Islanders protect old growth at Fairy Creek

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A grassroots effort to protect old-growth forest slated for logging near Port Renfrew is reaching a critical point next week, when a hearing at British Columbia Supreme Court will determine if the Teal Jones forestry company wins an injunction against protestors.

Concerned individuals including those from Salt Spring have been blocking road construction into the Fairy Creek watershed since August of last year. They will have the chance to argue their case at the injunction hearing scheduled for March 25 and 26. Protesters intend to continue their action regardless of the outcome, unless the provincial NDP government stops logging in Vancouver Island’s critical old-growth stands.

“No one wants to end all logging or take away a livelihood, but there are third-growth renewable forests,” said Salt Spring environmental activist Cathy Lenihan. “This is the last stand for ancient forests in B.C., and really the world.”

The Rainforest Flying Squad is the name taken by the grassroots collection of people at the centre of the Fairy Creek watershed blockades. Islanders who have been active with the core group include Molly Murphy and Kim Murray, both of whom have helped build up campaign infrastructure such as camp facilities and communication outreach and have put in considerable time on site.

Murray said a woman named Carol Tootle who lives on Vancouver Island put the first call out for defenders last summer. The fight to save the area has since attracted young people from all over, in addition to experienced forest campaigners who were fighting in the “War of the Woods” in the 1990s.

Even legendary Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn has lent his support. He performed a voice-over in a forest-protection ad released this week. Playing in the background is his well-known song, When a Tree Falls in the Forest.

“I think they thought it would be a few days kind of thing, but there’s been this convergence of people who are interested and frustrated and have had enough. And it just took that one little spark and people just started coming,” Murray said.

The Fairy Creek watershed, located close to the tragic lone-standing old-growth fir tree known as “Big Lonely Doug” and the Avatar Grove, is the last unlogged valley in the San Juan Valley on Vancouver Island. With only an estimated two per cent of B.C.’s original old-growth forests left untouched, the area is a living resource for sequestering carbon emissions and sustaining biodiverse species.

“It goes in the face of common sense and reality,” said Tom Mitchell, an islander who has made day trips to support the blockade. “So many countries have declared climate emergencies.”

Forest defenders have been preventing logging at five other old-growth remnant forests as well as Fairy Creek. They are calling for the immediate deferral of logging at the entire Fairy Creek rainforest, the forests at Bugaboo Creek, the Caycuse watershed, Edinburgh Mountain, Camper Creek, the Upper Walbran and the Central Walbran valley.

As the Sierra Club of B.C. pointed out this week, the B.C. government-appointed Old Growth Review Panel called for “a paradigm shift to safeguard the biodiversity of forests, with a three-year framework and logging deferrals for all at-risk old-growth forests within the first six months.” The NDP committed to following all 14 of the report’s recommendations as a campaign promise last fall, but has not stopped logging those critical areas six months after the promise was made.

In response to questions from the Driftwood, Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said the province remains committed to implementing all 14 recommendations.

“We know some are calling for an immediate moratorium, but this approach risks thousands of good family-supporting jobs. We know others have called for no changes to logging practices, but this could risk damage to key ecosystems,” Conroy said in an emailed statement. “There is a better way for B.C. to manage old-growth forests and our government will work collaboratively with all our partners to do this.”

Conroy said the province began by collaborating with Indigenous governments to protect almost 196,000 hectares of old-growth forests in nine different areas across B.C. last fall. They are now working through the three-year timeline identified by review panel report authors Al Gorley and Garry Merkel.

“We know there is much more work to do. To get this right, we will follow the advice of the old-growth report and fully engage Indigenous leaders, industry, workers, communities and environmental groups to find the right way forward for old-growth forests in B.C.,” Conroy said.

Mitchell said B.C. additionally faces difficulty in meeting its commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. The Fairy Creek watershed is in the unceded territory of the Pacheedaht Nation. While there has been no public statement, for or against the blockades, from the chief and council, the blockade has received an official welcome from Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones.

Brian Smallshaw is another Salt Spring resident supporting the blockades. Along with Lenhihan, Mitchell and their friend Gary Gagné, he has helped supply the rotating camp teams with groceries and firewood. That group was intending to increase their participation in the weeks ahead and to make a bigger stand if the injunction goes through, as they assume it will.

“We really believe old-growth logging has to stop. This has to be the bottom line,” Smallshaw said. “It’s a hard struggle, but it’s worth it. It’s like the banners say: It’s worth more standing.”

“This is it. We don’t have a window of opportunity in the future,” Lenihan added.

People who have been out to the blockades and walked the old-growth forests encourage anyone who can to make the trip to see what they are trying to save. Protocols for how to get involved can be found at fairycreekblockade.com.

For more information, look for Fairy Creek Blockade and Rainforest Flying Squad pages on Facebook and Instagram. A GoFundMe campaign to support the blockaders’ legal fees can be found under “Direct Action for the last Ancient Rainforests.”

2 Comments
  1. Kim says

    Hi! I would just like to mention a correction. Fairy Creek is the last unlogged watershed in the San Juan river system, and last intact valley outside of park land on Southern Vancouver island. It states in this article it is the last on the island. It is no less precious because of this, however!
    Thank you , Elizabeth, for writing about this issue.

    1. Gail Sjuberg says

      Thanks for that correction, Kim. We have made the change in the story text.

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