VICTORIA -- If I see that television commercial in which MacMillan Bloedel assures us that the survival of our forests is foremost and forever on the company's mind, I'll get ill.
Nor is Mac Blo the only forest company eager to win public approval with sincere-sounding promises. Take B.C. Forest Products, the company which wants to log part of the Stein Valley, west of Lytton.
The company says it doesn't want a confrontation with opponents of the logging scheme, but wants to build a road into the area exactly where a broadly-based advisory committee said it shouldn't go.
The company says it has a good resource management track record, but didn't do so well when it logged the Lost Creek watershed, north of Mission. The company says it needs the timber in the Stein Valley, even though it accounts for no more than four per cent of the total in the Lillooet Timber Supply Area, an area in which the annual cut right now is 80 per cent over the sustained-yield mark.
Chris O'Connor, woodlands manager for Lytton Lumber, a local firm with an excellent reputation, told me recently in a spirited defence of B.C. Forest Products that one of the problems with the Stein Valley controversy was the emotionalism with which critics pursued their opposition to the plan.
All right, let's keep emotions out of it. Let's not talk about the beauty of the Stein. Let's not wax poetic about the valley's importance to native Indians. Let's just take a look at whether B.C. Forest Products is likely to do what's best for the most people.
O'Connor made a few good points in favor of logging the Stein which I dealt with in a recent column. He wasn't emotional about it. He produced the facts as he saw them. Well, the other side also has people who do their homework. Some of them, too, are coldly analytical. Clinton Webb is one of them.
Webb works as a forestry research consultant for the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee. An eco freak, you say? Well, not quite. Webb has a degree in ecology all right, but for seven years, he worked in the B.C. forest ministry's recreation and silviculture department.
He quit last year because he became convinced that something had to be done about the way in which our forests are managed and the government wasn't doing it. If that makes him an eco freak, so be it. When I talked to O'Connor, he said B.C. Forest Products had an enviable track record in the management of forest resources.
I said at the time that since I couldn't come up with anything to the contrary, I'd let it go for the moment. Webb says the company's record was anything but enviable in the logging of the Lost Creek watershed, near Mission.
Well into logging one of the remaining parts of that watershed, the company, in 1983, asked the forest ministry for permission to significantly increase the rate of cut. The forest service approved the application with only minor changes, despite grave concerns voiced by the provincial fish and wildlife branch and the watershed management branch.
The concerns included fears that the proposed clearcut of two Square-miles might cause flash floods which could cause the demolition of roads and bridges. Some of those fears later proved to be substantiated.
More to the point, a Public Advisory Committee, comprising representatives from the ministries of forests and environment, the federal fisheries ministry, as well as sports fishing organizations and environmental groups, recommended in 1984 that any road into the Stein Valley be located on the south side of the Stein river "to avoid major conflicts with mule deer, goats, grizzly bear and black bear."
What does B.C. Forest Products want to do? It plans to move the road to the north side for about 17 kilometres, in clear contravention of the 1984 recommendation. The point is: how committed to the public's interest is a company which ignores a major recommendation before it even starts?
Finally, I'd like to know just how important the timber in the Stein is to B.C. Forest Products and the communities which have an economic stake in the matter.
With the annual cut in the Lillooet Timber Supply Area running at 80 per cent above sustained-yield level at the moment (partly to combat beetle infestations), does the industry believe that logging the Stein will assure future supply? Or is the Stein to be the price to be extracted in partial payment for past sins?
The Stein Valley controversy isn't over yet. Not by a long shot. In fact, I believe it's barely begun. Stay tuned.