The great log disgrace
Robert Matas has a longish piece in the Globe and Mail this morning explaining why our river and our beaches are such a mess. He also makes it clear that since present trends are likely to continue, it is not going to get any better, any time soon.
Moving logs around in booms is something that I have only seen here. It has been, of course, a feature of BC’s logging business for a long time. And everywhere you go here when you are near the water there will be logs lying around. There is a system to collect them, but it simply doesn’t work. There is not enough reward for the log salvors. I know the word “beachcomber” has some resonance with Canadians, which is why, I suppose, the Globe used it in it’s headline. But it does not seem to me to describe what the people who go out and try to make a living by collecting logs actually do.
Logs cause a lot of problems to people who use the river. Traffic control in Victoria constantly has to warn shipping about “bundles” that are drifting in the shipping channel. In a small boat logs are a real hazard – and can cause plenty of damage to even large craft. And with more people living in houseboats, clearing logs out of moorings is a constant and expensive chore.
Since most logs that escape the boom are not recovered they just become litter. They have “no value”. But of course it took a lot of effort to cut them down and get them into the river. The sheer wastefulness of the industry should be an alert. Trees are a valuable resource – and if the business that cuts them down does not at least try to get the best use out of them they should not be allowed to exploit it. Stewardship of the forests has to be built in to the contracts that the BC government has with the forestry companies. In the natural cycle of the forest, dead trees are an important part of the ecosystem – the rotting logs are the the source of the process of continuing regeneration of the he forest. The forestry industry has long fought against any idea that what they call “waste” should be returned to the forest floor. In many communities in BC beehive burners continued to pollute the air – long after they had been banned elsewhere. And the only reason that happened was the industry lobbied the government – and threatened to close the mills if their costs were raised by ideas like taking the chipped bark back to the forest floor.
The forestry industry is of course now in deep trouble. The shameful softwood lumber deal, and the decline of the US market for construction materials being only two lines in the long litany of its troubles. And, of course, it is raw logs that are now exported. We simply gave up on the idea that we needed jobs in forest products processing.
There are some people who use logs. You see them down by the beaches all the time – with a big pickup truck and a chainsaw. The logs are cut up, dried and stacked – and used for firewood. The open hearth burning of wood for comfort in the home being specifically exempted in the local air quality rules. Of course, a closed wood stove would be much more efficient, but if there is a ready supply of fuel for free floating past, there is not much incentive to go for a modern, efficient stove.
The Globe story concentrates on the log salvors – as it should. But it is part of a much bigger picture. That here in BC we like looking at the mountains and the forests as we drive by. Some even go camping and hiking in the woods. But mostly we just take the existence of the natural environment for granted. The neglect of the rivers and beaches is only part of a general preference to remain concerned about our businesses and profits. We keep being told that this is “the best place on earth” – a slogan designed to bolster complacency. It seems highly unlikely that anyone has the concern – or the intestinal fortitude – to tackle any of this at the moment, or any time soon