British Columbia

Activism intensifying over B.C.'s logging industry despite government-promised overhaul

People are risking arrest at a blockade preventing logging on Vancouver Island, protesters are marching through cities demanding the conservation of old growth trees and hundreds have attended meetings and forums on the future of logging in British Columbia.

UBC professor who studies civil disobedience says activity is similar to '90s protests

Protesters at a blockade on southern Vancouver Island hope to protect old-growth trees from being logged in the area. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

People are risking arrest at a blockade preventing logging on Vancouver Island, protesters are marching through cities demanding the conservation of old-growth trees and hundreds have attended meetings and forums on the future of logging in British Columbia.

It's all being done to push the province to move faster on a promise it made during the 2017 election to overhaul logging practices.

For people who have long watched the debate over cutting down trees to support the province's economy versus conserving them for their ecological value, the current rising tension reminds them of the 1990s, when there were headline-grabbing conflicts, mass arrests, but also, eventually, policy changes.

"Certainly some of the tactics like blockading logging roads is similar to what happened in 1993," said David Tindall, a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia who studies social aspects of environmental issues such as civil disobedience.

Right now dozens of people are blocking access to logging activities in an area on southern Vancouver Island known as Fairy Creek, to prevent old growth trees from being logged.

The blockade has been in place since August to try to prevent Teal Cedar, a division of the Teal-Jones Group, from logging certain areas of its 595-square-kilometre tenure.

Falling boundary tape is pictured in one of seven BC Timber Sales old-growth cutblocks near the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park on Vancouver Island in 2019. (TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)

In early April, the B.C. Supreme Court granted Teal-Jones an injunction against protesters.

Tindall says the blockade and other activism, including an old-growth logging protest that shut down the Cambie Street bridge in Vancouver two weeks ago, is very similar to what was going on in the '90s.

Activists now also flood social media with contrasting images of giant, majestic trees and their stumps, to engage others in their fight to protect them. That was done in the '90s but only through posters and coffee table books.

Sonia Furstenau, the MLA for Cowichan Valley and the leader of the B.C. Green Party, says logging, especially of trees in old-growth forests, is the main issue she hears from constituents.

"People in British Columbia feel very strongly about our last remaining stands of old-growth forests," she said.

She said around 800 people attended an online meeting about the issue Wednesday. Participants, she said, made it clear that they want government to move faster on overhauling forestry management that incorporates the ecological health of forests.

A large, old-growth log sits by Hadikin Lake on Vancouver Island. (Chris Corday/CBC)

"Catch up to the public sentiment. Catch up to the fact that the people that are being represented by these elected officials are asking for these changes to happen with urgency," she said.

In September, the province released a review of how old-growth trees are logged in the province and committed to 14 recommendations that would make forestry more sustainable. It also announced the deferment of the logging of old-growth trees in some forests at risk of biodiversity loss.

But now the province is facing criticism that it's not meeting timelines or goals laid out in the report.

It's why Michelle Connolly, the director of Conservation North based in Prince George, organized a march in the city last month to draw attention to the province making no old-growth deferments in sensitive areas in her region.

"We're really concerned that nothing's happening so that's why we had that rally," she said.

Protesters at a rally in Prince George in March 2021 called on the B.C. government to do more to protect old-growth forests in the area. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

This week, Premier John Horgan and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy both spoke at the B.C. Council of Forest Industries convention about the future of forestry in the province.

Horgan said changes were coming to the industry to meet the "needs of contemporary society," but promised logging would remain a viable economic driver in the province.

The council released a study that showed that in 2019 the provincial forest sector supported more than 100,000 jobs, generated over $13 billion in gross domestic product and nearly $8.5 billion in wages, salaries and benefits. 

The B.C. Council of Forest Industries says that in 2019 the provincial forest sector supported more than 100,000 jobs. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Jeff Bromley of the United Steelworkers, which represents around 12,000 forest industry workers in B.C., says the province needs to weigh the socio-economic impact of any changes, so that communities that rely on logging and harvesting old-growth trees aren't left without a way to earn a living.

He says he understands the desire from people at the Fairy Creek blockade and other conservationists campaigning to conserve trees, but doesn't want their activities to hinder the province from making good decisions.

"We need to step back from the emotional impact because I get emotional about it too, because it's my job.... It's how I feed my family," he said.

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