Fairy Creek is home to a number of species at risk, and should be protected, say several scientists. At-risk species sighted in recent months include a variety of birds, little brown bats, and a lichen described as “cute” and sensitive.
Could these species help Fairy Creek find true protection — beyond its present two-year deferral of logging?
Last Friday at Fairy Creek, three scientists and a citizen scientist showed the assembled forest protectors evidence gathered since May on several federally listed species at risk. Although they described their inventory of species in the old-growth forest as just a beginning, many species were sighted.
Citizen-scientist Natasha Lavdovsky described the Oldgrowth specklebelly lichen which she found in the area. As a multi-disciplinary artist with a science background, Lavdovsky appreciates the lichen’s uniqueness. “They are really cute, because they have a speckled texture on their underbelly. It’s bluish on top, and pinkish underneath. When you look at them with a hand lens, they’re really quite exquisite.”
The rare lichen is generally found farther north, she told the group. Yet, “This is very likely to be the largest population of this lichen ever found in B.C.”
The main reason it still exists is because blockades have been protecting the area for the past year, she said. Most of the lichens are within an approved Teal Jones cut-block in TFL 46, which has been partially logged.
“Many of these lichen communities are right beside clear-cuts. They’re dying now from too much sunlight.” The speckled-belly lichen only grows in old-growth forests.
Dr. Loys Maingon explained that the importance of lichens is vastly underestimated: “They are a crucial, foundational part of our living world. They play an outsized and poorly understood role in global photosynthesis and nutrient cycling.”
An old-growth forest hosts communities of lichens, which, in a highly synchronized way, process rainfall and atmospheric humidity. They capture vital nutrients out of the air, and provide nutrients that support the forest, and the food chains that support all of its creatures, he said.
“Their abundance and diversity are indicators of ‘healthy forests’,” Dr. Maingon added. “Lichens are the basis of nitrogen-cycling in old-growth forests. They’re the foundation of the pumping mechanism that goes into the “biotic pump model” – the capture of water out of condensation and evapotranspiration processes of water, and its transportation inland, far beyond what would normally be expected by passive wind-driven processes. The forest’s biotic pump creates much of our climate.”
Some researchers recently reported that lichens may actually sequester even more carbon dioxide than the old-growth trees they live upon, he said. They also neutralize acidic rainwater as it runs over them to the ground.
Despite providing countless ecosystem services, the specklebelly lichen “is very sensitive,” and a vulnerable at-risk species, Lavdovsky noted. She read a BC Timber Sales document that called for a 200-metre buffer zone to protect the lichen’s habitat from logging. One tree on which she found the rare lichen growing had been marked with red falling-boundary tape. She also found dying lichens along the newly built roadside and in an area that directly bordered a recent cut-block.
“Many people trust that endangered species are protected by law in BC, but they’re not,” said Kathleen Code, a Rainforest Flying Squad spokesperson. “Although there are government ‘guidelines’ requiring logging companies to complete a wildlife inventory and management plan before they log, in practice there is no penalty for inadequately prepared inventories and management plans. No penalty, in other words, for erasing habitat and killing endangered species.”
Dr. John Neilson, a fisheries scientist who has worked for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, noted that the federal Species at Risk Act applies only to federal lands in BC, such as national parks.
“In spite of explicit election promises made by Mr. Horgan in 2017, BC still does not have a provincial act to protect at risk species, placing the province in a minority nationally.” A very small number of species are covered by BC’s Forest and Ranges Practices or Wildlife Acts.
“I expect that information from our surveys will inform public reactions to the government’s passive and inadequate response to protecting BC’s biodiversity on southern Vancouver Island.”
Along with Dr. Jim Cuthbert, Dr. Neilson helped organize several “BioBlitz” inventories at Fairy Creek since May. Using the i-Naturalist app, he noted that, “With minimal survey effort, we have now documented 322 species, from 903 observations.
