British Columbia

What you need to know about the old-growth logging demonstrations on Vancouver Island

RCMP in B.C. began enforcing a court injunction this week, ordering the removal of blockades set up to protest Surrey-based company Teal-Jones Group logging certain areas of its tenure on southwest Vancouver Island.  Here's what you need to know about the recent demonstrations.

RCMP are now enforcing an injunction against protesters who set up blockades months ago

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

RCMP in B.C. began enforcing a court injunction this week, ordering the removal of blockades set up to protest Surrey-based company Teal-Jones Group logging certain areas of its 595-square-kilometre tenure on southwest Vancouver Island. 

The protesters, some of whom chained themselves in place before being arrested, say they're protesting the logging of B.C.'s last remaining old-growth forests.

Here's what you need to know about the recent demonstrations.

Who are the old-growth logging protesters?

The Rainforest Flying Squad is an ad hoc, grassroots coalition of activists who are the group most prominently associated with the recent blockades to prevent the logging of old-growth rainforest on Vancouver Island.

The group describes itself as a "volunteer-driven … non-violent direct action movement." It's loosely organized and says it consists of several hundred people who are constantly in flux. The group's leadership is mixed, and includes members of the Pacheedaht First Nation and other nations.

Members of the group have been calling for public support through social media channels, and have been communicating with each other using encrypted messaging services.

Where are the blockades?

There are currently six main camps, and all are affiliated with the Rainforest Flying Squad. Five of them have been termed "blockades," while one — the Walbran Camp — was set up to observe logging activity. 

All of the main camps and blockades lie in valley bottoms on narrow dirt logging roads.

(CBC News)

The Fairy Creek blockade, also known as the River Camp, was one of the original camps, established in August just east of the Fairy Creek watershed, about 20 kilometres from Port Renfrew.

Since then, the term "Fairy Creek" has been used for all other blockades, including those that lie outside the Fairy Creek area.

When did this conflict start?

Pushback on logging of old-growth forests in B.C. is not new. Demonstrations to prevent industry from accessing these forests have occurred frequently over the last few decades.

In early August, a blockade was set up on a ridge to the west of the Fairy Creek watershed, after it was discovered that a Teal-Jones subcontractor was building roads into the Fairy Creek area. A week later, the River Camp, which lies in the Granite Creek watershed, was set up to block another access point into Fairy Creek from the east side.

Since then, numerous blockades have been established in the surrounding area to try to prevent loggers from accessing old-growth land for which they they have provincially-granted Tree Farm Licences (TFLs) for logging.

On April 1, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven granted Teal-Jones an injunction banning roadblocks at numerous entry points into TFL 46, the licence-area where most of the blockades have been established.

On May 17, the B.C. RCMP announced they would begin enforcing the injunction. Police established a checkpoint along a forest service road leading to the Caycuse Camp, southwest of Cowichan Lake, and an exclusion zone for protesters outside the area where the injunction is now being enforced. 

RCMP said they would permit journalists from recognized media outlets, lawyers, and government officials, among others, past the checkpoint, but journalists have reported being blocked over the last few days.

How many arrests have been made since RCMP began enforcing the injunction?

As of May 26, RCMP say more than 100 people have been arrested, several for a second time.

Most individuals arrested have been protesters, though a member of the media was reportedly arrested as well.

Where do the local First Nations stand on the issue?

Members of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and other First Nations are part of the demonstrations against old-growth logging. 

Though an official letter in early April from Pacheedaht Chief Jeff Jones and hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones indicated they were against the blockades, saying "all parties need to respect that it is up to the Pacheedaht people to determine how our forestry resources will be used," and condemning "third-party activism."

Teal-Jones has signed agreements with the Pacheedaht, and the nation signed a revenue-sharing agreement with the province in 2017 for all timber cut on its land.

Where does the provincial government stand?

Premier John Horgan told the Fairy Creek protesters in April to "move along" and respect the wishes of the titleholders to the land, including the Pacheedaht First Nation. 

The province released a review in September of how old-growth trees are logged in B.C., committing 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 that report.

How long will this conflict go on?

We don't know how long this conflict will continue. Demonstrators have indicated they will continue to set up blockades preventing both Teal-Jones and Western Forest Products Ltd. from logging old-growth trees in the area until the province intervenes or the logging companies decide to leave.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam van der Zwan is a journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. You can send him a news tip at adam.vdz@cbc.ca.

With files from Chad Pawson, and the Canadian Press

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