Cutting a Deal With Attila

Cutting a Deal With Attila

Confrontation, Capitulation and Resolution in Environmental Conflict


Ehor Boyanowsky

From J.A. Wainwright (ed). Every Grain of Sand: Canadian Perspectives on Ecology and the Environment. Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2004                   


We need the tonic of wilderness, to wade sometimes

in marshes where the bittern and the meadow hen lurk

and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering

sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl

builds her nest....We can never have enough of nature.

We must be refreshed  by the sight of inexhaustible vigor,

vast and titanic features...We need to witness our own

limits transgressed and some life pasturing freely where

we never wander.

                                                                                           Henry David Thoreau

    I can’t remember when I first became fascinated by water.  But by the time I was in high school, our team bus's crossing a bridge would trigger a mocking chorus of: “I wonder if there are any fish in that river?” from my teammates and the cheerleaders.  Many times before they’d heard me wonder out loud in so many words whenever we’d come upon a stream.  On the trips to Dryden, a paper mill town of gray demeanour and sickly scented air (“the smell of money”, retorted the locals to any complaint) we would often admire the rapids of the Wabigoon River unaware that the foam had become a toxic brew of dioxins - mill effluent that, according to Lloyd Tataryn in his book Dying for a Living [put full information in Works Cited at end of essay], merely for eating the fish they caught, eventually condemned the aboriginal people of the White Dog Reserve  to the neurological ravages of Minamata disease.

    It was my father who used to take me fishing at Bug River Bridge, on a mosquito- infested evening comprising a bunch of men and women sitting around a river bank watching their bobbers and drowning minnows.  There was nothing to do. I was soon bored, hungry, and covered in bites and wanted to go home.  Besides, we almost never caught anything.  Then one day some union organizers who came to town and stayed at our house  wanted to go fishing.  My  father couldn’t go so they  took me. We fished in a row boat parked under the Chukuni River Bridge and the fish, dozens of pickerel (walleyes) were biting.  We came home with our limits.  And I was hooked.  Soon I was saving for a fishing rod and reel, and then, whenever I saved up 39 cents, bought a “Dardevil” spoon, and rode my bike or hitchhiked to the Forestry  Bridge, where I often lost my lure on the third cast, and went home dreaming of the time when I would have a whole tacklebox full.  

    It was the beginning of a major reconnection with my dad, the passionate fisherman and now the maker of stainless steel spoons that I designed and then painted after he turned them out.  When I started working for Ontario Central Airways as a teenager, we would fly out into the hinterland, and it was then that I realized that I lived in a land that had a lake or pond within virtually every single mile, a dry, ten-mile, wooded stretch of forest in any direction being an oddity.  I remember experiencing  as a palpable thrill the realization that  the millions of fish  in those lakes and the animals in the bush surrounding them, lived not because of man but in spite of him.  It became  a sign  that all was well in that part of the earth. When I can find it, it still is.

    More recently, I have come to understand that a person has to experience a thing of value before she or he can become concerned about its loss, and perhaps that is why people in Vancouver, even business people, are passionate about the environment and the threats to it, while people in Toronto, my birthplace, are not.  You can live your whole life in Toronto without ever confronting any true wildness in nature. So in Toronto one thinks, ‘What’s the big deal?’ While in Vancouver I watch eagles wheeling in the sky as I write, and just last spring my English Setter pup went from  carefree somnolence under my desk to berserk as I looked up to see a shimmering bear walk through my garden.  Not that rural people, especially those living as wage slaves in Red Lake, Dryden or Fort St. John are  palladins of the wilderness.  If you are merely surviving in a one industry town, first, last and always you want to feed your family, and if you are functioning on a higher economic plane, the next priorities in North America are a house and a vehicle.  If those goals are threatened by job loss, all bets are off.  My father’s labour history taught me that.  Instead, people have to equate their own survival with  that of  wildlife, wilderness and the environment in general.  And they must do it before it is too late to do the right thing.

