Editorial: Hugging trees

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About 120 people lined the road in front of the Salt Spring RCMP station on Saturday to demand the halt to logging of old-growth forest on southern Vancouver Island. 

They also rallied to express support for the Rainforest Flying Squad, the name adopted by people who started making camps and blockades last summer in the Fairy Creek watershed near Port Renfrew, where some of the last three per cent of old-growth forest in B.C. is located. 

A number of Salt Spring Islanders have been participating in blockades, including Kim Murray, who updated Saturday’s crowd on what is happening at six sites. Because media have recently been denied access by the RCMP, she said, it’s impossible to get clear and unbiased information, but Murray described a “militarized” police presence and arrests of protesters taking place “as we speak.”

“There’s no legal support allowed in, so no lawyers, no police liaison. Nobody except a militarized police force, with helicopters — I don’t know how much we are spending on this as taxpayers — every camp is getting dive-bombed by helicopters. Right now there are people in tree platforms getting trees felled right beside them with no industry supervision, no RCMP supervision, and we are not allowed in to provide any support.”

On May 17, police began enforcing an April 1 B.C. Supreme Court injunction granted to Teal-Jones Group of Surrey, which has a provincial government licence to log in the area. 

Before last fall’s election, the B.C. government accepted 14 recommendations from a report it commissioned on managing old-growth forests called A New Future for Old Forests, suggesting the resource would be treated differently than in the past. But the Fairy Creek watershed area was not included among those whose old growth would be protected.

Much of the land in question is in unceded Pacheedaht First Nation territory, and some is in Ditidaht territory, which adds to questions about what should happen there. First Nations leadership is reportedly not united on the matter. 

Pacheedaht hereditary chief Frank Queesto Jones and chief councillor Jeff Jones said in a written statement on April 12 that they were concerned about “increasing polarization over forestry activities in our territory” and that “decisions about the use of our forestry resources in our territory need to be made by Pacheedaht.” 

Tom Mitchell has been to the blockade camps seven times in the past several months, camping on four occasions and doing day trips for the other three. He estimates about 60 Salt Spring individuals have participated in blockades at various times, with small camping pods created to minimize interactions due to COVID.  

“The Salt Springers are very well regarded as being creative and engaged,” Mitchell said.

Brian Smallshaw has also spent quite a bit of time at Fairy Creek in recent months. He pointed out that it’s less than an hour’s drive from Crofton, so people can even just go for a day to bring food or provide support.

“I urge you to go there,” he told Saturday’s rally. “It is really inspiring to go there.” 

Tim Kempe, whose wife Grace Jordan is in the area, said people who are willing to be arrested are needed. 

“I look forward to hearing more stories of Salt Springers standing up for what is right,” he said. 

Since the rally, carpooling is being arranged to make it easier for people to make the trip. 

Organizers also ask people to write letters to and phone the offices of Premier John Horgan, forests minister Katrine Conroy, environment minister George Heyman and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

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