Clayoquot Sound, Photo © Flickr/VancityAllie

Clayoquot Sound -- ForestEthics' Origin Story

One day in the late 70s, a local man walked into the crowded bakery in the storied little town of Tofino, nestled in the wildest forests remaining on Vancouver Island, pointed out the window to the twin forested mountains that rose out of the mist across the water, and said, “Did you hear? MacMillan Bloedel is planning to log those mountains bare.’”

The mountains were as much a part of the town’s life as the Empire State building and the statue of Liberty are to New York’s, and the thought of them being clearcut was inconceivable.

Immediately, a chorus of “no way!” erupted amongst the small group gathered, and the Friends of Clayoquot Sounds was born.

When the MacMillan Bloedel logging crew arrived in a company boat, a hundred people prevented them from coming ashore.  ‘Welcome to my garden,” said the local First Nations chief, Moses Martin, to the loggers. “You’re free to walk here, but you’ll do nothing else.” 

It took three years, but eventually the efforts bought time for First Nations to get an court injunction barring logging, and the island was spared from the chainsaw – all of it remained forested, as it does today.

But the thirst for timber had not been quenched, and the chainsaws and grapple yarders were stripping the verdant mountain sides up and down British Columbia’s coast.

The Friends of Clayoquot strained to fight the logging, but they could not keep up and or carry on the blockades forever. The fight to protect the legendary coast required more people, but help was on its way.

A massive protest erupted during the summer of 1993 – the largest environmental protests in Canadian history. Nearly 1,000 people were arrested, including grandmothers, students, doctors and people from all walks of life. The ‘War of the Woods’ was the lead story of every news outlet day after day for three months, including in Europe and the US. The plight of the remote paradise of Clayoquot had international attention, but it wasn’t enough to stop the logging.

Something was missing – and that something was connecting the dots between the trees that were being logged and the products that they were becoming. Who was buying these thousand-year old trees, and what were they doing with them?

Three of the biggest environmental groups in North America came together to find out exactly that. The small coalition they formed, known as the Clayoquot Rainforest Coalition and later, ForestEthics, came on like a freight train.

And the results were stunning.

The coalition discovered that Clayoquot’s forests were being turned into phone books, toilet paper and two by fours. And they held the companies that made these things accountable by letting their customers know what they were doing. The customers were outraged and demanded answers – and a new way forward.

Soon, the massive multinational logging company, MacMillan Bloedel, was begging for mercy, claiming the campaign was not only hurting their bottom line but ruining their reputational capital. It took four years from the first protest at a US customer’s storefont, but finally Mac Blo shut down its logging camp in Clayoquot, and instead, offered to work jointly with the local First Nations to come up with a sustainable logging solution that protected intact valleys and called for light-touch sustainable FSC logging in others.

Eventually, local First Nations took full ownership of the small logging company. Today logging in Clayoquot Sound has decreased dramatically from what had once been allowed and work continues to secure full protection of the intact valleys.

As for ForestEthics, from the humble seed of its beginnings in a bake shop, it has grown into a powerful organization that continues to challenge the rights of multi-national logging companies to destroy the last swaths of original forests we have.

The deep experience, passion and strategic learning of more than a decade of work have led ForestEthics to the forefront of this new style of challenging power by going after the corporate customers of resource extraction companies. Today, ForestEthics uses this immensely powerful tool to leverage change and challenge power in critically important forests across the continent. Due to our work, the way that paper and wood is made and used is changing, and forests, animals and communities have a chance to thrive.

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