    It takes a while to figure things out.  A child likes its father to be good and kind but also strong and unambiguous.  In our town, the type you fought your way into and your way out of,  my friends’ fathers weren’t always saints but they were definitive and strong.  When you asked a question, for better or for worse, you got a straight answer. And you were judged on how you behaved, in public.  Alas, my dad didn’t fit into that mould.  Once when walking with a buddy and my dad, I came across an aboriginal man lying in a mud puddle. I exclaimed derisively, hoping to amuse my companions: “Look at that drunken Indian!”  To my six-year-old surprise, my father said:” Son don’t judge a man on where he is until you know his history, how he got there.”   I remember my cheeks burning with shame at my father’s lack of manly condemnation.  Now I wish I had thanked him for it.  Since that lesson I try as long as possible  to reserve my judgment even of  the logger who clearcuts a forest or  the capitalist who finances a mine polluting a major salmon stream, or the gillnetter who wipes out  rarer more valuable fish such as steelhead in his frenzy to take for profit as many sockeye salmon as possible.

    While at graduate school, I was introduced to fly fishing by a fellow student from Massachusetts.  Small streams - Black Earth Creek, Mount Vernon Creek - only miles from Madison , Wisconsin, became my  sanctuary, the only places I could go without feeling I should be studying. It was the birth of the age of environmental awareness.  For the first time development, growth and progress were being challenged by the mainstream.   In the intimacy of those creeks I learned the relationship not only between the fish and me, but like all hunters and gatherers, I came to understand other things as well: how the fish lies where it does in order to acquire the most food with the least effort during those times when it is safest to do so or, if the hatch of insects becomes sufficiently great, how in the safety of numbers, it tosses caution to the wind in favour of gorging itself on masses of protein.  

    It took me a whole year to start catching fish, for not only did I have to master the skill of casting a fly, a weightless lure, without creating a ruckus and spooking my quarry, but I also had to learn the currents of the river, and so what kinds of obstructions, stones, etc, create the habitat fish need; how to present a fly in a natural  drift that would not betray the presence of a line; what fly should be presented at what time; what water clarity, speed, temperature, chemistry and depth promote the cycle of plants, then insects and fish; and how even the presence of predators, I among them, creates a balance of life.  In learning to cast you become a participant, but with the other knowledge you become, in a minor local sense, an entomologist, a hydrologist, an ichthyologist, a botanist, eventually a deadly predator and, as you realize the interdependence of all life forms in the ecology  of the stream, a conservationist and an environmentalist. When you reach that plateau - the consciousness of symbiosis - early in your development as a hunter and gatherer, it becomes self-evident that in order to survive you have to protect the creeks, rivers and streams of the earth as you would the veins and arteries of your body.  So you become incredulous, then enraged that  men and even some women would be willing to destroy those vital flowing bodies of water, to channelize them into flumes, to bury them in culverts and sewers.

    Nova Scotia is, by North American standards, a very ancient place, and, because recent development has passed it by in relative terms, replete with wilderness. Living there in the early 1970s initially filled me with joy. But accompanying the thrill of exploring Atlantic salmon rivers open to all for angling was the realization that those rivers, naturally  slightly acidic, had with the drift of deadly weather-borne acid rain from the industrial centres of the northeast US, become inhospitable to fish and were dying.  Others were suffering from the effects of logging and farming that denuded banks and led to overheating and siltation of spawning beds.  Then overfishing by anglers, a new revelation some found hard to believe, came to light as well, compounding the effects of deadly  gauntlets of gillnets in the estuaries and  those of inshore boats.  The final stroke was the discovery of the feeding grounds of migrating salmon under the ice fields off Greenland  and their wholesale slaughter by Danish and Faroe Islander boats.

    The realization was sinking in that no place, regardless how remote, was safe from the ravages of  civilization and a faceless technology that served the master of human greed without conscience. So on the east coast, the first environmentalists were angling organizations who because they were on the streams and engaged with their quarries rather than blithely hiking by as spectators, sounded the alarm. They were the first to discover  the damage to streambeds, the empty  spawning grounds and the absence of insects and baby fish on water that was now clear and “pristine” in the sense of becoming devoid of life.  So long as there are predators, there are those who care desperately about their prey and will not settle for the survival of a token few.  Angling organizations such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation led the battle against the despoilers.

