An Open Letter To Robert Kennedy, Jr.

Environment, Robert Sopuck, Rural

June 10, 2004

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Recently you swooped into Manitoba to “save the world’s boreal forests.” Quite frankly, most rural Canadians are sick to death of foreign “eco-imperialists” who claim to want to help rural people but whose real goals are no less than the destruction of Canada’s sustainable resource economies. The people of northern Manitoba are merely pawns in your dubious crusade.

Northern, rural and aboriginal people need only to look at the wreckage wrought by the destruction of the seal hunt across Canada, largely engineered by rich and famous people like yourself. According to a National Post article by Heather Myers and Tracy Summerville from the University of Northern British Columbia, the effects of such activism were devastating to the populations, whose incomes collapsed: “Revenues of $13 million per year in 1981 (roughly split between Inuit hunting adult seals and Newfoundlanders hunting pups) dropped to less than $3 million in 1983.” The authors describe the consequences, “a staggering suicide rate” and a reduction of proud harvesting communities to welfare dependency.

As for Manitoba’s boreal forest, industries have been harvesting wood here since the first newsprint mill was constructed at Pine Falls in 1929. When I was Environmental Director at the mill, one of my favourite “tricks” was to take visitors on a walk along a forestry interpretive trail. I’d stop in front of a grove of tall, mature trees and describe this beautiful forest. My guests would marvel at the beautiful, tall spruce trees. And their astonishment would only increase when I would say, “Not bad for a clearcut, eh?”

This area had been logged out in the 1940’s but had rebounded to its present mature state, just like the boreal forest has done since time immemorial. And that was before the days of modern forestry and environmental practices. Manitoba’s logging industry mimics the fires that have always been a part of the boreal forest ecosystem. Hundreds of thousands of hectares in northern Manitoba go up in smoke annually as part of the natural cycle. Hot fires can burn the forest floor down to bare rock, which means it will take centuries to grow another forest. Logged areas regenerate much faster.

Mr. Kennedy, if you really cared about Manitoba’s rural communities you might think about using your influence in the United States to open the border to cattle imports from Canada. The prairie beef industry is one of the most environmentally sound agricultural systems on the planet and is on the verge of collapse. We could certainly use your help on this one, but I doubt that you are interested.

As Myers and Summerville note: “From a northern perspective, the campaigns against resource harvesting are often seen as representing the interests of rich, urban, well-fed people who have destroyed their own immediate environment and now want to save others. Rich people (like you, Mr Kennedy) who have a secure livelihood fail to understand that other people do not.”

When asked about the effects of activist campaigns on rural communities, a representative of one such group, the Sea Shepherd Society, callously brushed off local concerns: “If a few people are hurt for the good of global society, then that’s not our problem,” we were informed. “It happens all the time.”

A man is known by the company he keeps, Mr Kennedy. You may want to rethink what you are doing.