“Our data provide evidence of a significant number of species at risk. We have seen 62 observations of 14 vulnerable species.” A more thorough inventory is still needed, which would consist of returning through different seasons, and better coverage of the central part of the Fairy Creek valley and watershed.
At-risk species documented during the BioBlitzes include:
– recordings made of little brown bats near Fairy Lake
– many sightings of Western toads and Northern red-legged frogs
– many sightings of Marbled murrelets and Western Screech owls, as well as other bird species such as Northern Goshawk, Olive-sided flycatcher, and Band-tailed pigeon.
– many plant species, including Western Rattlesnakeroot, Coastal Brookfoam, Carolina Bugbane and Stink Currant.
– fungi species including Northern Red Belt
– other lichen species, including Cabbage Lung lichen
Dr. Neilson’s presentation to forest protectors ended with “a huge thank you” to the forest protectors, “for your passion, dedication and tenacity in your essential efforts to protect old-growth forests.”
Dr. Neilson and Dr. Jim Cuthbert wrote the BC government last week, to alert the ministers of environment and forests about the presence of endangered species in the Fairy Creek area (excerpt below).
“Perhaps enlightened public pressure might lead to long-term protection for these threatened species and their entire ecosystems,” Dr. Neilson said.
The following is an excerpt from a letter sent by the scientists July 25th, to Minister Katrine Conroy (Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development), and Minister George Heyman (Environment and Climate Change Strategy):
“Please refer to the link, and you will see evidence that federally-listed species at risk occur in that watershed. Note that these publicly-available data already exist, even without complete survey coverage of the watershed, which was the issue that we hoped to address by seeking access. We are sure that British Columbians will be deeply interested in hearing your plans to protect the habitats of those species, beyond temporary measures in certain parts of the watershed.
“It seems shocking that logging activities are being contemplated for an area where so little is known — and what little we know is indicating an area of great species diversity, including a significant proportion of species at risk. Please take time to explain your plan to protect the habitat of Fairy Creek for listed species found so far, and those yet to be found.
“We appreciate a prompt and positive response to this critical matter.”
On August 9th, exactly one year after the first Fairy Creek blockades began, the RCMP went on a rampage that appeared to be a tyrannical temper tantrum. They bulldozed down the kitchens at HQ, destroyed the pedal bikes, stole our medical supplies, fire-fighting equipment and communications devices, slashed car tires, towed away cars and tore down all the other buildings and toilets. The current RCMP operation includes the use of three helicopters, a surveillance van with satellite, about 100 officers from a special tactical team, police dogs, about 70 vehicles, arrest wagons, extraction equipment, gates and gate-builders, as well as team overtime and accommodation for nearly three months. The cost for this overwrought response to peaceful protestors is now undoubtedly in the millions.
*Four RCMP picked up a forest defender and appeared to deliberately drop him on his head. *He could see that the tow truck driver was about to hook up his friend’s car next, and was walking over to talk to him, when he was attacked:
Towed vehicles are being released at a cost of $2500.00. City of Victoria councillor, *Ben Isitt’s take on the written legal decision *on illegal RCMP exclusion zones: “In an important decision published yesterday, BC Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson has concluded that the RCMP is acting unlawfully by blockading public forestry roads on southern Vancouver Island (so-called ‘exclusion zones’)” This is difficult to justify when a survey by Sierra Club of BC found 92% of British Columbians want old-growth forests protected.
A BioBlitz survey, recently conducted by a team of volunteer scientists, focused on *endangered species near* *Heli Camp*. Evidence was found of at least *seven *endangered species living there. Realizing that further destruction in the area is increasingly likely as the raids on River and HQ continue today, biologist Loys Maingon say, “Professional biological inventories carried out in the Heli Camp area have resulted in a formal complaint to the BC Forest Practices Board, because they show that Teal Jones disregarded BC Timber Sales’ own guidelines, and BC government’s own official commitment under the Species at Risk Act, to protect Old-growth Specklebelly lichen, which is a rare listed endemic species, unique to the West Coast. “Management guidelines in BC show that there should be a minimal 200-metre setback from this species,” he added. “Teal Jones has built roads through this unique population and caused ‘irreparable harm to the environment’. The area is also home to other listed species which were not inventoried prior to the issuance of forestry licenses.”
