Clayoquot Sound, a Pacific Ocean inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, encompasses over 2,000 Km squared of lush temperate rainforests, which are home to a diverse range of mammals, marine life, insects and distinct indigenous peoples (Walter, 2007). For decades, [insert dates] this breathtakingly stunning and resource-rich region has been a prime target for resource extractions industries, resulting in significant environmental degradation, and triggering mass acts of civil disobedience by local indigenous communities. Manifestation of which can be seen in the form of numerous disputes and protests transpiring through the late 20th century [dates], all in response to widespread deforestation and development (Tindall, 2017). We examine the contemporary and historical relationships between indigenous communities of Clayoquot Sound, BC and the Canadian state in the context of forest resource management practices.



Clayoquot Sound, encompassing approximately 350,000 hectares of land and ocean, is a visually stunning area on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The land portion of this region, bounded by magnificent mountains and valleys, is largely covered with giant old growth trees that mark some of the last remaining ancient temperate rainforests. It is home to a diverse range of mammals, insects, marine-life and birds including wolves, bears, whales, sea lions, orcas and eagles. Vancouver Island’s flourishing temperate climate is fueled by large amounts of rainfall and warm ocean currents.  Here, coexist in harmony, a cohesive network of thriving ecosystems, which are immensely rich in their floristic and faunal diversity. Beyond this mosaic of spectacular wilderness, if one looks closely, they find that Clayoquot Sound is an important historical site, rich with life, resources, and human culture. According to Hoberg et al. (1997), 93% of Clayoquot Sound’s vast wilderness is forested, and almost 75% of those forests are commercially active. This has drawn a lot of attention from resource-extraction industries, resulting in long-standing conflicts over proper control and management of this region. This extended political struggle over land use has undoubtedly had a profound effect in transforming the forest policy regime landscape of British Columbia.  

There are 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and have been there since some 4,000 years ago (Walter, 2007). Three of these Indigenous peoples inhabit traditional territories in Clayoquot Sound: Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, and Ahousaht (Mabee et al., 2004). The first contact of First Nations in the Sound with European settlers happened in the late 1700s during the height of the industrial revolution (Grant, 2013).  For subsequent decades, attacks on foreign ships that came too close were a common occurrence, preventing any outside settlement on their land. Eventually English, Chinese and Japanese colonists began moving into the Sound in the 1890s (Grant, 2013). As this resource-rich region became a prime target for resource extraction industries, settlement grew rapidly resulting in significant environmental degradation and civil unrest (Grant, 2013).

Controversy regarding forest management practices between the forest industry and environmentalists began in the 1970s, and continued to escalate for the subsequent two decades. The conflict originated in 1979, as the provincial government approved the clear-cut logging of Meares Island near Tofino (Walter, 2007). Located across from Clayoquot Sound, this Island was not only an important source for fresh water, but also a sacred site of old-growth forest that held cultural and historical significance for the Ahousaht Peoples (Walter, 2007). Environmental NGOs, along with First Nations engaged in various non-violent tactics, including blockades on logging roads, in an attempt to influence decision-making and sway public opinion. Tensions continued to rise and finally peaked in the early 1990s, as mass protests and acts of civil disobedience to dispute the clear-cut logging of pristine rainforests broke out at unprecedented levels, prompting international headlines.

The spark leading to this peak occurred in 1993, as the provincial government unveiled its plans to establish a clear-cut logging zone in Clayoquot Sound that amounted to 250,000 hectares (Walter, 2007). This zone, covering a staggering 70% of the Sound, is blanketed by valuable old-growth forests and represents the traditional territories of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations. The proposed plan protected areas totaling 33%, however only 14% of that was old-forest growth (Grant, 2010). Furthermore, the aforementioned plan was announced without the proper consultations with the affect Nuu-chah-nulth, on whose traditional territory the Timber Supply Area is located (Hoberg et al., 1997).   Enraged groups of activists, environmentalist, First Nations and locals took to the streets in thousands, setting up roadblocks, confronting police and logging contractors, and launching campaigns aimed at raising awareness and discrediting government policies. The well-documented mass trials that followed the conflict resulted in hundreds of protesters being arrested and charged with civil disobedience (Walter, 2007). This infamous summer of 1993 still remains as the largest incident of civil unrest in Canadian history (Tindall, 2017).

