Members of the Fairy Creek Blockade occupy a logging road | ©2021 Ken Dawson
In the region around Fairy Creek in the South of Vancouver Island, B.C., there has been a struggle of control towards the logging of historic old-growth. The parties involved in this local environmental crisis consist of the logging companies harvesting oldgrowth, protesters who seek an end to this logging and the Indigenous peoples who inhabit the affected area. This situation led the Indigenous people to take steps to maintain control of their area without foreign interference aside from the government.
What's special about the Vancouver Island Temperate Rainforest?
Temperate rainforests, by definition, are forests with high precipitation rates. Combined with the warm temperatures of southern B.C, Vancouver Island is an ideal place for temperate rainforests, which is why they have existed on the island for thousands of years (“Re/Max,” n.d).
Vancouver Island’s temperate rainforest is unique because it is the only temperate rainforest in the world where the density of coniferous trees is greater than deciduous trees (Maycock et al., 2010). Much of the temperate rainforest in Vancouver Island is classified as the Great Bear Rainforest (“Re/Max,” n.d). The old-growth, specifically red and yellow cedar, are estimated to be between 800-2000 years old (Morin, 2021). These old growth are an important source for carbon storage, clean air, habitat for endangered species, as well as keeping a firm grasp of the topsoil (“Old growth” 2022) ; Old growth successfully eliminates erosion and can even grow in elevations over 1000m ("Before & after old-growth maps," n.d).
The current situation
Commercial logging in B.C. has been a major industry since the 1820s (Green et al., 2014). However, The Narwhal states that the B.C. government's claim that 23% of the forest is old-growth is false; new statistics by ecologists suggest that only 2.7 percent can be considered old-growth (Wood, 2020). Old growth in B.C. is a targeted resource because the wood is sturdier and more durable when compared with other trees (“Old growth vs. new growth lumber – which is better?,” 2018). Furthermore, other reasons why old-growth is considered valuable by the B.C. logging industry is because it is more resistant to decay, damage, and termite infestation when compared with regular trees. (Mel, 2015) There is much demand for Canadian old growth. They are primarily exported to either China or Japan as construction materials; it is estimated that around $655 million in hardwood lumber exports was sent to Japan in 2018 (BC Forest companies promote products in Japan, China 2019). According to the Sierra Club B.C, old-growth is being cut down across B.C province at a rate of 500 soccer fields per day. (Wood, 2020) Additionally, since old growth takes an incredibly long time to grow, this type of wood cannot be considered renewable if it is cut at the current quick pace. The last large temperate rainforest in Canada is found on Vancouver Island, and loggers are cutting the many old growth in the forest on Indigenous lands (Morin, 2021).
The industry's stance
The Teal-Jones Group's logging company licenses the area around Fairy Creek (Wilson, 2022). The company has been in a decades-long engagement with the area's First Nations, which includes arguments and stances of the management and preservation of the forest (Wattson, 2021). The company's expansion to the Fairy Creek watershed has been met with much resistance (Williams & Lewis, 2021).However, the company still managed to log oldgrowth in and around Fairy Creek. The logging of old-growth had come to a halt in June as large protests by various environmental groups began to rise in May 2020 (Austen, 2021).
The protestors' stance
Thousands of protestors gather and protest for one cause; to protect the Fairy Creek watershed and its old-growth from logging (Williams & Lewis, 2021). When Premier John Horgan was elected, he said that he would do his best to protect the old-growth; however, many activists disagree as he has given licenses to logging companies many times during his time in office (Williams & Lewis, 2021). There have been over 1,100 arrests as of September 24, 2021 (Hensley, 2021), with some protestors hanging from tripods, and some chaining themselves together to block roads. Despite court injunctions, severe weather, and constant arrests, protestors have moved their protesting away from the roads and into the forest. To be specific, these protestors are aligning their camps near the watersheds (Marlow, 2021). However, as of late 2021, fewer protestors have been continuing the protests since some of them left due to confusions of court injunctions, harsh weather, and some protestors having to return to university or college to study (Marlow, 2021).
The Indigenous' stance
Most First Nations do not support the protestors, however, they do acknowledge the deforestation of old-growth and the impact it will have on their lives (Marlow, 2021). A representative of the Ditidaht First Nations stated that the reason they wanted to get rid of the protestors was to keep balance between preserving the forest and benefiting from the harvest of the resources for the stability of their nation (Plummer, 2021). Chief Councilor Robert Dennis Sr. states that since third parties like the government and people have taken control of the land decades ago, their management has led to the depletion of old-growth and the stability of the ecosystem surrounding them (“Huu-ay-aht, Pacheedaht, Ditidaht First Nations take back decision-making responsibilities over ḥahahuułi,” 2021). Logging in the region has also led to the destruction of salt grass marshes that nurture and aid the growth of juvenile salmon, which is causing a depletion of one of the Pacheedaht’s primary food sources (Cox, 2021). Due to this environmental crisis and its consequences, the Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Pacheedaht signed the Hisuk Ma Cawak Declaration, which outlines the area of land and water that the three nations administrate, as well as their control of the forestry, fishing, and other resource management in the area (The Hisuk Ma C'awak Declaration, n.d). The Hisuk Ma Cawak Declaration also states that third parties; whether it be companies like the Teal-Jones Group, organizations, other governments, and individuals, have no right to speak on behalf of these three nations, its land, water, and resources (The Hisuk Ma C'awak Declaration, n.d).
Old-growth plays a crucial role in the ecosystem that sustains them, where they store carbon, provide habitat for fauna and hold the topsoil to prevent erosion. However, with only 2.7% of old-growth left, the situation gets complicated as the forestry industry, protestors, and Indigenous try to make the best out of what’s left. The struggle still lingers to this day; even if it wasn’t as tense as it used to be in late 2021, the government must take some major action to preserve the unique old-growth of Vancouver Island.