Are Things Getting Better? A forestry criticism

                                                    A critical review by David Orton

                             At the Cutting Edge: The Crisis in Canada’s Forests, revised edition,
                         by Elizabeth May, Key Porter Books, Toronto, 2005, 431 pages, paperback,
                         ISBN: 1-55263-645-3.


               “The goal of the new era of forest management should be to reduce the cut
                 substantially, while ensuring that employment is maintained and, ideally,
                 expanded, in a new sustainable forest industry.” (May, p. 351)

               “In the last decade, a pronounced shift has occurred: dialogue and discussion
                 have begun to take place.” (May, p. 26)

                “In order to improve society, it is absolutely essential to call things for what
                 they are: in order to fight injustice one must be able to recognize it and then
                 name it....Poor leadership is worse than no leadership at all because it lures
                 the people to defeat in a dead end, making the failure appear as victory -
                 stifling dreams, ideals, and creative possibilities.” Diane Cole, 1983


            The original edition of this book, At the Cutting Edge: The Crisis in Canada’s Forests, by Elizabeth May,
        came out in 1998 and the revised edition, which has added another 130 pages, has come out in 2005. While
        there are many good criticisms of existing forestry practices in this book, and it is a book which forestry
        activists will want a copy of, the general line is that the situation on the ground is getting better, not worse, and
        that there is reason to hope. As we are told, “The climate for respectful communication is growing.” (p. 158)
        The revised text has more detail-piled-on-detail, which makes it more tedious for activists who are usually
        rooted in a particular province or territory, and who are looking for the overall theoretical perspective of a
        forestry writer.

             May has collaborated with mainstream environmental forest researchers across the country to put forth a
        view of industrial forestry, province by province and in the territories. She claims to be the midwife, rather than
        the author of this book. (p. 355) There are some progressive observations, which overall seem buried in the
        blow-by-blow text. For example, the statements that the federal government “now acts primarily as a
        propaganda arm of Canada’s forest industry” (p. 20); or in B.C., “Industry is now in firm control of our
        public forests.” (p. 283); and “No automatic association between First Nations ownership interests and
        more sustainable forestry should be assumed.” (p. 340) Yet the viewpoint generally put forth, is how to
        make the existing forest industry in Canada more accountable and viable, not whether or not there should be a
        forest industry. The world as it exists is the only world for Elizabeth May. The data used by May is quite
        selective towards her own views, as will be shown by her treatment of the history of forest struggles in Nova
        Scotia. In the revised edition, her own politics is even more backward than in the first edition, with its post-
        Kyoto Protocol advocacy of carbon emissions trading and of credits for Canada’s forests as “carbon sinks.”
        This carbon trading advocacy, “Assigning dollar values to carbon is essential in the effort to reduce
        greenhouse gases” (pp. 64-5), feeds into the anti-Earth government and business perspective of privatizing
        the global commons in order to commodify it. She also promotes forest certification via “market forces” as
        the way to go.

             May has been promoting her revised book across the country. It is a book which deserves critical scrutiny
        because of its important subject matter - forests and forestry - and because of the views being given as the
        path forward for forestry activists and for the Canadian public.

        Discussion: various forestries

           Industrial Forestry: In November of 1998, I gave a talk at Mount Allison in New Brunswick, entitled
        “Industrial Forestry and a Critique of Natural Resource Management”. (Written up as Green Web
        Bulletin #66) This talk commented quite extensively on the first edition of At the Cutting Edge. In discussing
        May’s book, I said that it was “a good up-to-date source for understanding contemporary industrial
        forestry in Canada, province by province.” The following overall view about industrial forestry could be
        seen after reading May’s 1998 book:

             1. For every Canadian province and territory a political
             elite decided, essentially in secret, that a forest industry
             was needed.

             2. The crown (public) land in each province was handed over
             in long-term renewable forest leases to the forest industry.
             (Prince Edward Island, because of its extensive private land
             base, would be the only exception.) Indigenous interests and
             the general public interest were not even part of the
             discussion. Hydro and tax concessions were given to the new
             forest industry, which was mainly pulpmill driven, and
             publicly-funded roads were built. The provincial and federal
             forestry services were then oriented towards serving the
             interests of this industry.