Dr. John Neilson, a past member of COSEWIC (the national scientific group assessing the status of endangered wildlife in Canada) stated: “The blockade has bought time for citizen scientists to start to do the biological survey work that government and industry was obliged to do, but apparently did not. “Already, many rare and unusual species have been found in the Fairy Creek area, and road construction has already destroyed rare communities. Teal Jones and the Provincial Government have been made aware of these findings. The ball is now squarely in their court to respond with meaningful long-term protection for British Columbia’s biodiversity in the already too-scarce old growth habitat of southern Vancouver Island.”
There were no consequences when Teal Jones began clear-cutting in Caycuse this spring, despite the Sierra Club of BC’s warning that nesting Western screech owls had been found there:
Meanwhile, on Saturday Monday August 14th, 220 Elders marched into HQ and up the mountaina and scolded the RCMP who did not make any arrests. On Monday, August 16th, when Fairy Creek Forest Defenders were not looking, RCMP were caught slashing their drinking water bottles. We have seen repeatedly how this State sanctioned targets Indigenous and People of Color over settler forest defenders and brings home the hard facts of an extractive, destructive, nature-destroying post-colonialism.
Forest Defenders are Occupying an Old Growth Forest to Prevent Imminent Logging in the Last Intact Watershed of the San Juan River System
Victoria, B.C. 8/10/2020 An informal, grassroots collective of people from across Vancouver Island alerted to Teal Jones’s road building incursion into the headwaters of the unlogged Fairy Creek watershed are prepared to block road crews from further work.
Forest defenders are prepared to remain occupying the roadway until the Provincial Government releases the recommendations from its Old Growth Forest Review Panel which Minister Donaldson said they will not release for at least another six months.
“It is unconscionable for the Government to approve continued industrial destruction of the last old growth temperate rainforest and new road developments into unlogged watersheds within the Premier’s own electoral riding while it sits on the recommendations made by the Old Growth Review Panel,” stated Bobby Arbess.
Forest defenders establishing this peaceful road blockade will escalate our tactics to stop the logging of adjacent cut blocks if the Government will not heed this demand to stop road development and release its own panel’s recommendations.
Teal Jones, the licence holder of TFL 46, over the past month has begun road construction in the old growth hotspot of Fairy Creek that would enable them to clear-cut the upper Fairy Creek watershed, near Port Renfrew. The company has felled and graded several hectares of old growth forest on a road network that will soon breach the ridgeline and enter the watershed.
Forest defenders have set up a blockade and tree-sits on a critical road under construction on the north-western ridge of the Fairy Creek watershed to prevent Teal Jones from continuing to build roads into the old growth rainforest. Protesters will continue their forest defence until the Teal Jones Group abandon their plans to log Fairy Creek and the BC Premier implements our demands.
Here is a dramatic drone video of Ferry Creek watershed by a young firefighter recently captured of road-building crews cresting the ridge into the very last unlogged watershed in the San Juan River valley rainforest.
In view of the forthcoming release of the Old Growth Strategic Review (OGSR) report and recommendations, being held up by the BC government for up to 6 months from early May, with no firm release date to the public, we are asking the Premier to establish:
1. The immediate and permanent protection of the entire Fairy Creek Valley, thereby nullifying all cut blocks and road construction approvals in the watershed and contiguous old growth forests.
2. An immediate end to old growth logging on Vancouver Island.
In an article in The Narwhal, Jan.27, 2020, Gary Merkel, one of the two commissioners of the OGSR states: “I think the thing that surprised me the most is the degree of unanimity and common thinking around ‘we need to get back to the land’ and about moving past political cycles … we’re hearing it from almost everywhere,” Merkel told The Narwhal in a joint phone interview with Gorley: “We’re managing ecosystems — that are in some cases thousands of years old — on a four-year political cycle. The management systems change from government to government,” said Merkel, the former chair of both the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation and the Columbia Basin Trust.