    Some members of the public argued, however, that anglers were merely self -interested killers who were selfish for trying to stop others from gainful employment in gillnetting, steel mills, logging and farming.  It became a standoff.  Rather than concern for wildlife and wilderness being  an intellectual process, it became increasingly clear that at least in some measure, the sentiment and imagination of the public had to be captured.  In a recent essay just before his death, poet Ted Hughes, whose background is English working class and  not associated with fox hunting, an upper class blood sport,  pointed out the curious fact that research has revealed that populations of foxes were most buoyant when foxhunting was most popular and declined nearly to extinction when foxhunting was out of favour.  That phenomenon can be explained at least in part because farmers who reap the rewards of foxhunting protect foxes when hunting is in vogue and otherwise try to exterminate them as pests.  Perhaps what we are really  promoting  in opposition to foxhunting rather than protection of the species, is  Oscar Wilde’s characterization of  it as “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.” [page number for Works Cited at end of essay]

    At the same time that crisis was occurring on the waters of the east coast, in 1970 environmentalism was being reincarnated on the west coast of Canada.  There it was two-pronged.  The three-member “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” was angered by the Sierra Club, an old time environmental organization based in California that refused to protest  nuclear arms testing in Amchitka, Alaska; and the many thousand member British Columbia Wildlife Federation, an organization of hunters and fishermen, formed a committee to address the precipitous decline in steelhead stocks. Steelhead, seagoing rainbow trout recently reclassified as  salmon, are the rarest on the Pacific coast, the only species that doesn’t die upon spawning, and the one most revered by fresh water anglers.  Greenpeace was spawned from “Don’t Make a Wave,” and The Steelhead Society of British Columbia from the BC Wildlife Federation.

    In 1974 I arrived in Vancouver, and when after a month the clouds finally lifted, I began to recognize the extraordinary perch humankind had in this part of the world.  Although the streams of Vancouver had been buried in culverts or reduced to storm sewers, on the north  shore one could pass through the looking glass fifteen minutes from town and be on the Seymour River in almost total wilderness.  The Seymour was spared by its municipal watershed designation from the developers’ plans.  Black bears fed on berries in my Deep Cove  backyard and cougars prowled the rooftops. Killer whales  patrolled Indian Arm  and can still be seen from the home overlooking Howe Sound I moved to in 1988.  An hour away I occasionally encountered grizzly bears in the  Squamish  and Elaho River valleys that were, alas, quickly being stripmined by logging.

    I quickly joined Greenpeace and the BC Wildlife Federation, but then I went to an SSBC annual general meeting in a suburban community hall and was thrilled by what I saw-- the whole spectrum, from backwoodsmen in caterpillar tractor caps before they became a fashion statement, through corduroy, denim and flannel, to the dark suits of politicians and the tweed and serge of businessmen and academics.  And all were imbued with an unspoken common understanding and passion, one that I articulated only years later - that wild, unengineered rivers and wild steelhead, the symbol of Pacific salmon, are vitally important not only to those who pursue them for sport in order to reconnect the sacred hunter-prey relationship, even though those present were already releasing most of the fish they  caught, but also as an index of how well the earth and so ultimately the human race is doing.

    Greenpeace, in its objection to nuclear testing, factory  pollution, clearcut logging, seal and whale hunting was grabbing most of the headlines and,  I felt, doing good work.   But looking back on the influences in my life, I realize now the intimate connection with rivers and fish, with scientifically based conservation positions, and with educating the public to the importance of wild steelhead,  among a wide diversity of members who read like a demography of British Columbia, was closest to my heart.
In those days, slimy old fish, even the surpassingly beautiful steelhead, were not sexy; in fact, they were boring to the general public.  We had our work cut out for us.

    The preservation of rivers in their natural state faced a host of  opposition:  
first, logging interests wanted  the giant trees that grew in the valley bottoms right to the banks of the streams.  Those trees were not only protecting the banks from erosion, but also providing a forest canopy for insects and birds, and an arbour against overheating of small streams by the summer sun.  Remarkably, there was no “green strip” of trees required by law to be left uncut, and even after the much maligned (by industry) Forest Practices Code was enacted, I came across great streamside cedars  felled right into the Nahmint River, an emerald jewel on the west coast of Vancouver Island.   And once those trees were gone, the loggers moved higher into the mountains, logging on steep slopes that even on non-fishbearing tributaries  caused bank instability, erosion, and, ultimately, massive, rapid runoff.  

    The result was the transformation of meandering, slowly flowing creeks into straightened flumes carrying siltation that found its way down into the larger spawning tributaries, clogging the clean gravel and  destabilizing the whole system.  Now each new rainstorm exacerbated the situation.  Even science colluded against  conservation, for early inchoate research indicated that within streams denuded of trees on the bank, fry (baby salmon and steelhead who spend the longest time in fresh water) grew faster. That short term effect was due to the warmer water of those suddenly exposed, previously  icy streams.  More recent results indicate that the streams deteriorate over time, become dessicated, and, as a result, spawning is vastly reduced if not extinguished.  Seasoned steelheaders knew  that was the effect long before science caught up, but faced opposition at public meetings.  

