Two Eco-Socialist Reports: The Struggle Over Old Growth Forests in B.C.
Fairy Creek: A New War in the Woods
Since last August, activists have set up numerous blockades in protest of old growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed. The self-named Rainforest Flying Squad, a group of volunteer activists and grassroots organizers, set up camp as the BC government granted permits to Teal-Jones, a BC-based logging company, to cut timber in the Fairy Creek area near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Home to some of the last remaining old growth, temperate rainforest in the world, this habitat has been called “the rarest of the rare” by environmental scientists and is integral to maintaining BC’s biodiversity already threatened by the climate change.
Forestry accounts for $32-billion of the province’s economy per year, and old growth timber is a coveted commodity; its tight grain makes it ideal for fencing, lumber, and decking as it won’t crack when dried. Old growth also produces the softest toilet paper. Despite Premier John Horgan’s campaign promise to protect old growth, the government continues to issue licenses to harvest big old trees, providing management plans that they claim will protect this valuable resource.
However, in a recent independent report, the BC government has been caught over-inflating its reports about the amount of remaining old growth by hundreds of thousands of hectares – in reality, there only remains about 35,000 hectares of true old growth. With over 80% of BC’s old growth having been logged in the last century, this non-renewable resource is in danger of disappearing forever due to mismanagement and corporate greed.
Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones has expressed support for the work that the Rainforest Flying Squad (RFS) is doing at Fairy Creek. Openly inviting Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike to stand together in the fight to save BC’s old growth, Jones also called attention to the tension amongst members of Indigenous communities due to differences of opinion on the issue of resource extraction on Indigenous land. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) passed a resolution in 2020 calling on the province to defer all old growth logging projects. But in April of this year, seven months since the RFS began their protest, Frank Queesto Jones and Chief Councillor Jeff Jones issued a statement calling the blockades “unwelcome, unsolicited involvement [and] interference” on their territory, expressing that the Nation’s ownership of the territory and their role as stewards of the land be respected.
For the Pacheedaht First Nation, in whose territory Fairy Creek lies, they have relied on old growth logging to provide income to their community for decades and renewed their profit-sharing agreement with the province of BC earlier this year. The agreement states that the government must consult with Pacheedaht Nation on all matters of forestry-related development and provide payment to the Nation twice a year. While the agreement is explicitly not a treaty, Pacheedaht Nation is at stage 5 of the BC treaty process and are in negotiations to finalize a treaty. At the same time, the revenue sharing agreement states that the Pacheedaht are bound by an article of “non-interference” – meaning that they can’t support or participate in any actions or campaigns against the logging, even if they wanted to. This puts the Pacheedaht Nation in a tricky situation – any opposition to the logging puts them at a financial disadvantage. And with the Canadian government’s historic maltreatment, neglect, and abuse of First Nations across the country, it is understandable why they would take the opportunity to have a measure of independence over resource extraction on their territory.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted by the BC government in 2019, contains multiple articles that relate to resource extraction; specifically articles 4, 26, and 32, which all state that Indigenous communities have inherent rights of ownership over their territory and its resources. It would seem that in implementing a profit-sharing agreement, the BC government was keeping its promises to uphold UNDRIP, but the reality is that even with agreements such as this Indigenous communities are always at a disadvantage. Canada’s colonial legacies have had profound social, cultural, spiritual, and economic effects on Indigenous communities – 25% of Indigenous adults and 40% of Indigenous children live in poverty. Almost 40% of Indigenous people don’t have food security, and 73% of First Nations’ water systems don’t provide clean water to their communities. For many Indigenous nations, they are faced with an impossible choice – either partner with the colonial state and receive some compensation for the resources extracted from their territory or continue to live with the effects of the ongoing oppression at the hands of the Canada’s neocolonial government.
In April of this year, the BC Supreme Court granted an injunction against the land defenders demanding that they clear out and allow Teal-Jones to access the watershed. The RCMP was called in to enforce the injunction. With dozens of arrests in the past few weeks, the police have now created a “media exclusion zone,” preventing media coverage of the action on the front lines and eliciting legal action from a coalition of Canadian journalists. Footage of police violence and (illegal) arrests of legal observers continue to circulate over social media platforms while the RCMP muscle protects the private interests of the capitalist class and the colonial project of Canada.
The struggle at Fairy Creek is for more than just trees – it is the struggle of everyday people, fighting for a future where our planet’s most valuable resources aren’t sold off and carted out of town by the highest bidder. We need to take BC’s industries out of the hands of private companies like Teal-Jones, and end Canada’s neo-colonial actions on Indigenous territory across the land. •
This article first published on the Socialist Alternative website.
Mass Arrests and Violation of Press Freedom at Fairy Creek
The following is a statement issued by socialist groups in Vancouver on the ongoing struggle against old-growth logging on Vancouver Island.