After completing their 14-day hunger strike for the old growth forests, James Darling and Robert Fuller met with two NDP MLAs last Saturday, and were rebuffed by them, giving questionable justifications for continuing the destruction of the OG.
We are now at the stage of final eradication of the ancient coastal temperate rainforest, reduced to less than 3% of its original extent by logging. Port Renfrew has billed itself as the Big Tree Capital of Canada and this form of tourism has become the backbone of its economy. Once again, this future is threatened by the indiscriminate eradication of the ancient forests in this region.
Blockade Directions: GPS coordinates: 48.6422452 N – 124.3608828 W
10 km on the Gordon River Main Line at Braden Creek Main Line (on your way to Fairy Lake after leaving Port Renfrew, turn left just past Deering Bridge and take the road up the hill to the right just before the bridge). Map
Editor’s Note: Celebrate this Earth’s Day with Eden’s Last Chance. We congratulate Joshua on the completion of his film, and hope that it will encourage more people to get involved in the environmental movement. View more of our coverage on Fairy Creek here.
TEENAGER’S RELEASE OF 2023 EARTH DAY FILM CHALLENGES OUR FUTURE
Amazon will be releasing Eden’s Last Chance – One Teenager’s Journey into the Environmental Movement, before Earth Day 2023 on April 18th. Winner of an Impact Docs award, the full length documentary is 19-year-old Joshua Wright’s first film. Known as a champion of British Columbia’s defense of Fairy Creek’s old growth forests, his aim is to mobilize citizens to take immediate action on the ecological crisis.
“If this is the end of the world, then what do we do? That is the question I wanted to answer with this film” says Wright, the young producer, director, second cinematographer, and editor.
In 2018, Wright dropped out of grade nine when he learned of scientists’ dire warnings that the planet had 12 years to address global warming before passing the 1.5C mark. He would be 27 years old when that milestone was reached. So at 14, Wright picked up a camera and dedicated the next three years seeking an answer to his existential question.
Academic studies and white papers became part of his self-schooling curriculum. He followed climate change experts and was determined to find every new energy project that would further add to an already fragile ecological balance. Wright has become an outspoken climate activist, criticized by corporations seeking to hide their impacts.
While filming in Australia, Wright explored the damage coal has done to communities including the $16B Adani Carmichael coal mine, and the coral die off of the Great Barrier Reef. He documented the destruction of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest in the Tongass Rainforest of Southeast Alaska and forest defenders protecting Mattole Valley in California’s Humboldt County. More than 15 leading authors and scientists from Europe, Australia, and the US were interviewed for the film.
“Climate change is only half the story,” says Wright, referring to destructive industries. “We as a society are ignoring the reality that civilization itself is the route of the ecological crisis, and that saving the planet does not mean electric cars, it means a radical transformation in the way we live, and the centering of the more-than-human world our society ignores.”
The bootstrapped crew included Joshua at the helm with his uncle, Andrew Wright as first cinematographer and second editor. Wright’s father, Chris Wright, acted as executive producer, and second cinematographer, as well as managing the group’s travel.
Wright refuses to give into despair, choosing instead to work to motivate others into action.
“Do something—do anything,” he says. “Don’t be a bystander in the death of the living world.”
By David Tindall, Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia
The RCMP has recently been arresting protesters who had set up blockades to prevent the logging of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island. Environmentalists say the Fairy Creek watershed, near Port Renfrew, is the last old-growth area left on southern Vancouver Island, outside of protected areas.
The contested forested areas lie close to the internationally known West Coast Trail, and within the unceded traditional territory of several First Nations, including Pacheedaht and Ditidaht.
Some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old and are part of rare ecosystems that some independent estimates suggest make up less than one per cent of the remaining forest in B.C. Close to 25 per cent of the world’s remaining temperate rainforest is in B.C., mainly along the coasts.