    A further problem, as stated earlier, was that the issue of logging pitted citizens of local communities who saw any conservation measure as a threat to their jobs against  conservationists who were characterized as outsiders or elitists.   The situation became especially sensitive when a local chapter of the SSBC, for example, on Vancouver Island or the Queen Charlottes comprised both loggers and other professions.  At one meeting a local chamber of commerce type chastised me for demanding protection of a river, saying we would have to share and that the valley would be returned to us after it had been clearcut.  I responded that that would be like Attila the Hun’s riding into our town, announcing his intent to plunder and destroy, and our replying: “Well, will you settle for half?” Some things cannot be negotiated.  Having recently visited Spain and Russia where they have no giant old growth trees but  many historic monuments, I found that even those  of czarist origin were lovingly preserved (and, after the devastation of the war,  restored by the communists).  It brought home the realization that although we do not have 1000-year-old, human-made monuments, we do have the trees. They belong to a world that is comforted to know they exist and, once they are gone, we will all be impoverished.
    My campaigning for preservation of the very steep west side of the Squamish River containing the last three untouched spawning tributaries ( contrasted with the totally devastated east side where the main logging road runs) garnered me a spot on the blacklist when local loggers set up a road block in reaction to environmental protesters who were opposing the logging of the Elaho Valley, a tributary of the Squamish, with its very ancient  trees.

    As the Squamish - Whistler area evolves from employment by largely a single industry to a multifaceted, recreational and non-resource extraction economy, more citizens see old growth trees from the perspective we have been propounding. Namely that those trees as the capital of our resource are irreplaceable and, as economist Harold Innis argued, should not be squandered. In their stead we should be harvesting only second and third growth trees, and only when that harvest does no damage to the ecology of wildlife, wild fish and wild rivers.  Logging companies are recognizing the change in public values - remarkably in the past three years two have actually received conservation awards from the Steelhead Society: West Fraser Timber for giving up, without compensation, logging rights to the Kitlope Valley, the largest intact temperate  rainforest watershed on the west coast, and Macmillan Bloedel for giving up logging of old growth forest and halting clearcutting on steep slopes.   In addition, the latter company has developed single-tree helicopter logging, undeniably in response to market pressures such as the boycott of lumber from clearcut old growth forest organized by Greenpeace.  Although differences remain over logging the west side of the Squamish, the Habitat Restoration Corporation , a subsidiary of the Steelhead Society, has even partnered with the logging company International Forest  Products to restore vital spawning tributaries.

    A second great threat to wild fish and rivers is dams, though many new dams are not likely to be proposed until the water-hungry, western United States makes a move to promote diversion of  BC rivers south. The BC government  ceded the water rights of a vast area  west of Prince George to the Aluminum Company of Canada over fifty years ago in order to promote the building of a smelter at Kemano.  The  diversion project took away over fifty percent of the flow of the Nechako River, a major tributary of the Fraser, the greatest remaining undammed salmon river on the west coast of North America.  

    It seems preposterous that  in the mid-twentieth century the Carrier-Sekani aboriginal people  returned from hunting to discover that the flooding had  wiped out their traditional village and gravesites.  They have been fighting for redress ever since.  In the 1980s Alcan announced it was going to exploit  the rest of its water licence in order to build another smelter which would destroy several rivers including the famed steelhead stream, the Bulkley River, and further reduce the Nechako to no more than thirteen percent of its original flow.  The Carrier-Sekani drew a line in the sand, and  were joined by a large coalition of residents and conservationists  that rose in opposition to the project, though businesses and labour in Kitimat, the local company town, supported it.  The Mulroney federal Conservative government, and then the BC Social Credit and New Democratic governments did likewise, with the federal cabinet passing an Order in Council exempting Alcan from a Federal Environmental Review of what former Pacific Coast Director General of Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Pat  Chamut, called the greatest environmental threat to west coast fisheries of the 20th century.

