This article originally appeared in The Conversation.
By , 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.
Since then, various environmental groups have continued to campaign to protect old-growth forests. But these efforts have often been overshadowed by protests against oil and gas pipelines and overarching activism about climate change.
Understanding beliefs about old-growth forests
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.
In 2005, >I members and supporters of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, one of the main organizations involved in the protests. That study asked people about various types of civil disobedience, and found that 90 per cent of environmentalists believed that blockading logging roads greatly or somewhat helped the cause, and 84 per cent believed that occupying trees greatly or somewhat helped the cause.
It is difficult to assess the outcomes of social movements, but civil disobedience has been successful in the past. Media attention, changing public opinion and disruption can put pressure on governments to change course.
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.”
Fairy Creek Blockade: defending old growth forests on unceded Pacheedaht territory
by Reuben Garbanzo, on Lekwungen territory
Joshua Wright, is a seventeen year old film-maker from Olympia, Washington with an irrepressible passion for protecting the last remaining old-growth temperate rainforests; and has handy access to a state-of-the-art digital mapping program that allows him to track and monitor industrial logging activities in near-real time. In early August, this year, he gave heads up to Vancouver island grassroots forest activists to a road-building crew subcontracted to Surrey-based tenure-holder of TFL 46, Teal Jones, cresting the ridge into the old-growth Yellow Cedar headwaters of Ada’itsx/ Fairy Creek watershed, the last unlogged tributary of the San Juan River system, unceded Pacheedaht territory, near Port Renfrew.
Forest firefighter Will O’Connell surveyed the road-building operation with spell-binding drone footage that captured earth-moving machinery operating on dangerously steep terrain pushing into a watershed never before logged, with no current cutblocks approved, but nonetheless heightening the risk of logging plan approvals, once the investment of road infrastructure had been established. This bold expose of a logging road incursion into one of the last roadless places on southern Vancouver island rapidly spread on social media and in the midst of a pandemic, galvanized forest defenders into non-violent direct action.
On Sunday, August 9th, twenty ancient forest activists from all over the south island, including the nearby communities of Port Renfrew and Cowichan valley, gathered at Lizard Lake and decided to set up a road blockade above the clouds 1000 metres up a treacherous logging road on a steep ridge overlooking the Gordon river valley, on the western flank of Fairy creek, where road-building into the Fairy, was slated the next work day. Tents were set up under the giant bucket of a gargantuan excavator and a 10′ diameter cedar log round from an ancient tree felled in the Klanawa Valley, propped vertically on a plywood frame, was installed as a barricade centrepiece across the road. When the Stone Pacific road crew arrived in darkness at 5 am the next morning they were politely confronted by a dozen people putting on the morning coffee around a small fire on the road end, with the intention of protecting Fairy Creek from road incursion.
Two weeks later another blockade was set up to protect the watershed on its eastern flank and to stop clearcut logging in an area of contiguous ancient forest that is part of the 5100 acre Fairy Creek rainforest, much of which is already under Old-Growth Management and Wildlife Habitat Area designation.
Pop-up blockades disrupting business as usual in other remnant old-growth forest locales have also sent a message to government and industry that in a down-spiraling climate and biodiversity crisis, disruption to the status quo is to be expected until the government takes decisive action to protect what is left of these globally significant and irreplaceable forests. The objectives/demands of all these blockade actions is to protect the last 1-3% of low-elevation old-growth rainforests left standing on so-called Vancouver island.
The Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek blockades are now entering their fourth month with no logging or road-building behind the barricades and no injunctions or arrests. This blockade, now the longest land-based direct action campaign on this island in over two decades has evolved quickly into a decentralized grassroots direct action movement under the banner of oldgrowthblockade, aimed to stem the tide of the colossal destruction of the shocking equivalent of 32 soccer fields of old-growth forests per day on the island alone.
Winterized infrastructure has been built at the main Fairy Creek base Camp, 7 kilometres off the the Pacific Marine Rd. including wood-heated Elder and Indigenous Warriors’ tents, bear-proof kitchen arbour, tool shed and hot water shower and change room. Dozens of volunteers communicating via several online platforms have provided coordination and mobilized material support to the frontlines which have been steadily maintained by a gritty, dedicated crew of core forest defenders, young and not so young, mostly women, who provide daily logistical coordination, elder care, leadership, hosting and reconnaissance on the ground.
