Far from Fairy Creek blockades, London, Ont. climate activists gather in show of support

A small but passionate group of London, Ont. environmentalists rallied in Victoria Park on Friday as a show of solidarity with the ongoing Fairy Creek watershed blockades in British Columbia. 

B.C.'s oldest trees are under threat of extinction due to mass harvesting

Left to right: Morgan Crosby, Brooke Ranney and Jamie Ranney spent their Friday afternoon in Victoria Park to tell Londoners about the loss of old growth trees in British Columbia. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

A small but passionate group of London, Ont. environmentalists rallied in Victoria Park on Friday as a show of solidarity with ongoing Fairy Creek watershed blockades in British Columbia. 

Activists on south Vancouver Island have used the blockades since August 2020 to protest against old growth logging practices. 

In May, the B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction restricting access to the area. Five hundred protestors have been arrested since the RCMP began to enforce the injunction.  

Jamie Ranney returned to her hometown in London to raise awareness of the issue after spending two weeks in the blockades. 

"It's pretty amazing seeing people who are willing to put their bodies on the line and, you know, get arrested for something that's so important and to have all these people passionate and united and defending this," she said. "Just seeing the trees themselves, you can't even put into words how magnificent they are."

Jim Kogelheide and his son, Devon, said they are passionate about raising awareness of environmental issues. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

The dense Fairy Creek watershed has trees that are up to 800 years old. It resides on Pacheedaht First Nation territory. 

In June, B.C. premier John Horgan approved the request of the Pacheedaht and two other First Nations to defer old-growth logging in part of their territories. The temporary deferral will last for two years. 

Activists stay in old growth forest, despite logging deferral 

Many activists remain encamped in Fairy Creek, saying they will not leave out of fear that logging will occur in nearby old-growth areas not included in the deferral. 

Most recently, area protestors known as the Rainforest Flying Squad have faced criticism for cutting down 18 trees and using them to block logging roads. 

Ranney said that the trees used to block roads were deciduous. 

"This movement is not anti-logging," said Ranney. "This movement is for a reform of the forestry policies. What we do right now is we just clear cut everything. We need to do selective logging and we need to protect the old growth indefinitely." 

Activist Bob Morrison, left, with Climate Action London leader Mary Ann Hodge. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

According to a report produced by a panel of independent scientists in April 2020, the oldest trees in B.C. are on the brink of extinction because of mass harvesting. Areas able to grow the trees cover less than three per cent of the province. 

"We all breathe the same air, and I think as many people have noticed, with the wildfires out West this year having multiplied well beyond what is normal, that even here in London and Toronto and surrounding areas, we do still breathe that smoke," said Mary Ann Hodge, a leader with Climate Action London. 

"So it does affect our health and anyone with respiratory issues is deeply affected by that. And the more that we can encourage and sustain our carbon sinks, especially our old growth forests, the better long term we are in terms of maintaining our climate."

Ecologist Ben Porchuk and his daughter Cassara Dugsin-Porchuk. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

About 20 supporters showed up at Friday's rally, which took place adjacent to a cordoned Ribfest on the corner of Wellington Street and Dufferin Ave. They stood with signs, and spoke to curious passersby.

Ecologist Ben Porchuk attended with his daughter Cassie to hear what Ranney had to say about her experience in the front lines of the blockade. 

"When I see people at this stage in their lives willing to risk so much that when we come back to London, Ontario, as far as away from the old growth as you can get, it just feels so important to me to show up to events like this, even though there may be 20 people here," Porchuk said. 

"In five, 10, 15 years when this is gone, we're going to have to wait a thousand years for some of these systems to return," he said. "And we don't have the time."