Nearly 30 years after the original ‘war in the woods’ — what’s changed?

Clayoquot Sound, home to Canada's most famous logging blockade, is championed as one of the country's most successful eco-tourism economies. Now, with decades of hindsight and the Fairy Creek blockades much in the news, we wondered what lessons were learned and what challenges remain for the landscape Indigenous communities and their partners fought to protect?

What do you think of when you think of Tofino, B.C.? Long, sandy beaches? A nature escape tucked away on Vancouver Island? For 600,000 tourists who flock to Tofino annually, these may very well be accurate descriptors. 

But what’s often overlooked is the decades-long struggle led by local First Nations to stop industrial logging that was negatively affecting their communities. Long before Tofino became a tourist paradise, it was the territory of Nuu-chah-nulth Nations who stood up against environmentally and culturally destructive resource extraction. 

Their efforts culminated in what is now known as the war in the woods. Almost 30 years later, as the Fairy Creek blockades garner headlines, The Narwhal’s B.C. reporter Stephanie Wood visited Tofino in search of some of the lessons and solutions from the war in the woods.

Saya Masso poses for a portrait along the Big Tree Trail

Following the standoffs of the 1980s and 1990s, the B.C. government handed over control of all the tree farm licenses in Clayoquot Sound to five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations (although the nations will remind you they never gave up their inherent right to steward their own territories). 

It was challenging for the nations to be thrust into the forestry industry, says Saya Masso, manager of lands and resources for Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. The nations had to work within a system that pressured them to log. But despite the constraints, they were still able to make strides in developing less harmful forestry practices.

And now, Tla-o-qui-aht Nation is proposing an exciting new development — buying out the tree farm licences in their territory to create an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area.

Masso says the proposed protected area is a recent development, admitting there is some skepticism in his community about making the switch from logging to tourism. But he views it as a special opportunity.

“Other nations are crying to have an offer like this in front of them — to buy out a tree farm and make it a protected area,” he says.

“This is a good thing,” says Masso. “We’re implementing our land vision.”

It’s one recent step in the long effort by local First Nations to rehabilitate the land while also working on ways to benefit more meaningfully from the tourism industry — which hasn’t always been profitable for all local Indigenous people but has altered, often invisibly, their livelihoods and ways of life.

“To bear only the cost is wrong,” Masso says. “There should be a legacy for our grandchildren.”

While some point to Clayoquot Sound as a successful example of eco-tourism, the Tla-o-qui-aht experience shows protecting local forests is a lot more complicated than perhaps first meets the eye.

Be sure to read Steph’s feature, accompanied by beautiful photos from Melissa Renwick and supported by Journalists for Human Rights and the Solutions Journalism Network.

Take care and hug a tree,

Josie Kao
Assistant editor

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