    When many people asked me why I (along with many other members of citizens’ groups and the fishermen’s union), representing the SSBC, continued to fight what was fait accompli, I replied that some battles are worth losing, and that I didn’t want to have to explain to my children when the Fraser was eventually depleted and the Nechako morbid how we could have let such a thing happen.   In my presentation to the public hearing eventually agreed to, I argued that the value of a river could not be assessed by comparing its fisheries and recreational income to the income that would derive from hydroelectric power or some other industrial use; instead by using modern insurance underwriting criteria, we would have to consider the actual replacement cost.  
    That is, we must assess the cost of creating such a riverine ecosystem with its variegated insects and varieties of fish that have adapted over many centuries.  We must factor in  the aquatic plants and those ,including trees, that line the bank, together with the birds and animals that coexist in that environment.  There are very few  countries, much less corporations, that could afford such an undertaking over the many years required to bring it to fruition.  In1994, at the eleventh hour , the public suddenly took a vital interest.   Several very courageous DFO scientists  blew the whistle on political skullduggery in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, choosing to go public and resign rather than go along with the handpicked “tame” replacement scientists who claimed that eighty-seven percent of a river could be diverted without harming the salmon runs.  Vancouver Sun journalist Mark Hume probed the story also revealing that  a prominent  University of British Columbia scientist, formerly a fisheries champion, had taken a  position on Alcan’s board of directors and was lobbying on its behalf. [footnote, or in Works Cited]

    But finally the connection was made in the public mind that the so-called Kemano Completion Project was not just a northern local issue.  The Fraser was going to be affected and its salmon runs that had recently almost been rendered extinct by a combination of bad management and low warm water would be severely threatened. About that time the president of the Bonneville Power Administration in Washington state revealed that it was spending over $ l50 million US per year to alleviate the effects of that project on salmon,  with very little success. The connection was made by the SSBC and others that the Fraser River was the main artery  of BC and as went the Fraser so did the fortunes of the province.

    Belatedly, extremely popular talk show host Rafe Mair joined the fray and made it his main mission to sway public sentiment against the project. To everyone’s surprise the opposition BC Liberal Party (usually pro-business) came out against Kemano Completion.  The NDP government, having already made public its apologistic report by a University of Victoria professor who argued that most of the damage had been done in the original diversion, had no choice but to cancel the project and try to cut a deal with Alcan.  

    The half-built tunnel in the mountain was abandoned.  Alcan held the high legal ground, but was perceived to be wallowing in  the mire of environmental and social immorality along with the federal government and DFO, though its president argued that  corporations are by definition amoral, having a fiduciary duty only to their shareholders.  An environmental victory under impossible odds had been ostensibly won.  The devil remained in the details, however, and almost six years later no final resolution of water problems lingering from the original project has been reached. The original coalition still toils on, now out of the public eye.

    The second great issue affecting rivers and even oceans that are increasingly recognized, despite their vastness, as fragile and vulnerable,  was pollution from pulp mills.  Technology became available in the late 1980s that revealed how incredibly lethal even a few parts per billion of dioxins and furans, byproducts of the delignification process using chlorine, were to fish.  Live fish died very quickly and, more insidiously, the poisons accumulated in shellfish and other sedentary and residential species.  The toxins  quickly moved up the food chain to herons and raptors such as eagles, and, of course, eventually to people.  A coalition of environmental groups, once again including the SSBC and the Fishermen’s and Allied Workers Union, was going to have  a major press conference pointing out the amount of dioxins in paper milk cartons when, upon perusing recently released DFO studies and having a background in research methods, I noticed  that  limits of the toxic substances were many times above the legal limit in shellfish harvested in Howe Sound.  The emphasis of the press conference was quickly changed to focus on local shellfish.   Public reaction was very  strong and, perhaps purely by coincidence, Howe Sound was closed to shell fishing the next day.

    Terry Jacks, the pop singer, had  without success been leading a renegade campaign against the pulp mill owners and DFO for lack of enforcement of pollution laws until European customers threatened a boycott of chlorine-bleached paper products.  The Social Credit Environment Minister John Reynolds resigned from cabinet when Premier Vander Zalm reneged on a bill for zero tolerance in pulp mill effluent. The bill was, however,  finally effected soon after by the new NDP government. What was especially interesting in that case was that even pulp mill workers were blowing the whistle on the company since their jobs were protected by union membership and their lives threatened by the common fate of dioxin poisoning.  It became clear to affluent West Vancouver residents and pulp mill workers alike that   a good income had no meaning if their environment , the fish in it, and eventually their children were to be exposed to deadly carcinogens. Fish were like the canaries in the coalmines - a harbinger of how well humans would do.

