Clayoquot Sound Backgrounder

About the campaign

This is one of the Wilderness Committee’s longest lasting campaigns.

With 75% of Vancouver Island's old-growth rainforest already cut, forestry companies continue to push for more logging operations in this rare large remnant of BC’s ancient coastal rainforests.

In the 1980's environmental groups such as the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, the Wilderness Committee, and Sierra Club joined with the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations to call for an end to logging company MacMillan Bloedel's plans to log Meares Island, in Clayoquot Sound.

The First Nations of Clayoquot Sound are part of the Nuu-chah-nulth tribal group.

The Friends of Clayoquot Sound and the Wilderness Committee worked on building a trail network on Meares Island to bring attention to the island's spectacular ancient forests. The Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations documented the many sites showing aboriginal use on the island and they launched a court case based on Aboriginal Title. The Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahoushat First Nations suceeded in getting a court ordered freeze on logging on Meares Island which has been in effect until this day.  

In the early 1990s, environmental groups such as the Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of Clayoquot Sound and the Natural Resources Defence Council, worked together with five First Nations of Clayoquot Sound, the Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Hesquiaht, Toquaht and Ucluelet First Nations, to bring international attention to the area.

There were many protests calling for the protection of Clayoquot Sound’s intact ancient forested valleys, making the area a national nature celebrity. (See hour-long video of 1993 Clayoquot Sound protests)

We rejoiced when the Megin River Valley and adjoining intact areas in Clayoquot were granted protected area status by the BC government. However, much of Clayoquot’s intact ancient forests remained open to the chainsaws of companies like MacMillan Bloedel and International Forest Products, so the protests continued.

By the end of the 1990s all the trail building, protests, letter writing and news stories were having an effect on the sales and reputation of the big logging companies. They wanted out of the spotlight. They wanted out of Clayoquot Sound.

Then the First Nations of Clayoquot Sound were able to obtain a 50% ownership of a large portion of Clayoquot’s logging rights as the big companies began to divest their holdings in the area. A new company was formed by the First Nations called Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd.

Iisaak then signed an historic agreement with the environmental groups working to save Clayoquot, including the Wilderness Committee that ushered in a new era of peace in the woods. The agreement, known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) committed Iisaak to only logging outside the intact ancient forested valleys of Clayoquot Sound. Iisaak would only log in those areas that already had some logging and roads in them. The environmental groups promised to stop protesting and to actively support Iisaak gaining new markets for their wood products and in buying up the remaining logging rights in Clayoquot Sound.

The peace held for over a decade. Intact ancient forested valley’s like those on Flores Island, the Ursus River Valley, Clayoquot River Valley, Sydney River Valley and many other wilderness areas in Clayoquot Sound were left unmolested by logging. Iisaak gradually increased it’s control over the forests of Clayoquot, taking care to keep its logging operations out of the intact ancient forested valleys.

And there was more good news. The Tla-o-qui-aht, one of the First Nations of Clayoquot Sound, proposed to set aside the intact ancient forested valleys in their portion of Clayoquot as Tribal Parks. They are calling for Meares Island and the upper Kennedy River and the entire Clayoquot River Valley to be permanently protected.

But by 2010 Iisaak, under pressure from the debt that the company had taken on buying out Clayoquot Sound’s timber rights, began to lobby hard for the right to log in the unprotected intact ancient forested valleys of Clayoquot Sound. Of course environment groups like the Wilderness Committee have maintained a strong stand, saying that the intact ancient forest valleys must be protected from logging.

Then, on April 1st 2011 the BC government granted Iisaak permission to being constructing a logging road into intact ancient forest on Flores Island in the heart of Clayoquot Sound.

We believe the ultimate solution for Clayoquot Sound lies in the BC government buying out the debt associated with the intact ancient forested valleys of Clayoquot Sound that Iisaak has built up when they purchased the logging rights. The BC government then needs to work with the First Nations’ communities to preserve the intact ancient forested valleys in law, and to support a conservation-based economy that derives on-going benefits for the First Nations communities of Clayoquot Sound.

An economy based on fishing, eco-tourism, research, education and a rich, vibrant environment will in the long run be much more healthy and long-lasting than an economy based on logging some of the last intact ancient forested valleys left on the planet. 

