High above Fairy Lake near Port Renfrew, British Columbia, in the heart of the unceded territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation, people have united. They arrived on August 10, driven by the news that the upper Fairy Creek Valley was threatened by nearby logging. A network of rugged roads were in the process of being built by contractors Stone Pacific, on behalf of Teal Jones Cedar. The target was a centuries old stand of Yellow Cedar, Western Hemlock, Mountain Hemlock, and Silver Fir. While the core of the Fairy Creek Valley is currently protected , this proposed cut block is situated dangerously close to what is also the last unlogged watershed on south Vancouver Island. (It’s also noteworthy that areas set aside as old growth or wildlife management areas like Fairy Creek have been logged in the past when the government has declared them open season). Here, a staunch group of concerned citizens have blockaded the road and constructed a camp, which augurs the arrival of a showdown.
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But where does this story have its beginnings? Well, earlier in August, a 17-year-old man named Joshua Wright actually launched the Fairy Creek Blockade from his home on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Wright was dismayed to see Teal-Jones’ new road-building plans on the government GIS site iMapBC . He had been well acquainted with the cedar groves of southern Vancouver Island as a child, and could not believe that forest close to the headwaters of Fairy Creek was slated to be logged. He realized that without direct action, the forest was unlikely to be saved. One week later, the first camp had been built, yet due to Covid 19 regulations Joshua as yet has been unable to attend it himself.
Update: This video below shows you the location of both Fairy Creek blockades and the words of spokesperson Will O’Connel show you what is at stake.
These people, who now call themselves the Rainforest Flying Squad, have every intention of remaining until the government of British Columbia declares this land protected. They simply want to save ancient forests for future generations. Many are also mindful that logging could cause erosion and contribute to flooding in the Port Renfrew area, an ongoing concern.
That brings me to a significant observation about this particular action. Conservation in this province recently has revolved around organizations such as the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), Sierra Club, or the Wilderness Committee(WC). They promptly investigate reports of logging activity, then try to ensure protection by generating widespread publicity. In Fairy Creek, the AFA and the WC have certainly done that due diligence. When they arrived on the scene , the AFA charted many of the trees in the area, and began a campaign. The WC is also well involved, and here are some photos from their coverage.
Here is a video that the AFA has released about Fairy Creek:
That a group of everyday citizens, not affiliated with any official organization,is willing to participate in a movement like this is crucial to its success. Having people on the ground adds an important element, because conservation organizations alone cannot usually accomplish the task of preservation. Notably, many of the most successful efforts in conservation, such as Clayoquot, Carmanah, Elaho, and Stein Valley, have been bolstered by people showing up onsite for the cause.
Forest protection is a never ending battle, and without a doubt the AFA and WC appreciate all the help they can get. It’s important to make a distinction here, however. They are certainly running worthy campaigns, but they do not provide direct financial support to the protesters. The group running the blockades, for their part, are defraying their operating costs through E-transfer donations (at the email address seen above in this story).
Update: This video, put out by the Coastal Trail Collective, somehow escaped my attention earlier. It was released just before the AFA information on the current happenings in Fairy Creek. Will O’Connel, whose dedication and leadership in trail building efforts in the Walbran Valley are well known, is again the speaker here.
The defenders are convinced that without a vital physical presence, this forest, and others, might ultimately be lost. This is a harbinger of future actions, and they are not alone! It isn’t difficult to get the sense that concern for the environment is currently a rising tide. Younger generations, especially, are more motivated than ever before. Passion for nature is building, and that’s wonderful to see!
What’s also evident is that Premier John Horgan doesn’t seem to comprehend the urgency these protesters feel, despite the fact that all this controversy is unfolding in his home riding. British Columbia’s New Democrat government had been expected to be a substantial improvement over the outgoing BC Liberal party, as far as environmental policies were concerned. In terms of the forest and on other files, however, it’s been nothing but business as usual.