    Because steelhead are the most primitive of the Pacific salmon, that is, the oldest most direct descendant of the ancient polar salmon that split into Atlantic and Pacific families, they have colonized virtually every coastal watershed and even many of those watersheds far inland with runs in the dozens to thousands entering a river somewhere everyday of the year.  Most rivers experience multiple runs of fish that appear in every season. They are the fewest in number of any of the anadromous Oncorhynchus but the most resilient , not dying after spawning, with many making multiple returns to their natal rivers.  All other anadromous Pacific salmon die after their spawning run, with the largest, chinook, numbering in the tens of thousands, coho in the hundreds of thousands and pinks, chums and the commercially most highly prized, sockeye, under ideal conditions, numbering into the millions.   Originally, indigenous people took salmon using weirs, traps and dipnets in the rivers, assuring that only those fish needed would be retained.  

    When Europeans started to fish commercially they regarded native peoples as having an unfair advantage, and though natives were extremely selective, their methods were banned and they were given gillnets and spears instead.  In addition, commerical gillnet fleets proliferated  and like so many thousands of medieval doomsday machines wiped out any fish in their path.  That was the fate  even of those they did not target, especially steelhead and coho, which came to be worth their weight in gold to a burgeoning sport fishery on the ocean and in the rivers.  Rather than managing for conservation of the rarest species, DFO officials defined their role as handmaidens of the powerful, commercial industry and chose to allow the decimation of steelhead stocks as well as coho mixed in with millions of sockeyes, chums and pinks.  

    The most perverse example of such waste occurred on the Skeena River where like so many other DFO projects,  artificial spawning channels allowed the numbers of one strain of sockeye to skyrocket. This masked the actual fluctuating numbers of wild sockeye from many smaller systems and, with massive growth of the fleet, resulted in devastation to the point of extinction of many runs of sockeye and, even more tragically, of steelhead and coho.  The response of the commercial fishing lobby including the fishermen’s union, ironically our ally on other issues,  was to demand more hatcheries for artificial enhancement of all species including steelhead in order to compensate for the wild fish that were incidentally being wiped out.

    Research, however, has supported the original contention of steelhead anglers  that hatcheries are no replacement for wild fish.  Wild fish have adapted to the peculiar characteristics of their watersheds over eons, are much more robust and genetically honed to survive.  Hatchery fish will in the short term, reproduce well under pampered conditions but, unllike the product of genetic diversity and evolutionary adaptiveness,  eventually become less and less robust and, as with monocultures on tree farms, increasingly vulnerable to disease.  Dan Burns, president of the SSBC characterizes hatcheries as “chemotherapy” - sometimes necessary for survival in extreme conditions but not the way to plan long term good health; hence his creation of the Habitat Restoration Corporation to ensure that natural spawning would replenish wild stocks though over a much longer time span than hatcheries.  In seven years, HRC projects have produced half a million wild adult salmon.

    The Wild Steelhead Campaign of the SSBC highlighted the value of wild fish and brought the notion of wildness to the public using famed artists, films and even poetry readings by Ted Hughes.  With the threats to salmon of foreign  boats using fifty miles of  driftnets to wipe out every species of fish as well as millions of birds and mammals, and the salmon war between the US and  Canada raging, suddenly people started worrying about fish and relating them to the health of their rivers, their environments and, on the east and west coasts, their own lives.

    In 1993, at a Vancouver  roundtable  leading up to the United Nations Conference on the High Seas, very little of note was  accomplished until the representatives of the commercial industry left the room.  For the first time I noted that a Greenpeace representative had made a presentation at a fisheries conservation meeting, promoting the “precautionary principle” of management.  It was a clear sign that fisheries issues had gone mainstream, that fish, in addition to more visible, anthropomorphically friendly species such as whales and seals, had become sexy.  I was thrilled.  I buttonholed two of the participants whom  I felt were among the more thoughtful individuals in the room, Dr. John Lien of Newfoundland and Chris Chavasse of Alaska,  and we drafted a resolution that, as a blueprint for fishing operations, would go a long way toward reversing the destruction of the world’s fisheries.   The resolution included the following:

    First: no fishing technique shall be allowed where a more selective technique required to protect weak  and/or threatened target or nontarget species exists.  At present most fishing is done by gillnets that entangle and kill all species indiscriminately, or by using seine nets-- bags that corral fish and are tightened and hauled over a drum at high speed, killing or damaging all fish  within.  That could be avoided if the seine was tightened gradually with the fish brailed (lifted out by dip nets).  The process would take much longer, but longer fishing times would be allowed  without threatening fish stocks.  More people would be employed, non-target fish returned unharmed, and monitoring would be much easier.  Such methods are ideal for shallow ocean-straddling species.