The Wilderness Committee works with Greenpeace, the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Forest Ethics, the Sierra Club of BC and the Natural Resources Defense Council in a coatlition known as the Clayoquot Sound Conservation Alliance.

Aboriginal title owners

The Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Hesquiat, Toquaht and Ucluelet are the five First Nation aboriginal title owners of Clayoquot Sound.

It is encouraging that in a portion of Clayoquot Sound, the ingredients for a solution have been implemented. Cooperative land-use planning was begun in 2007 by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, who began collecting information from its members and non-native neighbours for a proposal to provide economic development while protecting pristine areas in a huge swath of its traditional territory.

In 2007, the First Nations of Clayoquot Sound bought out International Forest Products, one of the last big forest tenure holders. A First nations company, MaMook entered into an agreement with a Port Alberni logging company, Coulson, to conduct logging operations in Clayoquot Sound. It was the newly formed Mamook/Coulson which proposed logging in Hesquiaht Point Creek in 2008 - then backed off from the logging plans in the face of strong protest from the environmental community.

In 2009 the Tla-oqui-aht unveiled their Haa'ukmin Tribal Park, which takes in the entire Kennedy Lake watershed, including the pristine Clayoquot river Valley and Upper Kennedy River Valley. This combined with their Meares Island Tribal park encompasses and protects most of the intact areas within Tal-o-qui-aht Territory. 

Much progress has been made over the years, however the BC government needs to step in now and halt the proposed logging road, and provide see increased economic investment in First Nation’s communities within Clayoquot Sound combined with legislated protection of it’s pristine valleys.

Campaign history - year by year

Logging protests and blockades first began in 1983 when approval was given to MacMillan Bloedel Company to log 90% of Meares Island, one of the larger unlogged islands in Clayoquot Sound. In the subsequent decade, the protests spread as the First Nations, who hold Aboriginal title to the area, non-native locals and environmental groups, including the Wilderness Committee called for protection of Clayoquot’s ancient rainforest.

In 1984 the First Nations of Clayoquot Sound won an important court case which put an end to logging plans for Meares Island. Then the Tla-o-qui-aht and the Ahousaht First Nations declared Meares Island as a Tribal Park. 

In 1993 tensions erupted between the peaceful protesters and industry giant MacMillan Bloedel when government approval allowed for two thirds of Clayoquot Sound to be opened up to logging. That summer 825 people were arrested, bringing international pressure for Clayoquot Sound to be protected. Also in 1993 the Wilderness Committee and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation constructed a multi-day hiking trail (called the Clayoquot Witness Trail) through the ancient forests of the Clayoquot River Valley.

In 1996 the Wilderness Committee and the Ahousaht First Nation collaborated to construct the Wild Side Trail on the west side of Flores Island, another large area of pristine forest.

The Wilderness Committee played a key role in the subsequent negotiations that led in 1998 to the transfer of MacMillan Bloedel's cutting rights to a 51% First Nations-owned logging company, Iisaak Forest Resources. Iisaak has promised to stay out of the unlogged valleys and log sustainably for the rest of their tenure. In 2006, the First Nations of Clayoquot Sound purchased the outstanding shares of the company becoming the sole proprietor of Iisaak.

In 2000, after many years of grassroots efforts, Clayoquot Sound was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This distinction, while a huge step forward, did not provide legislated protection for all the unlogged watersheds in Clayoquot Sound.

Since 2007, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations have been working on moving forward with their proposal for a another Tribal Park in the Kennedy Lake area, which was officially declared in 2009 as the Haa'ukmin Tribal Park and protects the area within the Kennedy Lake watershed, including all of the Clayoquot River Valley. The Wilderness Committee has working with the Tla-o-qui-aht through 2008 and 2009 to re-clear the Clayoquot Witness Trail. As of the end of 2010 the trail has been recleared from the Upper Kennedy River to Norgar Lake in the heart of the Clayoquot River Valley.

Natural history

Clayoquot Sound is the largest area of ancient temperate rainforest left on British Columbia's Vancouver Island, encompasses 262,000 hectares of islands, valleys and mountain ranges, and is located on the Island’s west coast.

Pacific salmon and wildlife thrive in this region of magnificent ancient forests and where trees can grow over 15 feet in diameter and as old as 1,500 years old.