Social Marginalization of Forestry Communities in Sustainability Debates

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The intention of those who defend old growth or denounce overgrazing is not to denounce hard physical work, but that is, in effect, what the articles [in High Country News] do. There are few articles or letters denouncing university professors or computer programmers or accountants or lawyers for sullying the environment, although it is my guess that a single lawyer or accountant [dare he say academic] could, on a good day, put the efforts of Paul Bunyan to shame (White 1995: 185).

... "I turned around and I looked at them, I said, "as we drove through her clear cut, and you walked over her wooden fence, and went into her wooden house, sat on her wooden furniture, looked at her wooden pictures, and we walked outside and sit on the wooden furniture, while they cooked your dinner with wood, "I said, "I want that deal and so does everybody on this planet. How do you propose to get it? That's my question to you." They go, "oh that's not a very fair question", and I said "well, I'm sorry, but I know I have to work for it" ".... Everyone knows what [environmentalists] are trying to do ... ok if you did that, what are you going to wipe your butts with tomorrow?" (forestry town woman living on Vancouver Island 1998).

The challenge posed by Richard White, noted in the first quotation of the epitaph above, remains part of the dilemma of sustaining forestry communities on Canada's West Coast. White (1995) wrote of the need for environmentalism to come to grips with workers who labour in nature, pointing out that white collar workers are as likely, if indirectly, to tear down trees by their labours as their working-class counterparts. A close reading reveals his continuity of concern for workers and for the implications of a romanticized (if racialized and gendered) form of nature in which humans have little part, save through archaic forms of labour. This is now a familiar argument. However, I also draw attention to his situation in society. White writes with empathy and elegance. His work has reached national and international audiences because of his position as a prominent academic, and his ability to hone his craft--the written word--through years of practice. His prose, but not his sentiment, is in marked contrast to the story related by an interviewee in my study area on Vancouver Island, Canada. While she raises similar issues related to labour and environmentalists' hypocrisy, her description is bald, bitter, and downright bawdy. It is in this context, that I wondered how I, a self-described feminist environmental geographer, could use sympathy and skepticism to accurately and sensitively interpret the strong anti-environmental sentiments expressed by forestry-town women living on Canada's West Coast?

The research reported here focuses on how women living in forestry communities on northern Vancouver Island, Canada framed forestry and land use issues as they confronted the restructuring of the forest industry and government policy. I am particularly concerned with women who support industrial forestry. Women of my study group formed part of forestry organizations, they (wo)manned information booths, organized rallies, undertook letter writing campaigns, led forestry tours, and hosted so-called educational events. Some of them even attended the "ecofeminist peace camp" in Clayoquot Sound in 1993 (1). All these actions were taken to show their solidarity with forestry workers and the forest industry at large and to defy the campaigns of environmental organisations aimed at reducing clear cut logging in the temperate rainforests of the West coast.

In this paper, I develop the concept of "social marginalisation" to explain the sentiments of forestry-town women in forestry and land use debates. While social marginalisation is not exclusive to women's experience, I have applied this concept here to gain understanding of the perspectives and activism of forestry-town women in nature protection debates. …