Provincial government plans to defer old-grow logging in nine areas across British Columbia are not enough to protect ancient forests, according to activist blockaders near Port Renfrew.
“It’s all a two year deferral so they have lands on there where there were no plans at all to actually log in the next two years, but that’s protected now,” said Steve Fischer, sitting on a creek bed, shaded by towering old-growth cedars a short walk from what has been come to be known as River Camp. “It just makes them look good that there is more land protected.”
Fischer arrived at the blockade the day before, which has been preventing Surrey-based logging company, Teal Jones, from building roads into the Fairy Creek watershed for the last five weeks.
“It’s a bit like a movie out here. Imagine if you wanted to camp as if your life depended on it — that’s what the life of a blockader is,” said Yogi Shambu, self-identified forest defender.
Shambu said before setting up the blockade, Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones was consulted about the area. “This land was the land that his family would pray in — they would go into Fairy Creek and pray,” he said.
Though Jones granted his blessing, Indigenous relations with the rest of the Pacheedaht nation are not as simple. Fischer said the local First Nations have strong ties with Teal Jones and many people are employed in the logging industry.
“I think that that’s a great thing that they are supporting [them] in this way… So what we really need to do is find a solution that works for them and find a solution with them that they can transition to other things,” said Fischer.
Teal Jones and Pacheedaht chief and council did not respond to Oceanside News’ request for comment. Jones acknowledged the complexities of the relationship in an open letter addressing the blockade movement. He said there are no easy answers to questions about whose voices should be listened to.
“There never was and there never will be, but I can share my voice with you and tell you that I invite you to my ancestral land to defend our sacred mother,” reads his letter.
The BC government appointed an independent panel to lead an old-growth strategic review in July 2019. After gathering public input and examining forest management throughout the province, Garry Merkel and Al Gorley, published A New Future For Old Forest in April this year.
“The overall system of forest management has not supported the effective implementation or achievement of stated and legislated public objectives for old forests,” they concluded in their summary. “This has not come about because of any one group or decision, but through a pattern of many choices made over several decades, within an outdated paradigm.”
The reports lays out recommendations for government on how to manage old-growth in the future. Within six months of publication, the panel recommended to “defer development in old forests where ecosystems are are at a very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss” and to immediately involve indigenous leaders in old-growth decisions.
Blockaders at Fairy Creek said they are frustrated the area was not included in the government’s deferrals and argue the old growth forest in the area is worth more standing than it is logged. Fischer said he is not against all logging, but sees no need for old-growth to be cut instead of second growth.
“Yeah you can cut the last old growth trees down — in ten years you have nothing left and you could have so much more money coming in in the long run,“ he said.
Tourism is a way to make money from the forest without cutting trees, according to blockaders. “If you were driving on these roads this weekend you would see the amount of people driving through paradise in their fancy cars and motorbikes. That’s what people do in Victoria — they go for a drive in the country and this is the country,” said Shambu.
He said he hopes the old-growth blockades will become a movement and people will independently set up blockades around the province. Activists around the province stood in solidarity with the movement on Sept. 18, when rallies were held to bring attention to old-growth logging.
“Come out here and sit in the middle of a clearcut and see if you wouldn’t dedicate your life to stop it,” said Shambu.