Tenure arrangements

As settlement on Vancouver Island increased and encroached upon the Nuu-chah-nulth territory in the 1930 the Nuu-chah-nulth became involved with the Native Brotherhood of British Colombia, a group formed for the airing of grievances as well as demands for recognition of the Indigenous People of BC (Goetze, 2005). In 1958 the Nuu-chah-nulth formed their tribal council, the Allied Tribes of the West Coast, changing its name to  Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) in 1973. The creation of the NTC allowed for consultation in forestry matters that dealt with tribal lands, and started out successfully. The NTC would alert the forest companies that held freehold tenure to harmful practices that degraded their land and resources, often leading to negotiations as well as restoration contracts given to indigenous owned companies (Goetze, 2005). As the years went on less and less notice was being given to the NTC, allowing for abuse by tree license holders, one example being the clearcut harvest of the forests near Tofino by Macmillan Bloedel which desecrated culturally significant sites as well as threatened the town’s water supply.  The continued exploitation of tribal land lead to the War in the Woods during the summer of 1993, after which an Interim Measures Agreement (IMA) was formed between the government of BC and the Ha-wiih (hereditary chiefs) of Clayoquot Sound in order to create co-management of resources in Clayoquot Sound. With the IMA came the creation of the Central Region Board (CRB), a cooperative management organization with equal amounts of Nuu-chah-nulth and provincial representatives. This gave power to the Nuu-cha-nulth, as a majority of both Nuu-cha-nulth and provincial representative votes were necessary to pass board decisions. The CRB allowed for co-management of resources and greatly reduced the abuses of forestry license holders. More power was given to the Nuu-chah-nulth when the biggest forestry company in Clayoquot Sound sold its licenses to five local First Nations, creating the Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd (Bunsha, 2008). Iisaak practices sustainable forestry and avoids harvesting in intact forests as well as agreed with environmental organizations to not harvest in ecologically intact watersheds. Iisaak faces economic hardships due to restricting themselves from harvesting a good portion of forests in Clayoquat Sound in the name of conservation, both environmental and cultural (Bunsha, 2013). In 2011 Iisaak considered harvesting timber on Flores Island, an intact watershed, which drew much opposition and backlash, halting Iisaak from moving forward (Bunsha, 2013).

Administrative arrangements

The Forest industry in BC is responsible for approximately 32% of all exports, making it the largest component of the province’s economy (Hoberg et al., 1997). BC’s forests, not only generate significant capital from the sales of timber products, but also provide a wealth of services in areas of recreation and ecotourism. Since 95% of the forested land in BC is owned by the province, the provincial government has held ultimate authority over forest policy regimes (Hoberg et al., 1997). The Ministry of Forest in BC is charged with the management of these forests through careful consideration of all of the conflicting values and priorities. Decision-making often comes down to a delicate balancing act of trying to harmonize economic development with environmental responsibility. Historically, BC's forest management regime has been aimed at strictly maximizing profits and achieving sustained yield. Before the rise of environmentalism as a global movement in the 1970s and 1980s, avenues to challenge or appeal government decisions were very limited (Hoberg et al., 1997).

More recently, following the conflicts of the early 1990s, important co-management initiatives have become more frequent. According to Mabee et al. (2004), the task of incorporating two very different knowledge systems into one management campaign, while respecting the values and world-views of both regimes, has been immensely challenging. The issue is intensified even further in a province like British Columbia, where historically there have been few treaties signed and land ownership remains a controversial topic. Nonetheless, the government responded to the conflict by proposing a solution with 2 parts. First, a scientific panel, composed of First Nations elders and scientists, was created in hopes of improving sustainable forest practices in the region. Second, an “Interim Measures Agreement” (IMA) between the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations called for a co-management body to handle this region’s natural resources (Mabee et al., 2004). This was the birth of the Central Region Board (CRB), whose primary objective was to ensure the recommendations of the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel (CSSP) were being properly carried out. The CRB was composed of 5 government-appointed local representatives from non-First Nations communities, and 5 First Nation Members, each representing a distinct regional Nuu-chah-nulth nation (Mabee et al., 2004). A report published by CSSP in 1995 emphasized the importance of equal partnership between the Nuu-chah-nulth and the provincial government. Furthermore, the panel also recommended that this equal partnership be relevant in all levels of decision making and apply to all phases of forest management. Additionally, for instance, where the government fails to appropriately implement a recommendation by the CRB, a dispute resolution process was set in place.

Affected Stakeholders

The local Indigenous People of Clayoquat Sound are the key affected stakeholders, both historically and presently. In years past, before the 1993 War in the Woods, the Indigenous People of Clayoquat Sound's objective was to protect their customary land and to harvest resources on their land on their own accord. The power that they gained with the establishment of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in relation to forestry activities that took place on customary land later waned, resulting in the Nuu-chah-nulth having little say and ability to achieve their objectives. In 1993 the War of the Woods occurred making international news, putting power back into the hands of the Nuu-chah-nulth. The creation of the Interim Measures Agreement as well as the Central Region Board in 1993 granted them rights to the land and a say in future forestry and resource harvesting operations. The creation of Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd. through the purchase of all of the forestry licenses of the largest forestry company in Clayoquat Sound allowed for the objectives of conservation and sustainable harvesting to be met. Iisaak employs a great deal of Indigenous People as well practices sustainable harvesting that tries to mimic nature. [reference] The power of Indigenous People in Clayoquat Sound grew greatly over the decades since 1993 though there is still more to be accomplished.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Timber-harvesting companies who share similar values and economic interests as the state represent the key interested outside stakeholder. Historically, policy regimes have been implemented to maximize economic profits, serving the mutual interests of resource-extraction industries and the government. Companies pay significant amounts in taxes and licensing fees to the state, assuring their harvest of wood products can continue unbound and unchecked (Mabee et al., 2004). The industry in return, provided massive employment opportunities and continued economic development in the rural regions (Hoberg et al., 1997).


