Canadian Activist says Americans Can Help BC Save its Ancient Forests

By Paul Koberstein

F or more than two decades, whenever an environmental crisis confronted British Columbia, you could be almost certain to find Vicky Husband in the thick of it.

As a volunteer activist and Conservation Chair for the Sierra Club of Canada BC Chapter, she has challenged the government and timber industry over logging in Clayoquot Sound, on South Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii, and more recently in the Great Bear Rainforest. She was instrumental in helping create Canada's only grizzly bear sanctuary, Khutzeymateen, and is now striving to protect offshore reefs and other undersea habitats as federally designated marine reserves. None of which has endeared her to the current BC government.

Last March 26, Premier Gordon Campbell barred her and others from attending a press conference. That's hardly the way to treat someone who just last year received the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honor, given to “recognize outstanding achievement and service in various fields of human endeavor.”

Similarly, in 2000 she was honored with membership in the Order of BC.

Cascadia Times interviewed her by phone from her home near Victoria on Vancouver Island, where less than 25 percent of the old-growth trees have been spared, with more cut down every day.

Cascadia Times: What was the government trying to do when you were banned from the press conferences?

V icky Husband: They held it at a private college on the outskirts of Victoria, announcing something called the Forest Revitalization Act. They are ripping up the social contract. They got rid of all the small loggers in the 50s and brought in tree farm licenses and different types of tenure for the timber companies. They tied the lumber to the local mills. That has just been thrown out. They want to do other things with that wood. This gives more carte blanche to do what they want to do and leave communities high and dry.

CT : The party in power , the right-wing BC Liberals, are doing pretty much whatever they want. Does the public really support their agenda?

VH: If you only have two members in opposition, and you have 77 seats in total, you've got it all. They all vote together . And there is quite an extreme right-wing component to the ruling party that comes from some of the rural communities. Those rural representatives, known as Members of the Legislative Assembly or MLAs, are increasingly coming under pressure because in many areas they closed the government offices, losing sources of employment, Schools being closed, courthouses are being closed and local communities are really struggling. Support in some rural areas is dropping for this government because social, education and health care dropping. But the media is  controlled by one person, Izzy Asper , who owns Canwest Global, which owns the Vancouver sun and Province and National Post. (Canwest was a major contributor to the Campbell campaign; see Page 13).

 CT : What is Prime Minister Gordon Campbell’s environmental agenda?

VH: Campbell isn't as extreme as some members in his government. But he is an ideologue, he is stuck on his point of view , and it is the only point of view . I don't think there is a lot of flexibility there.

CT : A lot of people are upset with his decision to undo South Chilcotin Provincial Park. Why did he do that?

VH: They want commercial development in our parks. This government wants to reopen it all, because the mining association gave it support to get elected. The mining industry said we won't support you unless you take this park apart. But there are no proven mineral resources there. We  figure the mining industry is making this stand because they feel they should be able to mine in any part of BC. The government is seriously considering their demand. There are 13 other protected areas in the Lillooet area and First Nation areas they want to look at too, the grizzly is vulnerable there, and so are bull trout and other species. The area brings in $11 million in tourism revenue

CT : You’ve been fighting for the BC environment for a long time. What's been your inspiration?

VH: Clayoquot sound was one. I was, fighting for Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound in 1984. I also got very involved in the battle  to save South Moresby (Haida Gwaii), and we finally got that park in 1987. Around that time, we were also fighting for the Khutzmateen. I was president of Friends of Ecological Reserves. I joined the board of Sierra Club of CC in 1988. I was motivated by watching what was happening to our forests and realizing we citizens have to voice our concerns.

CT : What can people do, especially folks in the states?

VH: We have a government in British Columbia that thinks if you don't vote you don't have to be listened to. For Americans who are concerned, come and visit. Get informed, then come and see what is happening here in BC. It is one of the last frontiers. We have incredible wildlife populations. The most important ancient temperate rainforest left on the planet, not just on central coast but on Haida Gwaii and places on Vancouver Island. Come and help us protect these areas. After you visit, write to our local newspapers and express your concerns. You will have more credibility if you have come to BC. And don't buy farmed salmon.

Paul Koberstein