The demonstrators established the first blockade in August 2020 along the logging roads into the Fairy Creek watershed, where Teal-Jones has a “tree farm licence” to harvest timber and manage forest resources. Now dozens of people, including some First Nations youth, have been arrested for violating a B.C. Supreme Court order that restricts protesters from blockading the logging roads.
This dispute resembles the protests over Clayoquot Sound (also on the west coast of Vancouver Island). Dubbed the “War in the Woods,” more than 850 people were arrested in 1993 for blockading logging roads. That protest, sparked by a decision to allow logging in the area, was the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history and a seminal event in the history of the environmental movement.
As a researcher of social movement and environmental issues, I have been surveying the general public and environmental activists about their attitudes and behaviours for about three decades. I am particularly interested in environmental conflicts and the factors (such as social networks) that explain why people get involved incollective actions to protect the environment or to protest against such actions (pro-industry protesters).
This research can shed light on current and future conflicts. People who support the goals and values of a movement can be drawn into it, what social movement scholars call “the mobilization potential.” However, involvement is often contingent upon other factors, such as social ties to other participants.
‘War in the Woods’ redux?
The connection between Fairy Creek and Clayoquot Sound was highlighted when Tzeporah Berman — a high-profile environmentalist and a leader of the Clayoquot protests — was arrested at a road leading into the Fairy Creek watershed in May.
Berman, who is also the director of the environmental organization Stand.earth, co-ordinated the blockade in Clayoquot Sound 27 years ago. She was arrested then too, although the long list of charges was eventually dismissed on constitutional grounds. No large-scale industrial logging occurred in Clayoquot in the aftermath of the protests.
More recently, anti-logging protests focused on the old-growth forest in the Great Bear Rainforest. Environmentalists, the forestry sector, First Nations and the B.C. government eventually worked together to establish a 2016 agreement to protect the Great Bear Rainforest.
An old-growth forest is one that has not been disturbed by large-scale human activities, such as industrial logging. In B.C., these forests have been growing since the last ice age, about 10,000 years.
They include gigantic trees such as red and yellow cedars, Sikta spruce, hemlock and Douglas firs, which are sometimes as tall as a football field or soccer pitch is long. One thousand-year-old trees may be the most iconic features of coastal old-growth forests, but the forests also promote biodiversity by providing habitat to numerous wildlife species, many of which do not thrive outside of old-growth forests.
Logging has contributed to the dramatic decline of B.C.‘s old-growth forests. One independent study suggested that the majority of B.C.’s productive old-growth forests have been logged, and there are plans to log the majority of what remains.
In a 2007 survey, my group found that 75 per cent of the general public completely or mostly agreed that “clearcut logging should not be allowed in old-growth forests.” So did 93 per cent of environmentalists.
We also asked about the statement: “Some forested areas should be set aside in order to protect endangered and threatened species (e.g., the spotted owl, the spirit bear).” Here, 94.2 per cent of the general public and 98 per cent of environmentalists completely or mostly agreed.
Protesters have been blocking access to logging roads and positioning themselves high in trees to disrupt harvesting operations in the Fairy Creek area, drawing the attention of the media and the public and putting pressure on government. The RCMP responded slowly at first, but recently began to enforce the court injunction and have restricted access to the protest sites.
While the protest has been going on since late last summer, its activities have recently heated up. Environmentalists want the government to adopt the recommendations from a new advisory report on old-growth forests. It seems likely that the protest will grow.
A large number of people see civil disobedience as being effective and are willing to do it. Once the B.C. government eases COVID-related restrictions, more people will likely become involved in protests. Pleasant weather and flexible summer schedules may encourage others to join. Satellite protests regarding the threat to old-growth forests will also continue in urban centres.
The RCMP says it has arrested more than 100 people already, and 75 seniors from the Victoria area have joined the protest at Fairy Creek. This may just be the beginning of another “War in the Woods.”