The establishment of the Interim Measures Agreement and the Central Region Board in 1993 were advances towards the goals of conserving customary forests as well as sustainable harvesting in traditional tribal areas. Before 1993 the grievances and views of the Nuu-chah-nulth were often cast aside and ignored. however after the War in the Woods they were elevated onto a global scale and the government of BC acted quickly to right some of the wrongs that had been done to the territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth. The creation of the Iisaak Forest Resource Ltd. forestry license holding company was another huge success as this put power into the hands of the Nuu-chah-nulth. Iisaak employed Indigenous People and took the values of the Indigenous People of Clayoquat Sound to heart, avoiding at all costs the harvesting of intact forests and watersheds. In recent years Iisaak faced some economic hardships due to self-implemented restricted harvesting yet refuse to let go of the goal of sustainable harvesting and conservation. Though there are many challenges to be overcome, overall this community forestry project was successful and shows that co-management can put the power of decision making regarding resources on customary lands back into the hands of Indigenous People, right where it should be.  


Upon examining the Clayoquot Sound case study, one can conclude that the dominant actor on the political landscape of forest management has been the provincial government. Furthermore, the federal government has played a significant supporting role [explain]. First Nations on the other hand, along with their traditional knowledge, have largely been ignored and kept in the periphery. Prior to late 1980s, environmentalists and Indigenous peoples of Canada were essentially irrelevant actors in forest management regimes (Hoberg et al., 1997). They were largely excluded from all meaningful discussions, despite being the key affected stakeholder in the region. Essentially, no legally binding or customary authority was in place that could give the First Nations a much needed platform and voice

However, as ideas of conservation and sustainability came to the forefront of development, a drastic paradigm shift can be witnessed. A political landscape of resource management first dominated by the provincial government can now be seen supported by frequent co-management initiatives. Environmental groups launch vast campaigns at raising awareness or arranging mass gatherings to sway public opinion and influence decisions making. First Nations, on the other hand, continue to use the power of law as their political resource to dispute land claims and to ensure their voice is heard as equal partners.


The continued use of co-management initiatives is recommended as it puts power into the hands of the Indigenous People of Clayoquat Sound, power that rightfully belongs to them. Campaigns focused on the conservation of intact watersheds and forests should continue to be implemented as they spread the message of sustainable harvesting and conservation farther than Clayoquat Sound. The more widespread and frequent the campaigns, the more likely the goal of conservation and sustainable harvesting will not be forgotten or cast aside. The example of the Indigenous People of Clayoquat Sound should be at the forefront of discussion regarding forestry and natural resources on customary lands, and awareness of the right for this voice to be heard should be made through campaigns in order for it to never be silenced.


Bunsha, D. (2013, August 19). What Clayoquot Sound Faces Now. Retrieved from

Fabig, H., & Boele, R. (2003). Timber Logging in Clayoquot Sound, Canada: Community-Corporate Partnerships and Community Rights. Transnational Corporations and Human Rights,188-215. doi:10.1057/9781403937520_9

Goetze, T. (2005). Empowered Co-management: Towards Power-Sharing and Indigenous Rights in Clayoquot Sound, BC.  Canadian Anthropology Society.Retrieved from

Grant, P. (2010, August 12). Clayoquot Sound. Retrieved March 2, 2019, from

Hoberg, G., & Morawski, E. (1997). Policy Change Through Sector Intersection: Forest and Aboriginal Policy in Clayoquot Sound. Canadian Public Administration/Administration Publique Du Canada,40(3), 387-414. doi:10.1111/j.1754-7121.1997.tb01516.x

Mabee, H. S., & Hoberg, G. (2004). Equal Partners? Assessing Comanagement of Forest Resources in Clayoquot Sound. Society & Natural Resources,19(10), 875-888. doi:10.1080/08941920600901668

Tindall, D. (2013, August 12). Twenty Years After the Protest, What We Learned from Clayoquot Sound. Retrieved from

Walter, P. (2007). Adult Learning In New Social Movements: Environmental Protest and the Struggle for the Clayoquot Sound Rainforest. Adult Education Quarterly,57(3), 248-263. doi:10.1177/0741713606297444

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