Living History

Amid the towering, old-growth forests of British Columbia, American college students are working alongside aboriginal foresters to map the location of cedar trees that bear signs of ancestral use, a project that will help preserve the history of the Nuu-chah-nulth Indians.

This "culturally marked" cedar tree had its bark stripped by ancient Indians. Photo: Vishal Grover

This "culturally marked" cedar tree had its bark stripped by ancient Indians.

Often 500 to 2,000 years old, these so-called culturally modified trees (CMTs) contain ax and tool cuts indicating where wood was removed to make weapons or other living implements. In some cases, long vertical marks suggest the tree was used as a canoe blank, or that planks were stripped to build a lodge.

For the Nuu-chah-nulth, these trees are living history books, a last vestige of cultural heritage and, most important, an embodiment of their spiritual beliefs and source of medicine. As a result, they want the Canadian government to save specific trees from the rapidly advancing logging companies.

Cedar trees along the Pacific Northwest coast grow to 300 feet and are in great demand. An unmilled yellow cedar log can bring $30,000. Under current forest practices, entire cutblocks of cedar are felled without consideration for that part of aboriginal history that dies with them. But those practices could soon change.

Students from The School for Field Studies, an international study-abroad program based in Beverly, Massachusetts and focused on environmental problem-solving, are joining with Huu-ay-aht and Ahouset Indian guides to clearly identify the CMTs. They are using compasses, global-positioning devices and computer-mapping programs to find the trees.

Michael Quinn, former field director for the school’s Center for Coastal Studies in Bamfield, British Columbia, says that aboriginals are split over whether to preserve CMTs or welcome jobs offered by logging companies, principally MacMillan Bloedel.

Dennis Morgan, the school’s coastal ecologist, says that hundreds of CMTs have been identified on Vancouver Island, some more significant than others. “A lot of them are common bark strippings. But others are plank trees, where actual planks have been stripped out.”

Among the First Nation bands, knowledge of the cedar trees is imparted orally from one generation to the next. “It’s treated confidentially,” says Morris Sutherland, a member of the Ahouset tribe and cultural liaison officer to the Ministry of Forestry in Port Alberni. “Our tribes have always known where and when our ancestors used the trees, and for what purposes, but these things were kept among us,” he says.

In two surveys last spring, students from The School for Field Studies, along with Indian guides, positively identified 130 culturally-modified trees on a Vancouver Island cutblock slated for harvesting. The Huu-ay-aht have requested the Canadian government spare the cutblock and designate it a Cultural Heritage Site under Canada’s Heritage Conservation Act. So far, the government hasn’t acted.


Center for Coastal Studies
General Delivery
Bamfield, British Columbia
VOR1B0, Canada
Tel. (250) 728-2390

—David Liscio


Glen Canyon Dam was built in the late 1950s as part of the Colorado River Storage Project, designed to ensure that the states in the lower basin of the Colorado River would have a stable water supply. The strategy was much-debated back then, because of the environmental impact on the whole river basin, and it remains hotly contested today. Building the dam obliterated a highly scenic canyon and created Lake Powell; now environmentalists are trying to muster support for draining the lake and saving a vanished ecosystem.

“This is one of the greatest environmental tragedies of all times,” says Richard Ingebretsen, founder and president of the Glen Canyon Institute. Two years ago, the institute was formed to study the implications of draining Lake Powell in an effort to restore Colorado River ecosystems. “The big dams aren’t the panacea that everyone thought they were,” says Ingebretsen.

Ingebretsen says many of Glen Canyon’s natural bridges, waterfalls and canyons were lost during the last 30 years, and even more is at stake now as Lake Powell continues to fill. The lake is plagued with water evaporation problems (losing a million and a half acre-feet a year) and siltation, and the extinction of several native fish species is imminent. “We’re changing the entire ecosystem into a bland trout stream,” he says.

Glen Canyon Dam is a relic of the fabulous 50s, when such large scale projects were common. Should the dam be removed now that we know better? Photo: Dave Wegner/Glen Canyon Institute

Glen Canyon Dam is a relic of the fabulous 50s, when such large scale projects were common. Should the dam be removed now that we know better?

On the other side of the battle stands Larry Tarp and Friends of Lake Powell, which sees the proposal as an attack on their community and its economic stability. “To think about turning back the hands of time by removing one of 11 dams on the Colorado is ridiculous,” says Tarp. “We would end up with the ugliest area.”

Tarp, who lives near the dam, says his coalition supports the maintenance and environmental improvement of Lake Powell through viable alternatives, but not its draining. He says that proposal would not only affect the 22 million people who rely on Glen Canyon as a water storage center and electricity generator, but would also devastate the town of Page, Arizona and its $500 million tourist economy, built around recreation facilities at the lake.

