William Shakespeare

I grew up on Vancouver Island during the early 1990s, as the environmental movement was just gaining momentum.  The environmental activists in Carmanah Valley, Walbran Valley, and Clayquot Sound were heroes protecting ancient forests from irreparable harm.  Some battles were won, some were lost, and a stable resolution was never achieved.  Twenty-odd years later, identical battles are still being waged, away from the spotlight, with less flair but equal fervor.  Activists try to expose and report the clearcuts that are occurring; logging companies bulldoze forth, slash, and burn.  Thus, environmentalists face a fascinating paradox: they wish to find and publicize unblemished forests to promote their cause, but in doing so those very forests are exposed to trampling and damage by curious and inexperienced feet.

I spent a year deeply involved with a grassroots environmental organization, building support for the protection of an as-yet unprotected valley and advocating for alternative, sustainable ancient forest economies.  I learned that, generally speaking, people do care about the environment; they care about the loss of habitats and karst systems, and they care about leaving something for future generations.  Many people are, however, unwilling or unable to travel out into the backwoods on old logging roads to witness the land molded by industrial extraction.  How do we internalize what we are loosing and turn the tide of public opinion unless we stand on the land before and after logging has occurred?  I don’t have an answer for the masses, but I have an answer for myself.

I go.

I drive out on the logging roads watching the land change.  Sometimes I go alone.  Sometimes I take people with me.  I travel the logging mains and spur roads, witnessing the clearcut. Year after year, new roads are punched through intact ecosystems, and I watch the landscape evolve. It is heartbreaking to see a once-lush grove reduced to a smoking slash-pile and exhilarating to meander through stands of unprotected, at risk forests.

Many of the small unprotected forests have unmarked, uncatalogued trails.  In the winter, when the deciduous trees and bushes are bare, but the snow is still light on the ground, I look for these routes into the undergrowth.  Sometimes I have vague directions I teased out of a friend or activist, sometimes I have seen mention of a trail on an obsolete map, and sometimes I have heard reference on some bizarre corner of the internet.  I drive around looking for the trailheads and marking them for my future exploration, when the rivers are crossable and trails are not acting as small streams.

I encourage you to go.  Drive through cut blocks.  Stop when you pass stands of tall trees, and get out to walk through the forest.  Look for old trails and routes that have fallen into disrepair and disuse.  Follow rivers to find huge cascading waterfalls.  If we don’t, the memory of rolling hills and lush forests will be lost from our collective conscience.

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