SpruceRoots Magazine - February 2000


Highbush Cranberry



by Amanda Reid-Stevens


I'm fed up with Haida Gwaii being the subject of one giant-ass resource extraction "experiment".

I was therefore dismayed once I'd absorbed the information contained in the article Striking a balance between making a living and the living forest (SpruceRoots, September, 1999). Research is being conducted jointly by a Ministry of Forests economist and two consultants, and will focus on assessing the development potential of Haida Gwaii's "Non-Timber Forest Products" (NTFPs). The researchers are also preparing a social and economic profile. Talk about scary.

NTFPs fall into two categories:
· Special Forest Products, which are regulated, and consist mostly of products manufactured from salvage timber (shake/blocks, wood cants, fence posts, etc.)
· Botanical Forest Products, which for the most part, aren't considered regulated, and consist of anything botanical, other than saw logs or pulpwood that comes out of the forest, i.e. mushrooms, cones, and floral/greenery products. (Which make up only a few of over 200 recognized harvested products from forests through-out BC.)

It's the extraction of botanical forest products that concerns me most, despite the fact that the researchers emphasized the harvesting of NTFPs will not work unless it is "economically viable, socially acceptable, and ecologically sustainable."

Economic viability and social acceptance are nice things. But it's the proof of ecological sustainability that will determine whether the harvesting of NTFPs is economically viable or socially acceptable.

How will these researchers prove to us that NTFP harvesting is ecologically sustainable? Will it be the same way other researchers proved that harvesting of BC's fish and trees was sustainable?

And what systems will they suggest for regulating the NTFP harvest? Something similar to what was developed and implemented to regulate the harvesting of the forests and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans? Will "Fungus Farm Licenses" and "Floral Farm Licenses" (FFLs!) now take the place of Tree Farm Licenses (TFLs) and fishing licenses?

We might as well face it: Scientists, researchers, bureaucrats, and we, ourselves, have failed miserably at predicting the sustainability of the earth's resources, and at developing regulations meant to control exploitation of those resources. We've also earned glaringly low marks for predicting the long-term impact of resource extraction upon other life forms and old Mother Earth herself. Anyone who doesn't yet see that all living and innate things in this world are inextricably intertwined and interdependent, has been living with their head buried in the sand.

In terms of the state of our local natural resources; we are where we are, due partly to the natural law of cause and effect. And also because we haven't been around long enough to acquire the knowledge or ability to determine what the long-term impacts of commercial harvesting of any natural resource are going to be. It may be that we will never have the tools, ability, or insights required to pre-determine the end results.

We have, however, been treated to some pretty heavy hints at what they might be. The list is as follows:
- the ongoing decline and collapse of the west coast salmon fishery,
- the severe depletion of abalone stocks, which has resulted in a years'-long harvesting moratorium,
- logging induced landslides and damage to fish creeks,
- logging induced destruction of the habitat of natural flora and fauna,
- oil spills and their aftermath, some of which led to the current moratorium on gas and oil exploration,
- community economic instability, following rapid resource extraction and/or resource exhaustion.

These are just incidents that have occurred in and around Haida Gwaii, never mind what's happened in the rest of the world. But it's all old news. The new news is that we may soon be adding a few Non-Timber Forest Product casualties to the hit list.

Do we have to be whacked in the face with a snow shovel before we come to our senses? We're extracting natural resources and basing the rates of extraction on sustainability theories that don't work. They haven't worked in the past, why are they going to work now?

It is no secret that our local NTFPs are, in many cases, untapped resources. But if we allow history to repeat itself, our grandkids will be applying for FFGSL's (Fungus/Floral/Greenery Salvage Licenses), for the purpose of making a living through harvesting petrified mushroom-stems and fossilized dandelion leaves.

An emerging industry on Haida Gwaii is tourism. How many visitors can we expect if we have nine trees, no salmon, and four ferns left?
In the SpruceRoots article it stated that "there are already concerns about the impact mushroom pickers are having on the local forests, as well as how well the resource is holding up to ever-heavier harvesting." Well, that should give us an indication of things to come if we agree to developing a full-fledged industry, regulated or not, based on NTFPs.

I bet you're thinking I'm a tree-hugger, or a fish-hugger, or a fungus-hugger. Actually, I'm more of a Nuni-Wannabe.* I'd like there to be some salmon, big cedar, bright beaches, and Chanterelles for my grandkids and yours, to enjoy. I'd like them to have the opportunity to see, taste and touch what is left of the bounty on these Islands. And I want there to be something here for them to work with and for which to be responsible.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not against generating local employment opportunities or developing sustainable industries. With the fishing and forest industries pretty well down the tubes, we have no choice but to look in new directions. But the truth is, we can't afford to repeat the mistakes that have been and are still being made. We already broke the bank.

Have you noticed one industry that's sustainable is food-farming? Granted, farmers had to cut down trees and plough up tracts of land to make room for their fields. We can forgive them that, even if it did mess up the environment for awhile, displace some fauna, and result in the use of pesticides. But, the point is that, in most cases, these farmers are not harvesting foods from a natural habitat. They're growing and harvesting introduced species of fruits, grains and vegetables, from land that is cultivated for that purpose. And to a large degree, it works (except for the pesticides, which float all over the place and land on all sorts of stuff).

Should we be creating and cultivating land for trees and "non-timber forest products" to grow - a redefined TFL system - and then harvesting and replanting the crops in order to test and refine our sustainability theories? It would eliminate the pressure to harvest what is left of our natural forests. It would also halt the destructive impacts upon fauna living within existing forests, and ultimately upon human beings. I'm getting a headache from thinking so hard about all this stuff.

Did you ever notice that most of the people who want to study how to extract (at sustainable levels) the resources of Haida Gwaii don't live here? They live in cities where trees and NTFPs have been replaced with cement. That in itself says a lot. ·

* Grandmother Wannabe

SpruceRoots Magazine - February 2000