Forest Minister Doug Donaldson steadfastly refuses to stop old growth harvesting, saying that the province will not consider a moratorium of any kind. Months ago, his ministry asked the public for input, which was to be followed by a report with recommendations by the Old Growth Forest Review Panel. That panel consists of government appointees Garry Merkel and Al Gorley, and the finished report, sadly, has languished on Donaldson’s desk since April of 2020.
Meanwhile, old growth forest in the province continues to be levelled at an alarming rate. We are clearly at a crossroads as far as logging is concerned here in British Columbia, and without altering course we will soon have seen the last of our ancient forest stands. In the past, there have only been token gestures of preservation, and those that have occurred were often made in exchange for the privilege of logging prime timber elsewhere in the province. At the core of this issue, really, are two enduring beliefs. Some believe that trees are simply resources for human consumption, the older and bigger the better. Others feel that mature forests are the finest examples of natural progression, both vital to the environment and worthy of preservation.
In any event, anyone can sensibly see that forests have been neglected far too long and current logging practices are not sustainable. We need to transition to a model that focuses on harvesting second growth timber, uses selective logging, while preserving our remaining old growth stands intactly. In addition, it would certainly help if we stopped shipping raw logs and their accompanying value added jobs overseas.
Taking a cursory look at what’s happening near Fairy Creek Valley and many other locations, one can only assume this controversy is far from over. Soon after that first camp was pitched, tents juxtaposed alongside heavy equipment, the road contractors evacuated their machinery cordially. Knowing the persistence of Teal Jones, notorious for cutting ancient forests, there is little doubt they will eventually apply for an injunction with the goal of removing the blockade.
There are, obviously, other complications, as some of the Pacheedaht First Nation also make a living from the proceeds of logging. There is no doubt that years of colonial oppression have decimated their lands, leaving their people relatively impoverished, considering the riches that have been extracted from their coastal forests. Currently, the Pacheedaht have neither condemned nor supported the blockade, though the protestors have reached out to them respectfully for their input. Only Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones has come out in support of the blockades so far. It is clear that additional input and guidance from the Pacheedaht First Nation would be useful in adding perspective, and the Rainforest Flying Squad is working toward accomplishing that connection.
Hopefully, we will see a better solution to those problems than further destruction, because once these trees are gone, they will not be coming back. Port Renfrew, both ironically and appropriately, calls itself the Tall Tree Capital of Canada. Considering the current boom in eco tourism, the reality is that these trees are worth far more to future economies if they are allowed to live! Why not a government loan program to develop recreation and tourism instead of resource extraction? The alternative is the eradication of a valuable asset, which seems ridiculously short sighted.
So, you ask, what do the defenders of Fairy Creek want to see happen? Spokesperson Bobby Arbess summed that up well in this statement:
“Fairy Creek Headwaters Protection Camp Update ( Week August 10-15)
On Monday, 5:30 am, a Stone Pacific road crew, subcontracting to Teal Jones, was turned away by a group of grassroots, direct-action forest activists from communities around the island who set up a citizens’ blockade, peacefully occupying the steep side of a mountain high above the San Juan valley, to prevent a road development from breaching the height of land into the headwaters of the unlogged Fairy creek old-growth forest watershed, the last entirely unlogged tributary in the entire San Juan river system, Pacheedaht territory. This area is in the electoral riding of Premier John Horgan, who has remained silent all week about the stand-off unfolding in his own backyard and created by four years of NDP inaction on the crisis in the woods.
The detailed demands from the Fairy Creek frontline are that the Province:
*Work with Pacheedaht nation, title-holders of the land, to permanently protect the entire watershed in perpetuity, including the investment in conservation financing for alternative forms of economic development.
*Immediately release the recommendations of its Old-Growth Forest Review Panel (OGFR), which have not been made public since the panel submitted its report in April, 2020.
*Immediately halt all new road developments into intact watersheds including Fairy Creek, pending the release of the OGFR report.
*Work with sovereign First Nations to implement a comprehensive plan for an immediate and just transition away from the logging of the last old-growth forests towards a sustainable/restorative second-growth forestry model, increased employment in the forest sector through value-added manufacturing of finished wood products, economic diversification in non-resource extractive industries for rural communities and more democratic control of land-use decisions in the hands of First Nations and forest-dependent communities.