This settler-Indigenous blockade has been blessed with the support and wise leadership of Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones who has asked that the entire valley, part of his childhood stomping ground, be dedicated as an Indigenous Protected Area in honour of the victims of the smallpox epidemic. Pacheedaht Chief and council have not responded for or against the blockade. The area is in the electoral riding of Premier John Horgan who has himself yet to respond to the demands of the blockade to protect Fairy Creek rainforest and all remaining old-growth temperate rainforests on the island.
On September 29th, the blockade received a strong statement of support from the Union of British Columbia Chiefs (UBCIC) who issued a breakthrough resolution calling on the Province to implement all 14 recommendations of their Old-Growth Strategy Review report and for the immediate protection of key old-growth forest hotpsots including Fairy Creek. Most significantly, their resolution called for government to assume responsibility in invesment in supporting First Nations to break free from the economic dependency on the old-growth forest destruction of their land-base, a major policy piece in the transition away from the destructive legacy of old-growth logging, once and for all.
To join the blockades:
Fairy Creek Blockade Chronology of Events:
August 1st : Discovery of Stone Pacific ( subcontracting to Teal Jones) road construction cresting the Ridge into the unlogged Fairy Creek headwaters
August 9: Grassroots activists from across Vancouver island meet at Lizard Lake and decide to erect an emergency logging road blockade at the end of Reid mainline, on a high ridge on the western side of Fairy Creek headwater, to prevent cutting, bulldozing and blasting activity into Fairy Creek the very next day. Notice is sent to Pacheedhat Chief and Council and Elder Bill Jones of setter-activist intentions to block road-building operations on their unceded territory.
August 10: Ridge camp blockade turns away Stone Pacific road and falling crews. Call out to request people to attend camp to defend against logging road construction into the last unlogged watershed in the San Juan River system.
August 17th: 2nd blockade at River Camp is established at another road access point into Fairy Creek along Granite mainline in the Renfrew Creek watershed, on the east side of Fairy Creek.
August 24th: a temporary, pop-up blockade is set up on Braden Mainline aimed at halting road-building and logging of old-growth forests on Edinburgh mountain, across from Fairy Creek in the San Juan river basin.
August 31st: Ridge camp blockade is moved 7kms down the road to a new blockade location aimed at halting road-construction into Fairy Creek and logging of contiguous old-growth forest adjacent to the Fairy Creek watershed.
September 4: Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones releases an official letter of invitation to Indigenous and non-Indigenous forest defenders to unite on the territory to defend the old-growth rainforests on his ancestral lands. An Elder’s tent is built at River Camp, where the elder has been staying overnight.
September 6: A caravan of Indigenous youth and elders, from many territories visit the blockades to further advise on appropriate respect protocols for forest defenders taking action on the land. 📷
September 22: The blockade camp on Reid main is moved back to its original position at the top of the Ridge at the end of Reid main. More Pacheedaht community members visit the blockades.
October 3: Northview Timber pulls road-building machinery off the mountain, abandoning plans to push roads through into Fairy Creek, past Ridge Camp, until after winter. Ridge camp remains for monitoring. Winterization of River camp continues, including bear-proof communal kitchen shelter, wood-heated communal tents, tool shed and a hot water shower.
October 22: An exploratory trail is cut from the Ridge camp along the Ridge to a lookout point above Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek with a group of Indigenous youth.
October 25: A sacred fire is lit at River Camp by Indigenous elders, youth and matriarchs, for prayer and ceremony, supporting the blockade, the forest and forest protectors.
November 9: Pop-up blockade is established at Grierson main to protect rare valley bottom ancient rainforest from road-building into Camper Creek headwaters.
Another Massive Clearcutting Proposal Threatens Southeast Alaska’s Economy, Wildlife, Carbon Stores
JUNEAU, ALASKA (Tlingit: A’aakw Kwáan lands) — The Trump administration announced plans today for yet another massive timber sale that would destroy more than 5,100 acres of critical old-growth habitat in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska.
“Shame on the Trump administration’s Forest Service for having the gall to continue to burden and overwhelm Southeast Alaskans with yet another needless and money-losing timber sale when we are in the midst of a pandemic and a controversial Alaska Roadless Rulemaking process,” said Dan Cannon, Tongass Forest Program Manager for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “As Alaskans await Secretary Perdue’s decision on the Roadless Rule, they will yet again have to advocate for the protection of critical old-growth habitat in their backyards. We don’t know how many times we need to say it: Timber only contributes 1% to Southeast Alaska’s economy, while the fishing and tourism industries contribute 26%. Stop making Southeast Alaskans’ lives more difficult by threatening our true economic drivers.”
