The PR Game in the woods
By Stephen Vogler
A man fishes from his belly-boat in a lake surrounded by second growth forest. An older couple sit in lawn chairs by their campfire chatting with a forest service employee. The heading reads: Forests Are A Resource For All Living Beings.
A hiker stands in a towering forest of old growth fir and western red cedar. In the adjacent frame, a bulldozer builds a logging road in the bank of a clear mountain stream. The banner across the top reads: Randy Stoltmann Wilderness — Save It Now!
The former brochure is published by the Soo Coalition For Sustainable Forests, a forest industry group based in Squamish, the latter by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, a Vancouver-based environmental group. They are both four-page broad sheets, almost identical in size, with striking colour photographs and maps inside. Both mention sustainable logging practices and recreational uses of the forest.
Yet for all their shared terms and images, the environmental and forest industry groups are as opposed as ever over land use decisions. And while battles might well flare up in the woods this summer, the main battlefront has increasingly moved from the forest itself to the public relations arena. It has become a war of words and images, of PR campaigns vying for public opinion.
The battle over many valleys in the Soo Timber Supply Area currently hinges on the provincial government's Protected Areas Strategy, which aims to set aside 12 per cent of the province for parks and wilderness (13 per cent in the Lower Mainland region — from the U.S. border up to Bute inlet). The cabinet, with recommendations from a regional parks advisory committee, was expected to decide which study areas would be set aside by Jan. 30, but that decision has been delayed.
The Soo Coalition supports a proposal by International Forest Products — the company with the most cutting rights in the Soo TSA — for a large protected area east of Bute Inlet at Bishop Creek. At almost 60,000 hectares, this area would make up more than half of the 104,000 hectares required to reach the designated 13 per cent. Cheryle Bass, Executive Director of the Soo Coalition, says the Bishop River valley is a "totally pristine area," and "does have some of the biogeoclimatic zones that need protecting." An Interfor brochure entitled "Interfacts," also points out that Bishop River is in the under-represented Northern Pacific Ranges and "can be added without significantly affecting timber supplies."
The Western Canada Wilderness Committee is aggressively campaigning to protect the upper Squamish and Lillooet River systems, which it calls the Randy Stoltmann Wilderness. At 260,000 hectares, the proposal far exceeds the PAS target of 13 per cent, but Kerry Dawson of the WCWC says, "in order to protect biodiversity, we need to set aside adequate old-growth forest. We have a huge gap in low elevation old-growth forests — coastal western hemlock and coastal Douglas fir." A WCWC brochure states that these "last significant stands of old-growth Douglas fir on our mainland coast... are vital to the winter survival of animals including moose, deer, goats and grizzly." Dawson says neither Bishop River nor Garibaldi Park contain low elevation forest.
Bass balks at the Randy Stoltmann proposal. "We think the Western Canada Wilderness Committee are totally out to lunch. If they take out the Lillooet and the tree farm (TFL 38 in the upper Squamish River area), that's going to mean a lot of jobs. The community of Pemberton is going to be hit really hard." Bass believes the environmentalists are more concerned with their recreational opportunities than about the people who live and work in Squamish and Pemberton. "We feel it's just because this area happens to be the playground of the Lower Mainland," she says.
The sentiment that environmentalists from the city shouldn't be meddling in local forestry issues is a common one among groups like the Soo Coalition. But Dawson says the "city slickers" argument doesn't hold water. "I live in Vancouver now, but I used to live in a small rural area until my parents lost their jobs." She cites mismanagement of the forest industry as the reason for job losses, not protection of the environment. "In B.C., as our rate of cut has risen up to 92 million cubic metres... jobs have decreased in relation to the amount of wood cut... We want to see control of our forests and forest industry taken away from multinationals and put in the hands of people in the communities."
One would think a statement like this would sit well with Soo Coalition members in Pemberton and Squamish, but that is not the case. Forestry workers have aligned themselves with forestry corporations in the hope of keeping the industry, and their jobs, alive. The bond between forest workers and corporations was strengthened when Jack Munro, former Canadian head of the IWA, became chairman of the B.C. Forest Alliance. The Alliance is an industry-backed organization which conducts studies and produces educational literature and TV programs about the forest industry. With funding from 13 major forest companies, including MacMillan Bloedel and Interfor, the BCFA was created by PR giant Burson-Marsteller Ltd. in 1991. (Burson-Marsteller managed the responses to the Union Carbide poison gas disaster in Bhopal, India, the Tylenol deaths in the United States and worked for the military junta in Argentina that was responsible for thousands of "disappeared" citizens). The Alliance provides many of the informational handouts for smaller groups across the province, like the Soo Coalition. "We did join the Forest Alliance," says Bass. "We use them as an information source. They have better funding than us."
Because of their link through the Alliance to large corporations and PR firms, many environmentalists question whether groups like the Soo Coalition are really grassroots organizations. A research paper from the Canadian Library of Parliament entitled "The Share Group Phenomenon" looks at the link between community-based "share groups" and corporations. It discusses the activities of Ron Arnold, a former member of the Sierra Club, who started the "Wise-Use Movement" in the United States and operates the Centre For The Defence of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, Washington. The paper states: "(Arnold) has spent several years travelling across North America addressing symposia and conferences and setting up anti-environmentalist 'community' coalitions..." When he was invited by the B.C. forest industry to give management seminars on how movements operate, he advised MacMillan Bloedel to "Give them (the pro-industry action groups or coalitions) the money. You stop defending yourselves, let them do it, and you get the hell out of the way. Because citizens' groups have credibility and industries don't."
In a speech to the Ontario Forest Industries Association in February 1988, Arnold again stated the benefits of a "pro-industry citizen activist group... It can speak as public spirited people who support the communities and the families affected by the local issue. It can speak as a group of people who live close to nature and have more natural wisdom than city people." Arnold goes on to say that a larger, over-seeing group, like his own Centre For The Defence of Free Enterprise, should "publish books, articles and other media features designed to shift the intellectual climate toward approval of the forest products industry in Canada." He also says it should "work to change every non-timber land-use designation in Canada to multiple-use within 50 years." Areas such as parks and wilderness, which do not permit timber harvesting, are not considered multiple use.
Much of Arnold's knowledge of movements was gleaned from his previous involvement with environmental groups. He discovered that successful movements must appeal to people's emotions rather than their intellect, and should have an "unfinishable agenda." He also stresses the importance of involving local politicians in the movement. The Library of Parliament paper states that "Arnold is said to have studied propaganda and disinformation techniques," and that in B.C. he has "evidently influenced the rhetoric and vocabulary used in the resource debate, as seen in the use of words and phrases such as... 'unfinishable agenda,' 'wise use,' 'multiple use,' 'sharing,' 'preservationists.' and so on."
With people like Arnold working behind the scenes, it's not difficult to see why the resource debate in B.C. has become clouded in rhetoric. But while the propaganda flies back and forth, the very real issue of possible job loss faces many forestry workers in Pemberton and Squamish. When asked what the Soo Coalition is doing to create more jobs from each cubic metre of wood cut, Cheryle Bass says "Forest Renewal B.C. is talking about value added; we're looking at them to see what we can do. I think there can be plenty of jobs from added value, (but) until we've got the land use issues settled, we can't deal with that... Our number one concern is just to get a stable land base."
Kerry Dawson believes the Soo Coalition is going about it backwards. "They're trying to ensure a land mass for the multinationals which still won't ensure jobs for the community. What we need to do is get the MacBlos and Interfors and Fletcher Challenges out of the province, and get the power back into the communities and the people in B.C. through community forest tenure." Dawson would like to see a new system of land management for the area based on Community Forest Reserves. Created through legislation, such reserves would place control of public lands under local communities rather than large corporations. Under the current tenure system, companies like Interfor often pay half of the stumpage rate of smaller companies, making it nearly impossible for small, local operators to win bidding contracts.
The WCWC proposes to start tenure reform in this area by getting the government to cancel Interfor's Tree Farm Licence #38 when it comes up for renewal in June. They suggest granting park status to the portion which is in the Randy Stoltmann Wilderness, and placing the remaining two-thirds under the control of local communities. In a report they suggest how Community Forest Reserves could create a greater number of timber jobs: "Insure that all timber cut is milled in local communities such as Squamish and Pemberton... Stop the export of raw logs and cants (squared off logs) to foreign mills... Replace clearcutting with single tree selection logging systems... to protect fish and wildlife habitat and provide more jobs in the logging industry..."
Again, one might think the environmental and forest worker groups could pool their ideas and work out a compromise that protects both jobs and the environment. But when Jack Munro recently spoke at the Soo Coalition annual general meeting in Squamish, that possibility seemed remote. He held up a piece of wood and claimed that everybody, on average, consumes 3 1/2 pounds of wood a day. He then used those figures to calculate how many extra cubic metres of wood the industry must cut annually. "We're all environmentalists," he told the supportive audience in the Elk Hall, "but the protectionists are still trying to shut things down... We don't need a hell of a lot more parks in B.C." Munro pointed out that, in terms of public perception, things are on an upswing for the industry. He referred to a forest industry poll which found that 67 per cent of British Columbians now approve of the forest industry, while only 40 per cent did in 1991. Assuming those figures are correct, if nothing else they suggest the Forest Alliance has proven itself an effective public relations vehicle for the corporations supporting it.
Meanwhile, both the WCWC and the Soo Coalition continue to lobby the government and campaign for public support as they await cabinet's Protected Areas announcement. The WCWC is pushing for the decision making process to be opened to the public, while the Soo Coalition would like to see the least amount of working forest possible included in the park system. The battle might well move into the woods again this summer as both MacMillan Bloedel and Interfor prepare to log in the upper Lillooet and Squamish River area, and the WCWC prepare to extend their Randy Stoltmann Wilderness Trail.
Behind the scenes, the brochures for both campaigns will undoubtedly continue to roll off the printers’ presses. Members of the Soo Coalition might argue that the trees in the Randy Stoltmann Wilderness need to be cut just to supply enough paper for the ongoing battle. And members of the WCWC might counter that the PR battle wouldn't be necessary at all if the corporations would stop liquidating the public forests.