British Columbia

Environmentalist turns to online campaign to protect B.C. forest

A veteran environmental campaigner is putting down her placard and turning on her computer to use social networks to reinvigorate an environmental campaign

A veteran West Coast environmental campaigner is putting down her placard and turning on her computer, using social networks to reinvigorate an environmental campaign.

Valerie Langer, the director of Forest Ethics' B.C. coast campaign, said she's concerned the B.C. government may be "getting jitters" about making hard decisions on logging in the area known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

Langer, one of the key organizers of the Clayoquot Sound blockades in the 1990s, has spent close to two decades organizing rallies and protests to prevent large areas of the province from being clear-cut.

But this time, rather than lying in front of logging trucks, she's trying to organize massive support online, using blogs and social networks to pressure the government to meet its own deadline.

The campaign by Forest Ethics, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club of B.C. is called Keep the Promise, and focuses on an agreement reach by the B.C. government, First Nation, logging companies and enviromental groups in 2006 to protect almost up to two million hectares of land on the B.C. central and north coast.

But environmentalists say some steps are still need to be completed by the deadline of March. The 2006 agreement also included legislating a full ecosystem-based management plan for an additional 4.4 million hectares of rainforest outside of the protected areas, said Langer.

"This is the hard part," said Langer earlier this week. "That takes time, and with only four months left until the deadline, we don't have the language [for the management plan] yet. It's giving us a little bit of concern."

Online word of mouth

To fire up the online campaign, Forest Ethics hired marketer and veteran blogger Darren Barefoot to organize it and encourage the online community to participate.

The blogs and social networking sites are proving effective to spread their message, Langer said.

The campaign has appeared on dozens of popular blogs and networking sites around the world. They include Facebook and Twitter, and in some other more unexpected places.

"In Europe, for example, it's been on blogs in Germany because they care about bears, Bears really have a lot of resonance with Germans," said Langer.

"In the United States, we're finding this is getting picked up even on religious blogs, which are wanting to save Creation. It resonates with some of the religious groups, and we've had over a hundred letters from a woman who has a very religiously focused blog."

Supporters have been sending about 100 e-mails per day to the B.C. government through the group's website, said Langer.

But, she says, she'll be ready to turn to more traditional forms of protest, if the online campaign doesn't succeed.

"It's a way to send a message that's very encouraging," says Langer. "We're not at the point where we're on blockades, but we really need to be firm. The world cares about this. We think they're going to encourage the premier."

Forest Ethics is also in face-to-face talks with government representatives, including Forestry Minister Pat Bell, to work on the management plan, says Langer.


With files from Lisa Johnson