Shrooming Vancouver Island’s Stumpfields

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Shrooming in Vancouver Island’s Stumpfields
by Ingmar Lee
Every autumn I head out towards Jordan River to pick wild mushrooms. Years ago, having comprehended the scale of the industrial decimation of fish worldwide, I quit one of my favourite pastimes and channelled my predatory proclivities into the hunt for mushrooms instead.
The delight of discovering a luscious patch of mushrooms easily compares with the thrill of catching fish. But these days it’s getting more and more difficult to find a forest where wild mushrooms grow.

A few years ago, I used to go searching for matsutake, also known as pine mushrooms, which only grow in primeval forests. Perhaps because of its purported aphrodisiacal qualities, the matsutake is much sought after by Japanese, who will pay up to $150 for three prime specimens.
These mushrooms are picked during the day, trucked to Vancouver at night, and then flown straight to Japan the next morning. The matsutake business is a completely underground  multi-million dollar industry in British Columbia, and in the past, the picking was often so profitable that people would employ helicopters to get the crop out. But everything in the BC woods defers to the logging industry and now, on Vancouver Island, the primeval forests where matsutakes grow have been virtually exterminated.

These days, I’ve taken to going after chanterelles instead, which occur en masse in second-growth forests. But here on south island, even these immature forests have now been levelled again by voracious logging corporations such as TimberWest, Western Forest Products (WFP) and the untrackable flipping corporate spawn of the American logging giant, Weyerhaeuser, which cut and ran from the island several years ago.
These giant corporations, which are guided by the long-term “forestry” vision of quarterly dividends to unit-holders have logged out virtually all of Vancouver Island’s second-growth timber profile right down to 30 year-old “pecker-poles” which can barely produce a 2X4. All over southern Vancouver Island, the logging industry has gated off most of the roads leading out to the woods, so the public will not easily see the ecological massacre that goes on back there.

The other day, when I arrived at my reliable old chanterelle patch -after climbing over the gate- I was disgusted, although not surprised, to see WFP’s latest example of sustainable, “World Class” logging. Instead of our once public forest, I was met with a 100 hectare steaming stumpfield, which featured a solitary clump of 5 teetering trees left behind in the middle of the clearcut.
This was an example of the farcical greenwashing scam of “variable retention” logging. By leaving five pathetic trees which will all blow over in the next wind, Western expects to maintain the PR chimera that it logs in a sustainable, ethical manner. From the air, the outright scandal of variable retention can be seen at a glance, with single solitary trees left every hundred metres, or with timber left standing in a road bight so that when it blows down, it can be easily removed by obtaining the easily available ‘salvage permit,’ or with the very worst, worthless timber in the cutblock left behind for ``structural representation.`` As far as the eye can see, massive clearcuts stretch out from horizon to horizon.

Having totally exhausted the timber resource, these massive forest-destroying corporations, with a little help from their government lackey, can now provide their unit-holders with far more enormous returns by getting out of forestry altogether and selling off the stumpfields.
Jordan River is just the most current scam in BC’s sordid history of “log-and-flog” deforestation. Thanks to Logging Minister Rich Coleman, WFP was able to sleaze 70,000 acres out of their Vancouver Island tree farm licence. Having logged it flat, they are now selling it all off for real estate. Same deal with Victoria’s current development monstrosity at Bear Mountain, which was public forest land until the arrival of Gordon Campbell’s Neo-con regime. Although environmental requirements for the logging of BC’s public forests are laughable, there are absolutely no restrictions on the damage which can be done on private land. Once these lands are taken out of the TFL, the logging companies can mercilessly gut the forests without any regulatory hindrance, and then subdivide and sell off the land to developers.

The Ministry of Logging has such little interest in Non-Timber Forest Products that this potentially massive resource is ignored in the provincial GIS database. People who harvest wild produce are finding it increasingly difficult to sell as the government tightens regulations around the food chain. Certainly none of the corporate food stores such as Thrifty’s, Safeway or Save-On Foods will have anything to do with wild produce, and by the look of it, prefer to stock their shelves with industrially-grown “Money’s” mushroom-type products. Smaller grocers like Peppers, The Market on Yates and Lifestyles are selling chanterelles and other wild mushrooms for as much as $17.95 a pound. A few years ago, many of Victoria’s gourmet restaurants were eager to buy chanterelles from pickers, but these days, many chefs, such as at Swans (owned by UVic) didn’t even know what a chanterelle was when I showed up with 20 pounds of fresh-picked mushrooms the other day.

The Campbell regime has been an utter catastrophe for Vancouver Island’s forests, and with the WFP Jordan River sell-off and the awful Bear Mountain development precedents, our botanical splendours are being ripped off and ruined, never to return. It’s a monumental tragedy that our second growth forests, which once offered the opportunity to practice ethical, sustainable logging (there is no such thing as ethical logging in the Earth’s final primeval forests) as well as the harvesting of a variety of non-timber resources, are being squandered now, mostly for the American raw-log market, and then being flipped for subdivision development. How did this happen? Well, when the Gordon Campbell regime came to power, 7 of their top-ten election financiers were logging companies which contributed about $1.5 million to his campaign. It’s shameful how cheaply these corporations bought themselves a BC government.


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