             3. The pulpmill industry oriented itself to serve a WORLD
             market. Thus more and more wood supply was needed. There
             could never be enough wood. Overcutting therefore becomes
             the norm. Every species and size of tree eventually gets
             brought into production. The "oriented strand board mills"
             now flooding Canada, also in NB, show one end of this road.
             These mills make trees into wood flakes, line them up, and
             apply glue and pressure to make oriented strand board or chip
             board. Any small tree can be utilized.

         4. The result of the above is the creation of wealth for
         owners of pulpmills and their politician friends, and the
         creation of some relatively high-paying jobs of about 25
         dollars per hour for some workers. But pulpmills also mean
         the creation of pollution, and sickness in people directly
         affected by pulpmill effluent and gas/particulate air
         emissions - and often these are native peoples. In addition,
         pulpmills mean the creation of ecological destruction,
         because the forest becomes oriented towards a single lowest
         denominator use, which is mainly pulp production. Forests
         (and their wildlife) become degraded in this process.
         Forests were either turned into barrens or, more generally,
         were replaced by softwood pulp farms or plantations.

             Reviewing this revised edition, it became clear that the book is far from the cutting edge of the theoretical
        debate on forestry in Canada.

             Deep Ecology Forestry: My perspective in the 1998 lecture, and in this review, is of someone who is a
        supporter of the non-human-centered philosophy of deep ecology and is in fundamental opposition to the
        practice and taken-for-granted assumptions of the existing industrial capitalist forestry model in Canada. Reading
        At the Cutting Edge shows that this is not the position of Elizabeth May.

             Deep ecology is part of the larger green movement - the first social movement in history to advocate a lower
        material standard of living, from the perspective of industrial consumerism. A deep ecology-inspired forestry
        would mean that non-economic interests are primary in how we approach the living forest in a non-”resource”
        manner. The non-human life of the Acadian forest type in the Maritimes, for example (mischaracterized by May
        as found “only in Canada”, see p.107), has its own inherent value, which is quite independent of how we as
        humans see its usefulness. We humans must adapt ourselves to the forest and not expect that the forest adapt
        itself to us. Existing forestry policy reflects the value priorities of  industrial capitalist society. These value priorities,
        and their green critique, must be part of any truly meaningful forestry discussion.

             In the coming post-industrial, non-fossil fuel-dependent, sustainable, ecocentric society, forests should be left
        "unmanaged." In the long term, this is the best for our fellow non-human community members, who need the
        forests as a home. When we take wood out of the forest, all its ecological functions have to be maintained. This is
        not an anti-logging position, but it can be seen as anti-logging in the context of not accepting the unceasing growth
        demands and population pressures of present industrial society and the orientation to a world-wide consumer
        market. This then becomes reflected in logging practices and their intensity. For such a market, there can never be
        sufficient wood supply. A sustainable forestry requires that it be embedded within a sustainable society. My
        position is anti-logging in regard to how logging is presently carried out, whether industrial or "alternative" (for
        example, the "certification" schemes of the Forest Stewardship Council and others, who fill a "green" market
        demand but leave the basic industrial forestry model untouched).

             People in the existing industrial capitalist society should be able to earn a modest and respectful living from the
        forest, but the focus should be on restoration and low impact forestry, and other rethinking forestry initiatives.
        These would be steps on the path to a deep ecology-inspired forestry in a future truly sustainable society.
        Unmanaged forests in an ecocentric society mean that we need to manage ourselves as consuming human beings.

