Spotted Owls or Forest Workers by Stephen Vogler Garth Phare sits with his elbows on the table at Phil's Drive-Inn in Pemberton. These are the elbows of a logger, as have been most of the elbows which have parked themselves on this thick, wooden table. As Phare discusses his family logging practice, it becomes clear the topic of the Northern Spotted Owl has affected this small logging community — where timber harvesting is as deeply ingrained in the economic and social reality of life as the deep, brown grains running through the polished fir tabletop. Phare and others who earn their keep in the bush are struggling to come to terms with a bird that could be a harbinger of the future — a future where the elbows on the tables at Phil's Drive-Inn might not belong to loggers. "The spotted owl issue hasn't affected us much yet," he says, "but it will within the next two years. We have a five-year contract right now. Three years of that logging has been put on hold because of the owl." The woman at the next table lends an ear in our direction. This is a hot topic in these parts. For generations, Pemberton has been a logging town — and proud of it. The town of 600 was built on timber dollars and continues to rely heavily on the forest industry. But just about two years ago, when biologists discovered a nesting pair of Northern Spotted Owls in the Squamish Forest District, loggers, environmentalists and folks of every ilk in between dug in and prepared for a showdown in the woods. Environmentalists and many biologists maintain the decision on how to preserve B.C.'s spotted owls, the northernmost population of the species in the world, should be a biological one. Forest workers and politicians say the decision should be made on a socio-economic basis, so the endangered bird doesn't push the logging industry to extinction Phare, 30, runs Thuro Logging Ltd. with his brother and his dad. The small operation, which his father started 35 years ago in Birken, employs seven regular employees and hires about 20 fallers and truck drivers. Having seen the job losses that resulted in Washington and Oregon when large tracts of land were set aside for the spotted owl in 1992, forestry workers are rallying against large preservation areas. Phare says that in his cut area at least 20 years of old growth remains, a figure which environmentalists in the area would view with some alarm. But Phare says the demand for wood in the world is continually increasing. He raps his knuckles on the thick slab of wood that separates us: "When you stop consuming (wood products) I can stop logging." So when does a biological decision become a political one? When politicians become involved. Four years in the making, the Canadian Spotted Owl Recovery Team's options report for the protection of the owl was released last month. Loggers are still working, environmental protesters are still protesting and there are owls in the woods. The SORT report, Management Options for the Northern Spotted Owl in B.C., is to go to the provincial cabinet once a socio-economic report on the possible effects of the spotted owl options, compiled by Crane Consultants of Vancouver, is released later this month. The province hasn't given a date for a final decision on the spotted owl issue but one thing is certain, the local forest industry is going to be affected. Two years ago, the Annual Allowable Cut in the Soo Timber Supply Area, of which the Squamish Forest District is part, was cut back 18 per cent. Another review in the Soo TSA has just been completed and all indications point to further reductions as timber harvesting in the area still hovers 17 per cent above what the forest district manager has determined to be the sustainable level. The future of the spotted owl is also in jeopardy. In 1986 it was listed as an endangered species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. The owl debate quickly becomes polarized between forestry jobs and the environment. The climate of confrontation between the two camps leaves little room for compromise. It was in this climate that the mayors of Squamish, Lions Bay, Whistler and Pemberton, as well as the Chairman of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, got together to create the Sea To Sky Peoples' Option Working Group. The Peoples' Option was touted as a community-based proposal which would balance all interests and deliver a unique, locally created plan to the provincial cabinet. What better approach for solving land use disputes than one which grows out of the communities affected? But, the Peoples' Option, which later became the Mayors' Option, has been challenged as lacking in scientific credibility and in not following a democratic process. The idea for the Peoples' Option was first suggested to Forest Minister Andrew Petter at a meeting with the Soo Coalition For Sustainable Forests in Squamish on May 26, 1994. The Soo Coalition is a forest industry lobby group which was formed