As much as the Pacific Northwest and California have been ground zero in the “War in the Woods” in the United States, British Columbia (BC) has arguably been the site of Canada’s most intense environmental battles over modern forestry policy. In The Sustainability Dilemma: Essays on British Columbia Forest and Environmental History, Robert Griffin and Richard Rajala investigate a few of the more contentious issues that marked the province’s administration of its woodlands over the last six decades. While providing an effective overview of forestry in BC, the book boasts several strengths, but its appeal is limited by several structural weaknesses. The book is a collection of essays that touch on the theme of “environmental politics” in BC’s forest history since roughly the Second World War. Griffin wrote the first three chapters that examine the province’s attempts to implement a program of sustained yield management (SYM) in its forests beginning in the 1940s; at this time policymakers viewed the woodlands strictly as a farm intended to produce a perpetual crop. Predictably the government’s initial efforts to realize SYM were undermined by several factors, most importantly its commitment to industrial development, but over time the situation improved. This section of the book also assesses the tension among the various players in the industry as they jockeyed to secure timber from the government and highlights how BC’s early policy supported small operators and the creation of stable communities. It also underscores how government policy drove the industry’s massive expansion into BC’s interior during the postwar years, particularly during the 1960s. Rajala authored the final two chapters that delve into two controversies that erupted during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s over the impact of timber harvesting and log driving on freshwater ecosystems. Although mounting evidence demonstrated how the former was damaging the local fisheries, the BC government repeatedly sided with the mill owners in mediating disputes, thereby casting doubt on the politicians’ claims that they were prudent environmental stewards. Ultimately, the author demonstrates how the provincial government won the early battle but unleashed forces that created a much more intense and sustained war in the woods. One of its major battlefields was Riley Creek on Haida Gwaii during the 1970s and 1980s. The resulting conflict saw loggers being arrested by Canadian fisheries officials and the BC government crying foul over what it perceived as this blatant affront to its constitutional authority over natural resources. Rajala demonstrates that the incident was a precursor to better environmental protection and the recognition of local Aboriginal land rights. The Sustainability Dilemma is valuable for several reasons. It effectively enhances our understanding of how the BC government’s approach to administering its woodlands in the postwar period fundamentally changed. It went from aiming primarily at maximizing timber production to managing the forested landscape in an ecologically sound manner. Moreover, the pages are illustrated with many interesting photos. Nevertheless, the book is uneven. Its first three chapters, particularly its first, are challenging to digest because they assume the reader is aware of the context for the stories they tell. While this approach works for readers who are well versed in BC’s forest history, neophytes in this field will feel lost. The book would have benefited immensely from having provided at its outset a cursory explanation of the province’s geography and forest regions and the various licensing policies the BC government implemented prior to the 1940s and the state of the industry by the Second World War when Chapter 1 begins. Moreover, the first three chapters are saturated with minute details and lack analysis of the events they are describing. While the last two chapters are much stronger, providing coherent, comprehensive, and engaging cases, they make the book’s parts curiously and grossly disproportional. The first three chapters together are as long as the fourth and fifth individually, and the former include literally dozens of pictures. All these factors contribute to a rather disjointed read. The Sustainability Dilemma will appeal to aficionados of BC’s forest history and broadens our understanding of environmental politics in the woodlands of Canada’s westernmost province, but this entrée into this subject might prove challenging to those who are less acquainted with its vast swaths of trees. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 15, 2018
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