    Second: the exclusive use of estuarial traps and weirs for fish returning to their natal streams (salmon, for instance) would eliminate interception by foreign vessels and give all the fish to the country of origin-- - the one responsible for stewardship of spawning habitat.  That principle would eliminate the need for international commissions, salmon wars, even costly  boats, and allow strict monitoring and exact harvesting targets.


   Finally: with ocean environment in such flux, those countries with the greatest stewardship responsibility, given their vast coastlines--Canada, Russia and the USA-- must establish an alliance to regulate and police their continental shelves for conservation of northern hemisphere deep-water species, regardless of arbitrary 200 mile limits.

    In 1993 those suggestions were hooted at by the commercial interests.  By 1999, after more than a hundred years of wasteful, imprudent fishing practices, many became de rigueur  as David Anderson, a former secretary of the South Vancouver Island Chapter of the SSBC became Minister of Fisheries and,  armed with scientific evidence that coho stocks were at alltime historic lows, implemented policies that would demand almost no mortality of threatened wild coho.  Anticipating those measures, I remember calling the heads of the fishermen’s unions and the vessel, gillnet and seine boat owners for a meeting on a  Victoria Day weekend.  They were astounded when I predicted Anderson would allow them to fish only if there would be  zero mortality of wild coho.  They thought a 20% tolerance would be allowed.  When I assured them they were wrong, they wanted to know, given that we had “won the battle” why the SSBC was talking to them.

    I pointed out that we were not out to eliminate the commercial fishery, we were only trying to shape its activities so that it was not destructive of the common resource of wild fish, a resource many of them had advocated wiping out to allow gillnetters to operate unconstrained by concerns for other species.  DFO was suddenly reborn as palladins of conservation, and most staff were thrilled.  Many gillnetters went with the buyout offered, others adapted, some even started experimenting with traps and beach seines.  Traps, fish wheels in rivers, and brailing by seine netters became increasingly common.  With luck, we were entering  a new age of doing business.  

    Now the new way of business had to be entrenched because some were still just holding their breath waiting for better times. Even worse, in order to settle land claims, rather than restricting future fishing to environmentally sound, selective fishing methods, DFO was giving out gill net licences and special fishing opportunities to aboriginal groups that could come back to haunt the fishery and undo all the progress that had been made.  In my opinion, the combination of privileged opportunity for one group combined with the use of destructive, regressive methods was a recipe for future conflict between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal Canadians, especially environmentalists.  It was a totally  unnecessary  conflict for many aboriginal groups were quick to embrace selective methods such as traps, weirs and fish wheels--methods from their own cultural history--when given the opportunity.



    Combining experience from my personal development , values and background with concepts derived from my academic fields of social, environmental and forensic psychology, I developed a theory that I hoped would delineate the events  that occur when a populace is faced with environmental threat.  An early  version was presented at the World Congress of the International Society for Research in Aggression in 1990 and a later was published In the volume Water Export: Should Canada’s Water Be For Sale? [put in Works Cited] in 1992.  The model proposes to predict the conditions under which, for example, environmental pollution or destruction would be tolerated by society, as opposed to when opposition would be mobilized that would result in civil disobedience or even terrorism. On the other hand, the model allows for  conditions under which a positive resolution would be reached.

    There are three forces that effect action or change when a major social issue arises: public will, corporate will and political will.  Very often corporate and  political will have a special arrangement allowing pollution or other environmental depredation, despite laws to the contrary, in order  to provide jobs for the populace, benefits to the government, and, sometimes, even to its individual members.   As the threat mounts and is recognized as a health hazard, especially if unemployment rises as job losses occur due to technologial or corporate change, public concern in turn intensifies.  Corporations with rising profits see new laws and even penalties as the cost of doing business.  Community tolerance quickly  declines as fear for survival of a segment of the population rises.  As a condition of common fate comes to be recognized, community opposition in the absence of government action and the resultant loss of government credibility mounts until it culminates in civil disobedience and even acts of ecoterrorism (destruction of private property, even threat to lives).  