While both sides continue to gather support and data, the Sierra Club has given its support to the Glen Canyon Institute, which is trying to prepare a Citizen Environmental Assessment on draining the lake. “I think the next step is to develop new information and analysis of what can be done,” says Rob Smith, southwest staff director for the Sierra Club.


Glen Canyon Institute
PO Box 23369
Flagstaff, AZ 86002-3369
Tel. (520) 779-5350

Sierra Club
85 Second Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-3441
Tel. (415) 977-5500

Friends of Lake Powell
PO Box 7007
Page, AZ 86040
Tel. (520) 353-2228

—Anne W. Wilke


What do a concrete pink dinosaur, rows of rejected toilet bowls, a working Rolls-Royce and an immense pile of junked computer hard drives have in common? They’ve all been dumped in the ocean to start new lives-as artificial reefs. It’s a controversial practice, indeed: sound environmental management to some; ocean dumping to others.

Artificial reefs, in one form or another, have been used by fishermen to attract fish for 200 years. Japanese fishing villages experimented with artificial reefs in the late 1700s, and they were first constructed in the U.S. in the 1830s. There’s no doubt that fish do congregate around them, often within hours of deployment. Studies have shown that a well-constructed artificial reef can attract as many fish as local natural reefs, and greatly increase fish catches.

With this knowledge in hand, both amateur and commercial fishermen in the U.S. have sunk everything from tires to ships to concrete pilings. In Florida alone, 571 permitted artificial reefs have been deployed, and the number

of illegal reefs is probably far greater.

This artificial tire reef in Cozumel, Mexico attracts fish, but at what cost? Photo: Index Stock Photography

This artificial tire reef in Cozumel, Mexico attracts fish, but at what cost?

California takes a more cautious approach. It has allowed only 35 artificial reefs-mostly constructed from natural quarry rock-to aid in research, fishing and repair of environmental damage. Dave Parker, a California Department of Fish and Game biologist, says many oil drilling companies are offering to build artificial reefs to offset habitat damage from oil exploration. Even some California shipping harbors have expressed interest in creating reefs to compensate for dredging damage.

The California Coastal Commission, however, recently approved a plan to start construction of a 150-acre artificial kelp reef made from concrete. The reef, by far the largest in the state, is sponsored by California Edison and offsets kelp damage done by the company’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

But James Bohnsack, a Florida-based research biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), says artificial reefs don’t increase fish populations. “Artificial reefs simply concentrate fish, making them easier to catch,” he says. Kathleen Matthews, then a student at the University of Washington, studied both artificial and natural reefs for a 1985 report in The Bulletin of Marine Science. She found fish populations at artificial reefs to be “very similar” to those at nearby reefs, with no new species observed. Matthews concluded that fish were merely moving from one reef to the other; she failed to find that the artificial reefs stimulated fish growth.

Jeff Polovina, a Hawaii-based NMFS biologist, agrees with Matthews. “There’s no evidence that if you put out an enormous volume [of artificial reef habitat] you’re going to get an enormous increase in fish productivity,” he says. Other critics add that allowing artificial underwater environments sets a dangerous precedent, like knocking down historical landmarks to make way for Disney recreations.

With that evidence, why are artificial reefs so popular? “People like to sink things,” says Bohnsack.


PO Box 430
Key West, FL 33041
Tel. (305) 294-3100

—Robert Mazurek


Threatened by overfishing, illegal poaching and pollution, one of the world’s great “living fossils” may be coming to the end of its 250-million-year existence.

Sturgeon-bony-plated, bottom-dwelling ocean fish famous for the expensive caviar eggs they produce-take up to 25 years to sexually mature and can live up to 150 years. Old Russian fisherman nostalgically remember the days when it was difficult to steer boats in waterways because of the profusion of these ancient creatures.

About 90 percent of commercial caviar is produced by just three sturgeon species in the Caspian Sea—the world’s largest lake bordering the former Soviet Union. Full-grown belugas-the largest and most prized of the sturgeon clan-can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and carry over two million eggs, worth over $300,000 on foreign markets.

The Caspian Sea is now witnessing a convergence of environmental plagues threatening sturgeon-from severe water pollution (caused by sewage dumping and industrial runoff) and overfishing to dams and uninforced regulation. TRAFFIC USA, a division of the World Wildlife Fund, reports that laboratory analysis of Caspian caviar purchased from retailers in London found concentrations of DDT, PCBs and mercury in all samples tested.

