Forest giant sues tourists


By Randy Thomas

WALBRAN VALLEY, British Columbia — Fletcher Challenge has handed legal writs to tourists in British Columbia's Walbran Valley. The lawsuit claims "nuisance" and "intimidation" of the New Zealand-based logging giant's efforts to clear-cut one of the last remaining pockets of wilderness on Vancouver Island's Pacific coast.

Fletcher Challenge obtained a provincial Supreme Court injunction earlier this month against any acts that interfere with its logging operations in the Walbran.

Attracted by the publicity and government sponsored ads touting "Super Natural British Columbia" backpacking eco-tourists have been pouring into the Walbran.

After driving through miles of stumps and logging slash remains of a once majestic forest, many have expressed shock at the devastation — and at a foreign-owned company's attempts to sue them while camping on public lands. Cathy Cousins of Perth came to BC for a wilderness experience. "Instead", she says, "I've had a multinational experience".

Another Australian was so enraged at being handed a summons for camping in the area that he joined the blockade.

The 13,000 square hectare rainforest is a vibrant ecology of ancient cedar, spruce and Douglas fir trees surrounding pools, waterfalls and mountain lakes. Some trees are 1200 years old. The Walbran also shelters one of the world's largest concentrations of marbled murrelet, a threatened species of small sea bird.

The area slated for logging also provides scarce habitat for the Pacific yew tree, whose bark has proven highly effective in treating breast and ovarian cancers. Ironically, many Walbran trees are destined to be chipped for Fletcher Challenge's Crofton pulp mill, whose toxic effluent the BC Cancer Control Agency has directly linked with a sharp rise in cancers among the surrounding populace.

Fletcher Challenge began pushing a road into the lower Walbran one week before the government-imposed deadline for public comment on the company's plans. A blockade that includes six "tree sitters" perched in the forest canopy 33 metres above the ground has stopped the progress of the right of way, though logging continues intermittently around the existing road. — Environment News Service/Pegasus