Time to get out of Toronto

Lawrence Solomon
National Post
March 30, 2002

Only a Toronto-based, left-leaning, corporate-hating

. . . globalization-conspiracy theorist like Lawrence Solomon could come up with the strange and twisted logic used to justify forest land privatization in parts of Canada which he clearly has never visited (Natural Value, March 26).

He blames the depopulation of Saskatchewan and B.C. communities on government’s willingness to hand over resources to rapacious multinationals. He states that the destruction of the natural beauty of the land during extraction of resources creates a landscape so devoid of esthetics that it eventually drives people away. The only way to prevent future exploitation and destruction, according to Mr. Solomon, is to sell the land to private citizens who will become “true stewards of the land.”

He does not seem to realize that a large part of the Saskatchewan he is referring to is already privately owned by farmers. Farmers have experienced a century-long improvement in agricultural productivity. leading to a huge decrease in the demand for farm labour. As a result, those who used to live in Saskatchewan people have moved to urban centres for employment. The forest industry in Canada has experienced and continues to experience a similar pattern.

He presented the communities of Tofino and Whistler as examples of towns which are thriving due to green industries. He compared these towns to Port Alberni, which is apparently suffering from its past dependence on resource exploitation and a refusal to embrace eco-tourism.

Tofino is located next to a large National Park, which was created through the expropriation of private land, with park access via a publicly built highway. It is clear that private investment did not play a significant role in the development of the present eco-tourism industry in Tofino. Whistler, on the other hand, a source of much private investment, is just another kind of semi-permanent clear-cut which will remain on the landscape for as long as that community exists.

Mr. Solomon played fast and loose with the demographics to indicate that communities like Tofino and Whistler have enjoyed significant growth rates due to their non-exploitive, environment-friendly tourist industries. Tofino has a population of 1,403 and could experience a significant population increase should another boatload of Chinese migrants suddenly show up in its harbour. Port Alberni would require half-a-dozen superferries-worth of migrants to create the same kind of relative impact. On a more personal note, I spent a half-hour wandering around Tofino one day looking for a loaf of bread. I much preferred my weekend stay on a blueberry farm (a resource extraction industry) nestled in the lovely second growth forest just outside Port Alberni. I suspect the 18,403 permanent residents of Port Alberni also have similar reasons for choosing to live in that community.

Timothy Conlin, Victoria.

I will hazard a guess

. . . that Mr. Solomon has never lived for any length of time in a non-urban setting. There are many reasons why cities like Port Alberni go into decline: progressive mechanization of the forest industry, U.S. protectionist, lumber policies or increased costs of harvesting timber from Crown lands. I’m not condoning industrial activities per se, but I am suggesting that you are dangerously oversimplifying complex issues.

As regards your idyllic picture of Tofino as example of the future of rural Canada, I shudder to think of the prospect. I worked in forestry there for some time and have the following observations. The tidal wave of so-called ecotourism is resulting in degradation of sensitive coastal ecosystems, the harassment of vulnerable species under the guise of recreation for rich visitors, sky-rocketing property values that drive local people away because they can’t afford to live there anymore, an ‘urban’ infrastructure geared more toward tourists than residents and the overdevelopment of a landscape whose pristine and natural qualities are ironically what drew visitors there in the first place.

Also consider that forests developed are permanently altered, whereas a forest harvested remains a forest nonetheless. Your depiction of the rapacious use of forest resources from Crown lands is out of touch with the general direction that forest policy for public lands has taken over the last 20 years.

As regards privatization: ask any forester or environmentalist about the state of forest management on private lands and they will undoubtedly and appropriately use adjectives like rapacious, unsustainable, unregulated. Drive north of Toronto two hours to Parry Sound or Muskoka, into the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence hardwood forests and see the continuing commercial abuse of forests on private property. It’s appalling.

Have a look at the private forests in the Southeastern United States and note the striking similarity between common agricultural crops and the cottonwood plantations on the Mississippi delta. Note also the user fees for forest access and the lack of consideration for wildlife habitat management with the exception of wild turkey and deer … both lucrative game species.

Last but not least, the notion of privatization would be unimaginably offensive to the aboriginal peoples of this country who feel (and have substantial legal claim in many cases) that the so-called ‘public’ lands you refer to are not ours for the selling.

Riki Burkhardt, Master of Forest Conservation
Registered Professional Forester, Thunder Bay, Ont.

Read Larry’s article, “Natural Value,” published by the National Post on March 26, 2002.

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