Since May 18, the RCMP have arrested at least 151 protesters (land defenders) trying to stop logging company Teal Jones from logging one of the most significant remaining old-growth forests in North America near Fairy Creek in Vancouver Island’s Walbran Valley. Back in August 2020, protesters set up blockades on the logging roads leading to the logging sites. On April 1, the BC Supreme Court granted an injunction to allow police to remove protesters.
The leaders of the Pacheedaht First Nation signed a ‘Benefits Agreement’ with Teal Jones, but the logging is opposed by some Nation members; and among those arrested are members of the Pacheedaht Nation, whose unceded territories include Fairy Creek and the Walbran Valley, and members of the neighbouring Ditidaht Nation.
Since April 1, more and more protesters have been arriving at the site, and numbers have increased since arrests began. Some protesters have chained themselves to their makeshift barricades, some to metal gates along access roads, some to stumps of previously logged old-growth trees, and some have suspended themselves high up among the up to 2,000 year old trees. The media report that a large group of senior citizens even tried to chain themselves around a group of RCMP officers.
On Friday, May 28, hundreds of protesters marched to BC Premier John Horgan’s constituency office to demand an end to the arrests. Horgan’s BC NDP government was elected in 2017 on a promise to reduce old-growth logging permits. And yet old-growth logging permits have doubled since 2017. Demonstrations against the NDP’s policy occurred in several cities over the weekend and hundreds rallied on Monday, May 31 outside the office of BC Minister of Environment George Hayman.
As human activity driven by profits for the capitalist ruling class hurtles our planet ever closer to runaway climate catastrophe, ecosystem collapse and mass species extinction – catastrophes that threaten the long-term survival of human life – the logging of what remains of old-growth forests on this planet is unconscionable. Every measure possible must be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to prevent biodiversity loss and mass species extinction.
The RCMP have enforced ‘exclusion zones’ where both protesters and media have arbitrarily been denied entry. When journalists have been allowed entry, they’ve been corralled in ‘media zones’ that are too far from the action to get footage of any arrests. This is a gross violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press.
Media reports are that logging trucks and workers from logging company Teal Jones, which was granted a permit to log some of the old-growth forest in the area, have been allowed into the ‘exclusion zones’, and have been logging old-growth, even as media have been kept out.
The Canadian Association of Journalists and a coalition of seven media outlets have launched a court application to have the injunction changed to guarantee media access.
On Tuesday, May 31, in response to the recent protests, BC Premier John Horgan announced a ‘new’ forestry plan for BC. This inadequate plan merely reiterates the existing plan, while delaying action for a couple of years. It includes:
- No respite for Fairy Creek old-growth logging.
- No new old-growth deferrals, but the promise of more consultation.
- New old-growth plans in 2023.
We reject the recent announcement on old-growth logging by the BC government. We stand in solidarity with the protesters, indigenous land defenders and arrested persons at Fairy Creek, as well as those members of the media who have been denied access to cover the arrests at Fairy Creek. We call on the government of BC Premier John Horgan to order the RCMP to stop arresting protesters, to respect the constitutional rights of the media, and to immediately release all persons arrested at the Fairy Creek blockades. We call on the BC government to immediately halt any logging that threatens the integrity of old growth forests in BC, and to work with other levels of government to fully compensate the Pacheedaht Nation for their share of logging revenues foregone.
Democratic Socialists of Vancouver
Action You Can Take for Fairy Creek
If you are heart broken or enraged by the now-viral images being circulated online of up to 2,000-year-old trees being hauled away for the profit of the private companies like the Teal Jones Group, there are many ways that you can voice your frustrations and help prevent further demolition of these historical, cultural, and ecologically significant sites.
A Go Fund Me Campaign has been set up to support Indigenous land defenders in whatever ways are needed to support their frontline work.
There are also non-financial ways to take action.
You can call the office of Premier John Horgan and let him know exactly what you think of the NDP Government’s selling of BC’s most diverse ecosystems: (250) 387-1715. You can also send him an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have multiple email accounts, we recommend sending multiple emails, just to make sure the point gets through.
You can also send an email to the Teal Jones Group, which is responsible for the logging of Fairy Creek. Their contact information may be hard to find online, as they have removed their “Contact us” page from their website. However, they can be reached at the following email address: email@example.com or by calling these numbers: 604-581-4104 / 604-587-8700.
If you’re in the mood to really frustrate them, you can send them a letter or parcel with the following mailing address: 17897 Triggs Road, Surrey, BC V4N 4M8.
It is highly recommended that we send emails and make calls to complain about the senseless destruction of our beautiful old growth forests. You can also call your local MLA or pay a visit to their office.
If you want to stay up to date on what is going on at the Fairy Creek Blockade, you can follow @rainforestflyingsquad or @fairycreekblockade on instagram. Posts are updated daily with the latest information on how to get involved, help out from a distance, and be a strong ally to the forest.
Ricochet has had and will continue to have journalists on the ground at Fairy Creek and have been publishing articles about the situation on a regular basis. Their Twitter @ricochet_en provides additional video updates not available on their website. •
This article first published on the The Thorn website.