    In the case of dioxin pollution of Howe Sound, word on the grapevine had it that  the government must  enforce the Fisheries Act  which forbids the dumping of a substance deleterious to fish in a body of water that they occupy.  If it did not, given the mounting evidence of the contamination of shell and eventually fin fish and the high incidence of lung cancer among nonsmoking, downwind residents,  sabotage,on the heels of protests that had already occurred against pulp mills, was imminent.  The mills had permits allowing dumping, but studies had shown most mills in BC were out of compliance and those in Howe Sound were among the worst.  At the last moment, the government brought in a special bill forcing mills, at great cost, to eliminate dioxins from their effluent.

    In the case of Kemano Completion, the government had capitulated to the corporation in the original agreement, creating terrible health threats to the Carrier Sekani in the form of mercury contamination of the fish in the lake produced by the  flooding and the destruction of their hunting lands. But it had also created many  jobs and wealth, and that set up a standoff.  When, however, the public learned that the second phase of the project had been exempted from the government’s own laws (a federal environmental review), and  that the health threat was going to approach common fate proportions by endangering  the Fraser, direct action was being mobilized.  Again at  the eleventh hour, the government  acted, public and political will were joined, and civil disobedience was avoided.
   Wiebo Ludwig was the head of an extended  family that had moved to Grand Prairie, Alberta to live a communal lifestyle on an organic farm.  According to Ludwig, the farm soon started experiencing health problems with its animals, crops and even human pregnancies which they attributed to toxic emissions from nearby sour gas wells.  Complaints to the police and government agencies led not only to no action taken but to hostility from local citizenry who were reaping the benefits of the economic boom from local oil and gas extraction.  Feeling extremely isolated and desperate to protect their family, Ludwig and his son -in -law went to the media, but to no avail.  Suddenly a rash of vandalism,   even bombings against sour gas well burners and equipment began to occur.  Using an undercover officer, RCMP were able to implicate the two in the incidents and they were charged.  The matter ended in tragedy when the farm, wary of harassment from locals was invaded one night by a gang of joyriding teenagers.  Apparently frightened for the safety of people camping out on the lawn, someone on the farm fired a shot in the direction of the speeding vehicles and a teenaged girl was fatally wounded.
    Figure 1 shows how the events escalated to violence and even aggression when the farm residents felt not only threatened, then thwarted in their protests, but finally isolated from all three elements of corporate, political and public will.  Terrorism occurs when those threatened see no other recourse but have social support within their own group.  
    These environmental conflicts have been analyzed  from the anthropocentric perspective that is based on values affecting the welfare of people.  Where, however, a biocentric perspective is taken, values are held that give plants and animals an equal or even higher right to exist. Hence the battle that is going on in the Elaho Valley for the preservation of very ancient trees, for not only  does an intense conflict ensue between those profiting from logging jobs and those demanding a halt to logging, but also the escalation to civil disobedience is extremely  rapid as environmental depredation, fear for survival, and common fate are equated.  
    I recall one time as a teenager sitting around in a warehouse at Ontario Central Airways sharing a beer and downing the occasional mouthful  of caviar from a sturgeon my friend, a bushpilot and another friend of mine, a Cree, had just brought into town.  The bushpilot was teasing our aboriginal friend claiming that "the Indians were tearing down the walls of the houses the government had built for them to keep their fires going."  Our Cree friend looked out at the mine headframe on the horizon, at the log boom in the bay, and gently replied: "It must be something we learned from the white man."
    Perhaps a biocentric perspective on the environment is inevitable, even for those who believe that the highest value they can place on environmental health is human survival. Only if the elements of the earth, the air and water, renewed by sufficiently great reserves of wilderness, are functioning as they must on their own can human life achieve long term health and fulfilment. That much we already know.  
                                                                  Works Cited  
Hume, Mark. Fish flounder in the face of Alcan's clout.  Vancouver Sun, January, 8, 1991.
Tataryn, Lloyd. Dying for a Living: The politics of industrial death.  Ottawa: Deneau and Greenberg, 1979.
Windsor, James.  Water Export:  Should Canada's Water Be For Sale?  Cambridge Ontario, Canadian Water Resources Research Association, 1994.

Ehor Boyanowsky is a social psychologist who teaches in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University.  His areas of interest include human violence and aggression, and crimes against the environment, an area in which he has pioneered courses.  He is also a member of the Institute of Fisheries Analysis at SFU, a member of the board of directors of the Wild Salmon Center of Portland Oregon, and of the Habitat Restoration Corporation and a past president of the Steelhead Society of British Columbia