British Columbia

Activists continue blockade of logging road on Vancouver Island to protect giant cedar

Protesters want the B.C. government to release recent review of B.C.'s old-growth forests.

Protesters want the B.C. government to release recent review of old-growth forests in the province

A person stands at the bottom of a very large western redcedar tree in a forest.
T.J. Watt, an activist with the Ancient Forest Alliance, admires an old-growth yellow cedar in the Fairy Creek watershed near Port Renfrew on southern Vancouver Island. (TJ Watt)

Protesters have spent nearly a week blockading a logging road near Port Renfrew in an effort to defend what they say is the last unlogged watershed on southern Vancouver Island, outside of protected parks. 

"Enough is enough," said Saul Arbess, a spokesperson for the Friends of Carmanah Walbran, a group with a history of fighting logging in the region. "It's time to protect these areas."

Arbess and other protesters want the provincial government to stop Teal-Jones, a Surrey-based logging company, from building a road into the Fairy Creek watershed, home to numerous old-growth yellow cedars, including one nearly three meters in diameter, the ninth-widest known yellow cedar in the province.

Clear-cutting Fairy Creek, they say, could wreak havoc on the local environment, threatening species diversity and exacerbating flooding in the San Juan River Basin. 

The stump of what is said to have been a 800-year-old red cedar that was cut down near the entrance of Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park on Vancouver Island in 2013. (Canadian Press)

Loggers remove equipment 

In response to the blockade, which began Sunday, Teal-Jones removed machinery from the site Tuesday, after cutting trees and blasting rock to make way for the road. 

When reached earlier this week, the company told CBC News it had no comment at this time. 

Teal-Jones holds the tree farm license (TFL) that includes the watershed. Though the company has not yet applied for a cut block in Fairy Creek, activists worry that move may be imminent, pointing to the recent road construction, which they say is common practice ahead of making a cut block application. 

Swell of action to defend old growths

This week's demonstration follows recent protests outside NDP MLA offices and a two-week-long hunger strike to raise awareness over the loss of old-growth forests across B.C. 

A study by a group of forest researchers released in April showed that only three per cent of all B.C. forests are suitable for growing very large trees like those found in Fairy Creek. 

Besides safeguarding Fairy Creek, protestors have pushed for the release of a recent government review on old-growth forest habitats in the province. The Ministry of Forests received the report on April 30 with a stipulation that it be released to the public no more than six months later. 

"Yet, they're sitting on this to allow another full season for the [logging] companies to continue to destroy the old growth," Arbess added, calling this moment the "11th hour" to save the province's heritage forests.

Old-growth specimens in the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park on southern Vancouver Island. Protesters are trying to save old-growth trees in the area that are not currently protected. (TJ Watt)

Two-thirds of watershed already protected

B.C.'s Ministry of Forests told CBC News it plans to release the review either later this summer or in the fall. 

An emailed statement from Forest Minister Doug Donaldson's office also noted that "about two thirds" of the Fairy Creek watershed is already protected by the Marbled Murrelet Wildlife Habitat Area.

Logging in the area remains an important livelihood for some members of the local Pacheedaht First Nation, added the ministry.

According to Arbess, the Pacheedaht nation has offered neither support nor opposition to the blockade. 

Despite a long history as a logging community, Port Renfrew has recently rebranded itself as an ecotourism destination, the self-proclaimed Tall Tree Capital of Canada. 

TJ Watt, a campaigner with the Victoria-based Ancient Forest Alliance, understands why. 

"These are some of the biggest, most remarkable yellow cedars we've ever seen," said Watt in a press release on Thursday. 

They're also, Watt said, among the longest-lived life forms in the country. He hopes it stays that way.

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn