British Columbia

Vancouver Island blockade remains, despite release of government report on old-growth forests

Protesters blocking road construction near the Fairy Creek watershed say the 14 recommendations laid out in the recently released A New Future for Old Forests reports do not go far enough and they have no plans to end their encampments.

Protestors say report isn't enough and they want to end all old-growth logging in B.C.

Protester Diana Mongeau sits at the foot of an ancient yellow cedar in the Fairy Creek watershed near Port Renfrew on southwestern Vancouver Island. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Protesters blocking road construction near the Fairy Creek watershed on southwestern Vancouver Island say 14 recommendations laid out in the recently released A New Future for Old Forests report do not go far enough and they have no plans to end their encampments.

The release of the report, which was made public last Friday, had been one of their original demands. Their others include an end to all old-growth logging on Vancouver Island and the protection of the Fairy Creek watershed in particular.

"Our ancient old growth is being taken down faster than ever," said protest participant Carole Tootill. "There is no room to lose any more."

Protesters sit around the so-called River Camp blocking the Granite Main road at kilometre seven north of Port Renfrew, B.C. in September 2020. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Over the last month Tootill and her fellow forest protectors have blockaded two logging roads north of Port Renfrew in an effort to stop further road construction by the Surrey based Teal-Jones Group. If road construction is allowed to continue the protesters believe logging of the untouched Fairy Creek watershed would be inevitable. 

Along with the release of the report, the province announced it would defer logging in nine locations across the province, accounting for 353,000 hectares. The Fairy Creek watershed was not included in that deferment.

"Deferment is more talk and log," said Tootill. "We are losing our biodiversity … but we aren't going to stop. Some of us are determined to save the future for all of us."

Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones says the Fairy Creek water shed is where his late uncles went to pray. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Fairy Creek spiritually important, says elder

Friday's report also laid out a three-year timeline for its recommendations to be met. In the first six months they called on the government to build relationships with First Nations and immediately respond to ecosystems at risk.

The Fairy Creek watershed is located in the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation. Elder Bill Jones is a supporter of the protests and regularly volunteers with them. He says the land they are protecting holds spiritual importance to him and is where his late uncles would go to pray.

Jones is underwhelmed with the government's most recent announcement on forest protections.

"It's all rather vague and unspecific," he said. "I'm concerned about what is left and how we will preserve it for everyone."

Jones is one of the only Pacheedaht members to participate in the blockade. But he says for him there wasn't any other option.

"It's difficult to be detached about this emotional issue. Our forests are in fact part of all human experience," He said.

Too often, Jones said, the balance between jobs and conservation is tipped toward industry because of lobbying efforts.

A protester stands near logging equipment left behind after demonstrators blockaded two logging roads near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Since starting their blockade on Aug. 9, the protesters say they have had zero contact with the government or Teal-Jones. However the protestors have turned away workers several times, although much of their equipment remains on the mountain side.

No one from Teal-Jones, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, or the Pacheedaht First Nation were available for comment.

Preparing for winter

Shoshanah Waxman explores the forest near the River Camp of the Fairy Creek blockade. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

As fall approaches protest mainstay like Shoshanah Waxman speculate that Teal-Jones and the government are trying to wait them out, hoping the cold wet weather will make camping unsustainable. To counter this, Waxman says they are planning to build more permanent structures under the direction of Bill Jones.

"He's asked us to help create an infrastructure that can sustain people being here," said Waxman.

The plan, she explains, is to construct a rain shelter or shed seven kilometres in on Granite Main road that can be used by local hunters to dress game after the protest finishes.

"Our old growth is precious ... And we feel like being on the ground here is the only thing that is protecting this watershed," said Waxman.