Old Forests, New Twist

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Tis the season, it would seem, for turmoil in the environmental movement. With run-of-the-river power projects testing the solidarity of green-minded British Columbians, and last summer’s high-profile battle for the leadership of The Land Conservancy, we now have the Western Canada Wilderness Committee announcing the closure of its Victoria storefront and shifting the focus of its Island campaigner to marine issues from old-growth forest protection.

Puzzled – and more than a little incensed – by the decision from the Wilderness Committee’s Vancouver-based executive and board is longtime WCWC forest campaign director Ken Wu, who this week announced the formation of his own old-growth preservation group to be known as the Ancient Forest Alliance. The AFA intends to plug what Wu sees as a gap left by WCWC’s planned changes to its Island initiatives.

In late 2009, Wu resigned his WCWC post, planning to embark on some long-deferred European backpacking, and set about training Tara Sawatsky to take over the job of galvanizing public support to save Island old-growth. But the Wilderness Committee head office in Vancouver has since decided the primary focus of its Victoria campaigner will be ocean-oriented, and Sawatsky was not offered the job.

“The central duty of the Victoria campaigner will be to be responsible for the marine campaigns for the whole organization, so that will include oil and gas, fish farms and the like,” says WCWC’s national campaign director Joe Foy.

“What we’re trying to do is integrate ending old-growth logging on Vancouver Island with our objectives to end old-growth logging around the Lower Mainland,” Foy continues. “So, our Victoria campaigner will be working closely with campaigners in this office in a broader strategy to end old-growth logging in the South Coast rainforest.”

Wu is struggling to find the logic in the WCWC executive’s decision to refocus its Vancouver Island efforts, especially when WCWC projects around old-growth logging had been gaining momentum over the past few years.

“If you look at all the indicators of success for an environmental organization, in terms of membership, fundraising, grassroots support, media coverage, influence – the Wilderness Committee of Victoria excelled, and that’s a simple fact,” says Wu. “So I’m not speculating on anyone’s motives, but what this decision does do, is that it eliminates the strongest part of the Wilderness Committee, which is its Victoria office, and centralizes the control and power in the Vancouver office.”

Wu says victories from the Victoria office have been plentiful.

“We killed the working forest proposal,” Wu told Monday. “We stopped coastal oil and gas development for almost a decade. We stopped the Malahat highway expansion through the old-growth forests at Goldstream provincial park, and when I first came we pushed the CRD to implement a parks levy and we’ve taken the old growth campaign to unprecedented heights.”

A rally for ancient forests in October 2008 saw more than 2,500 people, from loggers to environmentalists, come together on the legislature lawns to protest old-growth forest mismanagement.

Joe Foy says the decision to shut down the organization’s Johnson Street storefront is intended to save WCWC approximately $1,000 a month. Wu’s former position will be split in two, with the marine campaigner, as well as an outreach co-ordinator to build public engagement for WCWC’s projects.

“It’s a change in how we do our business, it’s a change calculated to put more dollars into campaigning by getting a savings on the higher rent that a store requires, and it’s a change calculated to build better teamwork between the various offices of the Wilderness Committee,” he says.

Wu has decided to put his travel plans on hold to continue his public relations battle against current logging practices on Vancouver Island.

He says a key difference between the efforts of the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Wilderness Committee is that his group will not be constrained by rules that prevent organizations with charitable status from taking overtly political positions. This means elected officials who maintain that B.C.’s old growth forests are intact, or defend the export of raw logs, should be prepared for some salty commentary from the AFA.

“I think people have to face consequences for doing bad things, and there should be corresponding consequences for doing good things, and this is how our world becomes a better place,” Wu says. “The main thing around this is that we need a positive alternative that mobilizes the grassroots and pushes hard in terms of punishment and rewards for issues that involve the people of Vancouver Island.”

WCWC’s Foy says he doesn’t anticipate an exodus of donors and supporters from WCWC to the Ancient Forests Alliance.

“There is a room, and a need for 20 Ken Wu’s on Vancouver Island, and it would be sad if the movement lost him, but it looks like that’s not what’s going to happen and that’s great,” says Foy.

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Working to protect BC’s endangered old-growth forests and ensure a sustainable, second-growth forest industry.