            May’s environmental role and the media

             All her environmental life in Canada, May has made it clear that she wanted to be a recognized public player.
        She could be counted on to participate in various government/industry alleged environmental initiatives that were
        and are being floated. There is, for example, her promotional role in the mainly government/forest industry
        driven “National Forest Strategy” (pp. 341-343), misleadingly called “a non-governmental effort” (p. 341)
        and one of the “Signs of Hope” for our author. The Sierra Club is playing, we are told, “an active role” in the
        implementation of this Strategy. A group like the National Aboriginal Forestry Association, which through its
        past history has shown it wants “in” to industrial forestry, brings, along with May, so-called legitimacy to the

             May also has been involved in various “sustainable development” projects, which, following the Brundtland
        Report, tie environmental protection to continued economic growth, consumerism, human-centeredness and an
        expanded human population. Such scams (Stora-Enso in Nova Scotia has been a big sustainable development
        fan) bring business, governments, organized labour and mainstream environmentalists together around a “round
        table.” May lends her name and participation to provide some kind of legitimacy, and she obtains a “national”
        platform or name recognition. The crowning jewel of “recognition” for May, was being made an advisor to the
        federal minister of the environment in the former Mulroney conservative government. What her environmental
        life generally shows, is that one is only invited into any game if one accepts and defends the rules of the game.
        May notes about her own text: “On an individual basis, many forest-industry executives share the concerns
        expressed in this book.” (p. 40) These executives must have been quite pleased to see the statement that
        “clear-cutting is an appropriate harvesting method for some forest types.” (p. 18)

             What this rule-defined environmental game has often meant for more radical environmental activists in Nova
        Scotia, is that when the heat comes on in a particular struggle, May can be counted on to throw a very public
        lifeline, essentially saying that this society can reform itself and does not need massive revolutionary change. We
        are led to believe that existing institutional arrangements will allow the citizenry to participate, but it is really only
        in a token manner. For example, in the Sable Gas Project, she argued for participation in the environmental
        assessment process, no matter that this process routinely shafts ecology and social justice, and blesses and
        anoints the process of economic "development." (See Green Web Bulletin #62, December 1997,
        “Environmental Hearings and Existential Dilemmas: The Sable Gas Project”, which argued against
        participation.) Withdrawing from the highly structured process (newspaper reports said that on any one day
        of the Sable Gas formal hearings there were about 65 lawyers present), would be to deny the environmental
        assessment process legitimacy. May also does not give an anti-capitalist critique in her numerous public

             An e-mail note, written by a Sierra Club functionary, posted to several lists promoting the 2005 Annual
        General Meeting of the Sierra Club in Nova Scotia, without apparent irony, refers to “media darling
        Elizabeth May” who, among others, will be addressing the annual meeting. When someone comes forth to
        play a leading public role in a movement, a heavy responsibility comes with this, as others look for guidance
        and ask “what to do?” May is always in the media speaking in the name of  the environmental movement.
        While her contributions have been many, including on forest issues, she presents herself as a kind of heroic
        individual and not as part of a collective. She does not espouse any philosophical tradition which others can
        support, such as deep ecology (not mentioned in At the Cutting Edge). We are instead being told, that
        there is no overall philosophical theory to which we can orient. Yet it is deep ecology which continues to
        inspire and orient the radical environmental movement, such as Earth First! (and the emerging Federal Green
        Party of Canada) and which inspired the 1993 book Clearcut: The Tragedy Of Industrial Forestry, a
        text which May references several times in her own book. (Charlie Restino and I co-authored the article on
        Nova Scotia forestry in Clearcut.) Not acknowledging the philosophical opposition to the destructiveness
        of industrial capitalist society is not only self-serving, but a reflection of the nihilism and arrogance of
        postmodern society in the mainstream environmental movement in Canada.

        Selective memory and unfounded judgements for Nova Scotia forestry

             Selective Memory: Nova Scotia is Elizabeth May’s  “baseline” forestry province, scene of many past
        battles. So it is a big surprise, from a Nova Scotia perspective, that in this edition of At the Cutting Edge,
        May does not mention, let alone analyse, the important, although reactionary book by academics Anders
        Sandberg and Peter Clancy, Against the Grain: Foresters and Politics in Nova Scotia, published in 2000.
        This book discusses seven foresters who have helped shape forestry policy. It claims that they were “against
        the grain” of past and current industrial and government forestry orthodoxies in Nova Scotia. But this book is
        also an unrelenting attack and misrepresentation of the extensive contributions by environmentalists to forest
        discussions in the province. (See the analysis of Against the Grain, “Nova Scotia Forestry and
         Anti-Environmentalism”, as Green Web Bulletin #76 on our web site.) May, while ignoring Against the
        Grain , has a number of references to an earlier, more progressive publication edited by Sandberg and Clancy,
        the 1992 book Trouble in the Woods: Forest Policy and Social Conflict in Nova Scotia and New
        Brunswick. (Perhaps as well as selective memory, this also shows a lack of updated research.)