But politics have been the sturgeon’s real demise overseas. A decade ago, their numbers were protected by strict Soviet enforcement in the Caspian. Dr. Vadim Birstein, researcher at the World Conservation Union’s Sturgeon Society, says the lack of law enforcement in the former Soviet Union is the problem now. “The system is corrupt, and border guards do what they want concerning poachers.”

According to TRAFFIC USA’s Holly Reed, poaching continues to escalate around the Caspian. “In 1995, illegal catches accounted for 90 percent of all sturgeons caught in the north Caspian Sea basin,” she says. “To compound the problem, caviar consumption appears to be on the rise in the U.S.”

Researchers study the threatened Atlantic sturgeon, at risk because of pollution, dam-building and flood controls. Photo: M.B. Bain

Researchers study the threatened Atlantic sturgeon, at risk because of pollution, dam-building and flood controls.

Sturgeons’ large size—and predictable river spawning and migrating patterns—make them easy prey for fisherman and poachers alike, forcing world leaders to agree last June, at the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to list all sturgeon species on Appendix II, classifying them as threatened, but allowing limited trade.

“North America once played an important role in caviar production, but by 1910, most of the commercially-harvested species were nearly extinct and production all but ceased,” says Reed. Five North American sturgeon species are federally listed as endangered or threatened, including the Atlantic sturgeon. Mississippi and Missouri River sturgeon are at risk because of hydroelectric damming, flood controls and industry pollution. Meanwhile, researchers hope the CITES regulations, effective April 1st, will dampen caviar’s popularity, and give sturgeon some much-needed breathing room.


1250 24th Street NW
Washington, DC 20037
Tel. (202) 293-4800

—Tracey C. Rembert


Non-profit environmental groups are chronically underfunded, so it must have seemed like a dream last September when three San Francisco-based organizations received calls informing them they were to each get $1 million (paid over four years) to further their work. The donor was the also San Francisco-based Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, administrator of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

The groups-Earth Island Institute (EII), Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and International Rivers Network (IRN)-are known for their effectiveness and hard-hitting activism. They are to use the funds-doled out over four years-for new projects.

“I hope it’s productive,” says Richard Goldman, the fund’s president. “We knew these three organizations because they’re headquartered locally, and we respect the energies they put into making the world a better place. Each has struggled for money over the years. These grants will hopefully inspire them to go a step beyond where they would otherwise go.”

Duane Silverstein, the fund’s executive director, adds that “experience has taught us that grassroots groups can accomplish a tremendous amount when working internationally. We wanted to see what they could get done if we gave them a really significant amount of money.”

The groups are already launching new projects. RAN, the world’s best-known campaigner against rainforest destruction, will expand its scope internationally. According to spokesman Mark Westlund, the Goldman funds will be applied to launching a new Japanese-language page on the World Wide Web (to publicize the group’s boycott of the Mitsubishi Corporation, among other issues); to start a campaign in Africa; and to compile a “State of the Rainforest” repor

t, which will also be posted on the web. “We think it’s a great honor to have been chosen,” Westlund says. “It’s wonderful to have the support to create these new projects.”

All three of the groups funded by Richard Goldman (inset) and the Goldman Fund endorse non-violent direct action. Photos: Goldman Foundation (left); International Rivers Network (right)

All three of the groups funded by Richard Goldman (inset) and the Goldman Fund endorse non-violent direct action. Photos: Goldman Foundation (left); International Rivers Network (right)

EII is an umbrella organization, founded by pioneer David Brower, that sponsors more than 30 grassroots projects, from ReThink Paper to The Urban Habitat Program and the Siberia-based Baikal Watch. John Knox, EII’s executive director, considers the new funding a challenge. “Can smaller activist organizations…demonstrate that the funding of well-organized grassroots initiatives has a real payoff in campaign results?” he asks.

IRN is the only grassroots group working globally to protect rivers and watersheds. Many of its campaigns focus on stopping huge dam projects, like the proposed Maheshwar Dam in India and the huge Three Gorges Dam in China. Juliette Majot, IRN’s deputy director, says IRN will use its new funding to further projects in Latin America and Southern Africa. “We want to drive the final coffin nail in the billion-dollar dam industry,” she says.


Earth Island Institute
300 Broadway, Suite 28
San Francisco, CA 94133
Tel. (415) 788-3666

Richard and Rhonda Goldman Fund
1 Lombard Street, Suite 303
San Francisco, CA 94111
Tel. (415) 788-1090

International Rivers Network
1847 Berkeley Way
Berkeley, CA 94703
Tel. (510) 848-1155

Rainforest Action Network
221 Pine Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94104
Tel. (415) 398-4404

—Jim Motavalli