when spotted owls were first confirmed in the Soo TSA. Mayors Ted Nebbeling, John Steward and Corinne Lonsdale of Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish respectively, are all members and ex-officio directors of the Soo Coalition. Nebbeling is registered with the Societies Act in Victoria as one of the five principals. Mike O'Neil, a forest consultant who wrote portions of the Mayors' Option and a member of the Mayors' Option Advisory Group, is another of the principals. But local environmentalists wonder about the lack of public input in a plan said to be designed by, and for, the public. "I've been looking into bio-regional planning with emphasis upon local, community decision making. If this is their idea of local decision making, then they're on the wrong track," says Liz Scroggins of Mount Currie. An environmental science student, Scroggins says politics may have been a large factor in the creation of the Mayors' Options. "The fact that the resource issues of this area were in the hands of four mayors and a regional director is ludicrous," she says. "Who do they think they are to make all these decisions for this area? They're playing God." Nebbeling defends the process of the Mayors' Working Group, saying: "If it had gone totally public then every other special interest group would have taken that mayors' report and just focused on their own elements... We listened to the Ministry of Forests, we listened to the Soo Coalition, we listened to the Ministry of Environment, and then the mayors said, ‘Thank you very much, get out, we're going to put our thoughts (together) with all the information.’" While the Mayors' Option was being put together, the provincial Ministry of Environment's Spotted Owl Recovery Team was creating its own report on how to deal with land use issues involving the spotted owl. The SORT report was made public in December, after portions of it were leaked to the Vancouver Sun. SORT is an eight-member team with representation from B.C. Environment, the University of B.C., B.C. Council of Forest Industries, Canadian Wildlife Service, B.C. Truck Loggers Association and the Northwest Wildlife Preservation Society. In its report, SORT looked at the spotted owl's historical abundance, its habitat requirements and the threats to its survival. They then devised a range of recovery options based on three parameters: range of spotted owl management, size of Spotted Owl Conservation Areas and timber management within SOCAS. Seventeen options were created and six were presented to cabinet, ranging from maximum to minimum protection of the owl. The options which would de-list the owl from its endangered status propose a system of SOCAS large enough to sustain two or more breeding pairs of owls. The report says 3,200 hectares of old growth forest are needed for a nesting pair of owls. In the Soo TSA there would be eight SOCAS, ranging from 7,200 hectares to 14,885 hectares. Two options would retain 67 per cent old growth within those SOCAS. It is this system of SOCAS that the Mayors' Option rejects. The SORT report utilizes findings from A Conservation Strategy for the Northern Spotted Owl, a report developed in the U.S. in 1990 by the Interagency Scientific Committee. Mayor Nebbeling questions the validity of using American data in determining the size of SOCAS: "The standards that are created in the States, you cannot just transplant them to B.C," he says. As an alternative to the SOCAS, the Mayors' Option proposes a system of Wildlife Corridors to accommodate the owl and other wildlife needs. Where SOCAS would create a reduction of 18 per cent in the Soo TSA Annual Allowable Cut, the Wildlife Corridor system would only require a two per cent reduction. Jeff Morgan, forest ecosystem specialist for the Squamish Forest District and member of the Mayors' Advisory Resource Group, questions the credibility of the corridor scheme. In a memo to the Mayors' Working Group on Aug. 15, 1994, Morgan states that the corridor scheme "fragments spotted owl habitat into units that are much smaller than those recommended by SORT." Morgan adds "the maintenance of 66 per cent of the forest at ages greater than 80 years... falls short of what SORT considers essential to the maintenance of the population." He points out that much of the habitat in the proposed corridors is inoperable, and other protected areas in the Mayors' Option, such as 19 Mile Creek and 21 Mile Creek, have not been determined by qualified biologists to provide suitable owl habitat. If integrated resource use is to work it will require a large degree of compromise from all parties, and some careful balancing by cabinet. The mayors will send their report to cabinet, which will also receive the SORT report and the socio-economic report being prepared by Crane Consultants. If a provincial election doesn't further muddy the issue, Victoria will find a solution to integrating foresters and owls within these documents.