             Another example of selective memory is shown in the description of her own role in past forestry and
        biocide battles. She provides no critical self-assessment. For example, in the past she promoted Btk forest
        spraying, in opposition to more ecocentric forestry activists in the province, as in a letter to The Chronicle
        Herald of December 4, 1982: “Use of the biological agent B.t. can protect foliage without killing
        budworm predators and other non-target species.” There are many so-called non-target moths and
        butterflies killed by this biological spray with a chemical component. No deep ecology-inspired forestry
        activist will accept any form of forest spraying, “biological” or otherwise. May has a basic anthropocentric
        perspective. She continually refers to forests as a “resource” in her book, which translated means Nature is
        there for human consumption, even if forests are to be used “sustainably.”

             A further example of May’s selective memory in At the Cutting Edge, would be the taking of the analysis
        of pulpwood forestry given in the 1983 Green Web Bulletin #10, “Pulpwood Forestry In Nova Scotia” (a
        presentation to the provincial Royal Commission on Forestry), without acknowledgement, and applying it to
        every province in Canada. (This analysis was later published by the Gorsebrook Research Institute, Saint
        Mary’s University, under the title “Pulpwood Forestry In Nova Scotia and the Environmental Question”.)
        At the Cutting Edge also seems to have been significantly influenced by the 1991 Green Web Bulletin #26,
        “Pulp and Paper Primer: Nova Scotia.” This document was a detailed analysis (the first) of the various pulp
        mill processes in Nova Scotia and their environmental implications. While two references to Bulletin #26 are
        acknowledged, other data given in the Bulletin and used in May’s text, are presented unreferenced to this Bulletin.
        Let me make it clear, I do not believe in copyright or “ownership” of ideas. All of us draw heavily from the works
        of others. But analysis should not be presented as original when it is not. May does not even reference in her
        book the Green Web as a contact organization in the province or give the web site, which contains a number of
        forestry and biocide publications, and which gives a deep ecology perspective on forests, wildlife and industrial

             There is a basic romanticization of her own past role in forest biocide issues in Nova Scotia as shown in this
        and other books, e.g. the 1982 Budworm Battles. She has never in print, to my knowledge, looked critically
        at herself, from the perspective given by Diane Cole in the quote which introduces this review, concerning the
        1982 court battle in Cape Breton over forest herbicide spraying with its out-of-court settlement/capitulation with
        Stora, or any other environmental involvement. Perhaps more importantly, May has led the mainstream
        environmental movement in a definite direction of engagement with industrial capitalist society, despite the fact
        that it is this society which is destroying our Earth. Global warming will not be ended by the industrial capitalists
        trading, on our behalf, carbon credits between themselves. This society has to be dismantled and rebuilt on a
        totally new philosophical basis. May’s book does not point its readers in such a direction, in its mainstream
        analysis of industrial forestry.

            Unfounded Judgements: These concern ‘things are getting better’ statements by May in her book, mainly
        referring to Nova Scotia, that I consider to be erroneous. As I have written elsewhere, industrial forestry is
        personal for me and my family. We live in rural Nova Scotia, on an old hill farm of about 130 acres which has
        reverted back to woods, but we are surrounded by clearcuts and by the detritus and sounds of industrial
        forestry. We have had to engage in personal battles to stop forestry companies using biocides adjacent to where
        we live. When the wind blows the wrong way, and with certain atmospheric conditions, we can smell the sulphur
        from the local Kimberly-Clark kraft pulp mill. (Previously called Scott Paper, and since 2004 renamed Neenah
        Paper Of Canada Ltd.) We observe the effects of clear-cut industrial forestry in every direction around us. So
        when someone with the public stature of Elizabeth May says that “A number of trends give cause for hope”
        (p.334), it does not correspond with my reality. Talking with the forest industry, in my experience, does not lead
        to change. It is another strategy by the forest exploiters to defuse the environmental critique, with those
        environmentalists, like May, willing to walk the plank. Unlike May, I do not see any path of significant forestry
        transformation underway in Canada. As I cycle about on the logging roads surrounding our home and look at
        the wanton destruction left by industrial forestry operations, I ask myself - how can we ever turn around all the
        ecological problems being spawned by industrial capitalist society, if we cannot even change industrial forestry
        in an affluent society like Canada? That same industrial forestry, which many people have expended so much
        energy opposing, with our demonstrations, boycotts, blockades, conferences, discussion papers and critiques?
        How can it still be accepted, for example, that a so-called forestry operation in a country like Canada leaves no
        “forest”, that is, forest cover behind?