Road-building into the Fairy is continuing on the east side of the watershed from Renfrew Creek, the site of another possible future road blockade.
Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones, an outspoken advocate for the protection of old-growth forests on his territory has officially opposed the road-building into Fairy Creek and is visiting the action camp today to show his support to settler-activists stepping up to defend his land. In 2017 Teal Jones built a mill for the Pacheedaht nation that only processes old-growth timber.
The blockade will remain up until its demands are met and organizers are grateful for the outpouring of support from communities across the island as resources ands supplies to build camp infrastructure are being mobilized to the frontlines.
In the words of one of the leaders on the blockades: ” If you wanna see real change, you’re gonna have to stand up for it…”
Buoyed by the success of the first blockade, the defenders mobilized for a second time on August 16, and set up another camp and blockade just east of the Fairy Creek Valley. Nearby, an old growth forest of Western Red Cedar, Douglas fir, as well as Western Hemlock has thrived, but logging in this location had already begun. The logging companies have not yet responded to this action, but when they do they it is clear they will be met with strong, albeit peaceful, determination.
“Last Sunday, August 23, saw a second blockade established east of the Fairy Creek watershed. A third blockade was set up August 24 on a logging road on Edinburgh Mountain (also unceded Pacheedaht Territory).” Full details here in this recent article written by Saul Arbess. The third blockade once again targets Teal Jones activity, this time on Edinburgh Mountain, home to the now legendary Big Lonely Doug and the also endangered Eden Grove.
Once again, the fate of the forest hangs in the balance, and this crisis is escalating daily. The plain truth is that the direct action being taken in Fairy Creek shows that a ground swell of support is building for the preservation of our remaining ancient trees. The time has come once again, as it did in Carmanah, Clayoquot Sound and the Elaho Valley so many years ago, to stand tall and save the trees. I cannot think of a nobler cause!
If you want to join the action at Fairy Creek Camp, here are the driving directions to both of the logging blockades. Don’t forget to read the SAFETY CONCERNS, which are also posted below.
Driving directions to the first Fairy Creek blockade:
*Km 0: intersection of Deering Rd. and Pacific Marine Rd., Port Renfrew ( after 2nd bridge from Victoria) – turn left toward Avatar Grove onto Gordon Mainline
*5 km: Turn right onto Braden main ( no sign) just before narrow bridge over Gordon river. If you cross that bridge, you missed the turn-off
*8.8 km Take left fork
*12.9: Turn right uphill onto Reid Mainline
*18.1: Stay left at fork
*19.5 km: Turn right
*21 km: End of the road. Fairy Creek Action Camp
*Please let us know if you may need to connect with a ride and we can do our best to help.
Driving directions to the second Fairy Creek Camp and blockade, off Granite Main:
* Km 0: From the T intersection of Deering Rd & Pacific Marine Rd in Port Renfrew, go east on Pacific Marine for 8.4 km.
* Turn left onto Granite Main, proceed 6.7 km until a big fork in the road. This is the site of blockade #2. Just down the left fork is a bridge over Renfrew Creek.
*The radio channel posted for Granite Main is 158.190 mhz.
*Signage indicates that the contractor doing the logging here is Mount Sicker.
*******IMPORTANT SAFETY CONCERNS*******
*If you drive to the first camp, you should expect rough roads that are best suited to vehicles well equipped for off road use!
*Only attempt to go up Reid Main after 3 pm on weekdays!!!
*Huge logging trucks are coming down and there is no where to get out of the way.
*Please be careful!!
*******COVID 19 PRECAUTIONS*******
*Everyone, please be safe and smart out there and also remember to take Covid 19 precautions, with physical distancing, hand sanitizer in food-sharing situations and, especially in ride-shares, wear masks whenever appropriate.
*Please respect that we are uninvited guests on Pacheedaht territory and that the local community has restricted access and to make your presence in town, when getting gas and food provisions, discreet, respectful and compliant with Covid health protocols.
If you are unable to attend Fairy Creek Camp, there is still a way that you can make a difference: