On the way back from Smithers last week, Karen and I decided to pay a visit to the Clay homestead in the Kispiox Valley. It was a cool and clear day, one of those rare times when there isn’t a hint of mist or cloud and every mountain stands out in bold relief against the azure sky. As we drove through Two Mile – easily one of the most beautiful settings on earth – I gazed across properties covered in old car bodies, miscellaneous rotting machinery, and trash piles, and wondered how people could live surrounded by such visual splendour and exhibit such flagrant disregard for their immediate surroundings and such callous unconcern for the aesthetic sensibilities of others.
Later the same day, driving toward home on Highway 16, I noticed that more ugly clear cuts were visible on the far side of the Skeena and wondered what happened to the notion of Visual Quality Objectives or VQOs for short.
Talk of VQOs was all the rage before the ultra right wing, scandal ridden Liberal Party of B.C. led by the most dishonest premier this province has had the misfortune to be saddled with, made the numbingly stupid decision to scuttle the Forest Practices Code (which after some protest, the industry had begun to embrace) and allow forestry corporations to police themselves.
The concept behind VQOs recognized that forestry, though a large part of the economy and therefore tied to general economic well being, wasn’t the only show in town. The idea appreciated that visually sensitive landscapes are an integral part of the this province’s tourism experience and therefore vitally important to present and future tourism opportunities. This being the case, efforts were made to keep loggers out of particularly arresting landscapes and encourage companies began seeking ways to minimize visual impacts of their exertions.
For thirty years there was no logging on the right side of the Skeena between Kitwanga and Terrace. The reason for this was that the public had made its opposition to such logging clear in public forums, despite that fact that logging was then by far the largest industry in the province then, and companies logged pretty much wherever they pleased.
The reasoning for keeping Skeena West intact was simple. The area was a tourist corridor and numerous surveys done for the tourism industry show that tourists are even less forgiving than residents when it comes to high levels of logging disturbance. In a recent survey done in the Lakes District, for example, tourists indicated that they would prefer hillsides of gray beetle killed trees to those that had been cut clear. Partial cuts and selective harvest are to be preferred when taking tourism into consideration, but, sadly, clear cutting or forest mining has always been the dominant practice in the Third World province of B.C.
Unfortunately, the Skeena West Bridge was built. Roads were cut on the far side of the river and some excessively large, ugly clear cuts appeared. One of the most egregious examples of what can happen when you haven’t considered VQOs may be viewed from the rest area just upstream of the Skeena West Bridge, where a massive cut was made across the river and in the line of sight of all who pull over there. Cuts like that take generations to heal.
The drive from Terrace to Prince Rupert is still beautiful but is becoming less so. The disgusting forest mining across from Shames is real shame, a disgrace. The more savagery like this inflicted on these viewscapes. The more we compromise wilderness values and the more unlikely it be that tourists will return to the area. Until a few years ago, the trees alongside the river on highway side of the river above Terrace were left alone. Now there are cuts that extend to the edge of the river and couple more around Usk where the trees have been felled next to the highway. It’s bad enough that the trees removed from these areas were taken with no concern from the environment and are leaving town, but worse still is that fact that they have an adverse effect on tourism, which brings more money (and the best kind on money) into this area than any other industry.
The only people who can fix this travesty are staffers in what used to be called the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of the Environment under the direction of politicians, unfortunately both those institutions charged with working on our behalf have been gutted then reorganized into one chaotic ministry as a parting gift from the Campbell cabinet.