Traveling Companions

Gray whales are leading tourists, conservationists and business operators on a rocky voyage toward economic and environmental salvation.

While the question of millions of gallons of raw, untreated sewage being dumped into the coastal waters is not addressed in any sort of detail, the report does note in passing: "The community currently discharges sewage into the ocean. Many residents believe that Tofino's place in an international Biosphere Reserve is compromised by the lack of advance wastewater treatment."

Elsewhere, the document suggests that the district should explore "alternative" wastewater treatments that are "environmentally friendly." Specifics are lacking.

Stage 3 water shortages are not mentioned, though the document does mention water, if only briefly: "Extension of sewer and water lines will eventually be limited by the availability of water supply. The community will need to address long term water supply issues."

Chris Gall
Fish farmers like Bill Vernon find themselves lectured by eco-tourism operators, who urge their guests to boycott farm-reared salmon.
Michael Lacey
Fish farmers like Bill Vernon find themselves lectured by eco-tourism operators, who urge their guests to boycott farm-reared salmon.


The recovery of the Eastern Pacific gray whale from the brink of extinction is the single greatest turnaround of a marine mammal population. In New Times" special project "Shades of Gray," reporters from several of our papers have traveled from Baja to the Bering Sea to tell the complex tale of a creature whose 12,000-mile instinctual journey places it squarely in the path of myriad human cultural conflicts. The trek follows the competing interests of Indians, scientists, environmentalists, tourists and local residents.

In this last installment of the series, Executive Editor Michael Lacey joins travelers in search of the gray whale to examine the burgeoning eco-tourism industry along the Pacific coast, the people who venture into the wild, and the impact of the whale-watching business on local communities and cultures.

Read the entire series

The document encourages the study of Kennedy Lake as a water source.

The issue of worker housing is discussed somewhat more fully, though the most concrete guideline is that in the future new hotels should provide housing for their own employees, a concept that is, at best, a sop.

Education is only mentioned in the most backhanded sort of way. The same is true of police and firemen.

The word "child" does not appear once in the Official Community Plan.

MacKinnon, the public works superintendent, estimates that Tofino's share of the cost to pump water out of Kennedy Lake might eventually cost between $2 million and $3 million -- coincidentally, the same cost voters deemed too steep for the failed community hall. The Official Community Plan makes no mention of how this money will be found.

MacKinnon pegs studies of secondary treatment of sewage showing an expense of another $30 million. The village's direct costs will be $10 million.

Sewage treatment has not even reached the application stage and Vernon guesses that if the superintendent submitted a plan needing $10 million from Tofino he would be "run out of town."

The largest section of the Official Community Plan is devoted to measuring "Quality of Life." Here, "process driven" mastication attempts to outline how residents should take their own temperature in the future using 14 separate yardsticks, one more vague than the next.

If residents hold to the plan, they will obtain "windows onto the complexities of modern life, by offering means of measuring changes to quality of life. Indicators help communities to build participation, set priorities, develop action plans and track progress toward the community vision."

All of the new Quality of Life thermometers are necessary because "past performance measures did not link economic, environmental and social progress."

Despite the report's contention that past measures of the village's well-being were inadequate, Tofino has certainly been examined.

In a review of 26 different communities in British Columbia in 2000, from worst off to best off, the greater Tofino area came in dead last, where once it had been first. Compiled by the provincial government, the study examined economic hardship (Tofino third worst), crime (Tofino fifth worst), and health, education, children and youth -- in all of those indicators, Tofino ranked at the very bottom.

"Eco-tourism doesn't pay a decent standard of living," explains Thomas Esakin, recently resigned executive director of the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust. "It's poverty."

Esakin underlines the obvious, that the collapse of the fishery and curtailment of logging threw people out of work. He charges that environmentalists and promoters of eco-tourism are "blind to poverty."

He is alarmed that after all of the logging reforms put in place following the demonstrations and arrests in '93, environmentalists show so little ability to compromise or move forward.

The head of the Biosphere points to Shark Creek where Iisaak, First Nation's joint venture with Weyerhaeuser, wants to log.

The proposed cut satisfied each of the environmental checks established to curb forest abuses: the Memorandum of Understanding, the Scientific Panel, and the Central Region Board. Yet FOCS' newsletter attacked the cut.

Soon, slick posters blanketed Clayoquot Sound arguing to save Shark Creek.

Iisaak forester Cindy Hazenboom said she received nearly 600 postcards of protest that had been distributed in Tofino to eco-tourists.

Tied up in the application process for a full year over Shark Creek, Iisaak harvested no trees in 2001.

"Saving every tree is not sustainable development," says Esakin.

Esakin says whale watching and kayaking and all of eco-tourism cannot, by itself, sustain a community, and that the effort to do so has created enormous rifts in the population.

"This region is unhealthy socially," says Esakin. "I've worked with diverse and conflicted groups in the past. But here it goes beyond mediation."

People have to live on this planet, he notes, and poverty is conservation's worst enemy.

Furthermore, Tofino not only shows no intention of restricting the number of visitors, according to Esakin, it refuses to address the costs of eco-tourism.

"You can no longer find a sand dollar on Long Beach."

The wages upon a community dependent on eco-tourism are more than environmental.

The Anglicans of St. Columba's have seen deficits of 12 percent a year that they cannot seem to make up. They hope that God will provide, but they do not sit idle. Last year, they began meeting in each other's homes to pray for Tofino.

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