             The reality of present-day industrial forestry in Nova Scotia is that despite the work of hundreds of dedicated
        activists over about 30 years, clear-cutting and forestry spraying (usually herbicides) continue as routine industrial
        practice for the provincial government and for the pulp and paper companies. (Stora-Enso was supposed to have
        stopped herbicide spraying in 1997, because, we were told, the company “wanted consistency in its
        international operations” but, it seems, in 2005 insecticide spraying still takes place.) Cape Breton itself  has a
        government-sponsored insecticide Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis variety kurstaki) “test”  forest spraying program
        this summer, directed against the black-headed budworm on crown forest lands leased to the largest pulp and
        paper company in Nova Scotia. Yet frequent insect blooms are part of the industry-driven, even-aged, softwood,
        narrow species range, pulpwood forest.

             May uses the Cape Breton area, and the Stora-Enso pulp and paper company, as an example of how things
        are getting better in industrial forestry: “Previous bad actors, such as Stora, have improved enormously.”
        (p. 157) She cites the so-called community liaison committee established by this company to illustrate the point.
        Yet Stora still clear-cuts and does not publicly oppose herbicide spraying by the province or by the other pulp
        and paper companies like Kimberley-Clark, Bowater and Irving. In the recent past, Stora has threatened to shut
        down parts of its overall operation, if it did not get concessions on electricity rates, or if the mill could not get
        monetary concessions by re-opening signed contracts with its mill workers and those woodworkers supplying
        pulp to its mill. Stora has a crown lease of up to 1,700,000 acres, which stipulates that not more than one
        percent of the lease can be withdrawn by the province without the consent of the company. I am not aware that
        Stora has repudiated this crown lease or even this one percent clause, which could be used to establish more
        protected areas or park lands in the province. May’s claim that in Nova Scotia, the province has taken steps
        “to regulate the worst of bad logging practices on Crown and now on private lands” (p. 157) is a
        meaningless feel-good comment. But it does feed into the fiction that the situation for the forests is improving.
        Nothing could be further from the truth.

             Two other unfounded judgements which do not relate specifically to Nova Scotia are a) May’s repeating of
        the “wise use” perspective on tree spiking, speaking of this as “an extreme tactic” and giving further mileage to
        the “creating a serious hazard to loggers” (p. 215) mantra; and her incorrect claim that Wiebo Ludwig
        headed up the “only campaign of eco-sabotage in Canadian history.” (p. 269) This would be to discount
        the contribution of the Squamish Five plus many other followers of Earth First! and Ed Abbey in Canada who,
        without seeking public credit, pursue various forms of ecotage that are non-violent against people.


             There is a lot to learn from reading At the Cutting Edge, about various aspects of industrial forestry in
        Canada, province by province. However, this book is not on the cutting edge of the theoretical debates about
        forests and forestry in Canada. Over-cutting is intrinsic to the forest industry, because of the general values of
        industrial capitalist society which shape this forestry. “Grow or die”, with the whole over-consumptive world
        as the market, is the basic forest industry orientation. With such a perspective, over-cutting must become the
        norm, not the result of some miscalculation, as May argues, namely that the industry uses future growth from
        “silviculture” rather than growth rates that are natural. (p. 200) There can be no real forest “sustainability”
        within an expansionary, human-centered industrial capitalist society. Things are not getting better for the forests
        in Canada. And unfortunately, Elizabeth May has no alternative philosophical vision grounded in deep ecology
        to show any new path forward.

                                                                                                                                                            July, 2005

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