(published in the Victoria Times Colonist, Sept 27th 2003)
One evening last week a friend and I paddled out around Dibuxante Point to camp on the west coast of Valdes Island. Many readers will have seen the magnificent wave-washed sandston formations at the Malaspina Galleries on Gabriola and at Tribune Bay on Hornby. But neither of these can compare with the fabulous formations of the cliffs of Valdes.
Sandstone cliffs dominate the west coast of the island towering more than 300 ft. above Pylades Channel. One can kayak directly underneath many of the spectacular overhanging galleries. As the summer sun heats the cliffs, there are many ledges from which overheated paddlers can enjoy a swim in the warm, clear waters. After swimming, people bask on the hot, salty sandstone ledges, just like the seals do.
Primeval Douglas fir forest graces the cliff tops, while tougher species such as yew, Garry oak, arbutus and even manzanita adorn cracks in the rock below. In 150 years of industrial logging, we’ve lost 97% of our old-growth fir forest ecosystem, so Valdes forests are particularly precious. In spite of heavy logging in the 1940’s, most of the ancient forest along the cliffs was spared the axe. Along the waters edge rare juniper trees grow, which are virtually extirpated on the adjacent built-up islands. Valdes today has few residents today but historically, it supported a lot more people, and every bay has deep shell middens which attest to millenia of human presence.
Yet Valdes Island remains a very troubled paradise. About half the island is owned by the giant American logging corporation, Weyerhaeuser, which is busily chewing away at the island’s forests. The company says that it conducts ‘variable retention’ logging on the island, which is their laughable ‘alternative’ to clearcutting. V.R. logging, Weyerhaeuser style, usually entails leaving a single tree every 100 metres. Inevitably, these trees are blown down with the next breeze. On Valdes, the company high-grades out the fir and cedar, leaving everything else behind, -any broken, stunted or diseased trees, and all the deciduous. Post-logging, the company’s realtors are subdividing the island and selling it off.
Paddling along the shore, we passed under a Bald eagle preening itself at the top of a giant fir tree, illuminated in the warm rays of the setting sun. As we watched from the shadows below, he ruffled his feathers, dislodging one. As the feather floated down, we jostled for position in our kayaks, like two baseball outfielders awaiting a slow-motion pop-fly. Finally, a zephyr blew the feather towards my friend who delighted in his twist of fate and stuck it in his hat.
Weyerhaeuser stores the raw logs which it exports to the United States in giant booms moored along Valdes, and there we encountered the ‘Swinomish,’ an American tugboat based in LaConner, Washington, which was hooking up to a boom. A man was setting up lamps on the giant logboom and we asked how he felt about hauling the timber out of the country, thereby putting Canadians out of work. He replied that the logs weren’t even destined for U.S. sawmills, but upon arrival in Washington would be immediately resold to Japan. ourselves.
Apparently, Weyerhaeuser and their American tugs and boom-handlers don’t care much about the aesthetic value of Valdes’ sandstone formations. The foreshore has been marred with spray-paint to indicate where their tie-points are. Every 50 ft. ‘TIE’ has been painted in 3 ft. letters directly onto the sandstone, with large rusting cables and chains wound around the beautiful formations. The lettering will remain for decades, standing out in relief, as the soft stone is washed away around the paint.
I complained about the vandalism at Weyerhaeuser’s South Island Timberlands office and asked their senior forester, if there was any public info-pack which would outline Weyerhaeuser’s management vision for the island for the benefit of concerned Ruxton, Gabriola, Galiano and Valdes islanders. He replied that it was their private land, and they had no reason to discuss their activities with anyone. Having seen the giant clearcuts which foresters from that office approved for Galiano Island, the neighbours have reason to be concerned.
At Weyerhaeuser’s log-dump near Blackberry Point, a breakwater has been constructed right across the beach. The road to their cutblocks is plowed right through a deep midden, passing over an ancient village site. Their cutblocks are waist deep in bone dry grass and vegetation, utterly desiccated from the unusually warm weather. Certainly, fire is a natural aspect of the ecological cycle of the Gulf Islands environment, but logging has exacerbated the conditions for an imminent catastrophic fire.
As it grew dark, I found myself paddling in the wake of my friend, in a stream of phosphorescence interspersed with twinkling whirlpools spinning off his paddles. Mars, in its current brilliance, left red spots before my vision, and as we pulled into our camping place to sleep under the stars, the Swinomish passed by, heading down to the USA under the cover of darkness, with another Valdes forest in its booms.