The U.S. Forest Service’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the South Revilla Integrated Resource Project timber sale proposes chainsawing 5,115 acres of old-growth forest near Ketchikan. It also would allow bulldozing or rebuilding more than 80 miles of damaging logging roads costing U.S. taxpayers more than $11 million. The public will have until Oct. 19 to provide comments.
“This assault on America’s largest rainforest will destroy important habitat for salmon, bears and wolves, and worsen the climate crisis,” said Randi Spivak, Public Lands Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Clearcutting the Tongass and wiping out enormous carbon stores is like cutting off part of the planet’s oxygen supply. It’s mind-boggling that the Trump administration wants to decimate this spectacular old-growth forest and erase one of the solutions to averting catastrophic climate change.”
This project and the proposed elimination of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule on the Tongass are part of the Trump administration’s relentless efforts to clearcut large swaths of remaining old-growth across the national forest, consistent with its policy of increasing logging nationwide.
“As forests across the America’s burn, the last thing we need to do is destroy old-growth forests in the Tongass Rainforest — one of the United States’ best defenses against furthering the climate crisis,” said Osprey Oreille Lake, Executive Director for the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN). “Existing within the territories of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsmishian peoples, the Tongass is a vital ecosystem necessary to the traditional life-ways of local Indigenous communities. Destroying critical old-growth in the Tongass, not only devastates wildlife habitat and harms the climate, but disregards the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and further perpetuates modern genocidal policies. We must stand together for our forests, communities and the climate.”
The roughly 17 million-acre Tongass is the largest national forest in the United States. Since time immemorial it has been the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples. Alaska Native people rely on the area for culture, traditional hunting, fishing and livelihoods. People from around the world visit the Tongass for world-class recreation, sport and commercial fishing.
“It was just over two months ago that a federal judge threw out the largest logging project we’ve seen in decades because the Forest Service failed to provide communities with basic information like where it intended to log,” said Olivia Glasscock, an attorney at Earthjustice. “Nevertheless the agency is back again with another massive timber sale targeting irreplaceable old-growth trees in the same cherished national forest. Urgent action is needed to address the climate crisis, and that includes efforts to preserve the magnificent trees that absorb carbon. Unfortunately, this destructive logging plan will only make the problem worse.”
The Tongass is the largest intact temperate rainforest left on Earth and provides vital habitat for eagles, bears, wolves, salmon and countless other species. It is a globally recognized carbon sink and helps to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, storing approximately 8% of the total carbon stored in all U.S. national forests.
“Alaska Rainforest Defenders asked, plain and simple in our September 2018 scoping comments on the South Revilla project, that the Forest Service drop the timber part of the project,” said spokesman Larry Edwards. “As with our recently successful lawsuit against the timber component of the POWLLA project, environmentalists have no complaints over the non-timber components of this project.” Edwards added, “In the DEIS, all of the alternatives for the project are estimated to have a timber sale value appraised at a loss to taxpayers, which means that legally a timber sale could not be offered. Continuing to a final EIS would be gambling with millions of dollars of Forest Service planning effort at taxpayer expense.”
Logging the Tongass has been tremendously costly for taxpayers. A new report estimates that timber sales from the forest have cost taxpayers $1.7 billion over four decades.
“Despite a commitment to move away from unsustainable old-growth timber sales, the U.S. Forest Service continues to offer these sales in the Tongass National Forest. More clearcutting will damage the real drivers of southeast Alaska’s economy: fish, wildlife and tourism. Defenders won’t stand by and watch as the Forest Service despoils irreplaceable wildlife habitat and threatens sustainable jobs and livelihoods in Southeast Alaska,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife.
The public can comment on the project here.
The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International
www.wecaninternational.org – @WECAN_INTL
The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International is a 501(c)3 and solutions-based organization established to engage women worldwide in policy advocacy, on-the-ground projects, direct action, trainings, and movement building for global climate justice.
Featured image: Alan Wu via Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Last week we ran a story on an anti-logging blockade at Fairy Creek, near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island in western Canada. Since then, the blockade has held strong and a second blockade has been established nearby, stopping further old-growth logging.
A few days ago, Max Wilbert spoke with Joshua Wright, a spokesperson for the blockade, for The Green Flame podcast. That interview can be found below.
The blockade protects ancient old-growth forest stands, including the 9th largest Alaska Yellow Cedar known to exist and other trees thousands of years old, in the Fairy Creek area near Port Renfrew, on unceded Pacheedaht territory. Support is urgently needed to maintain and expand this blockade. As Joshua explains, this is a critical moment for protecting the last old-growth forests on Vancouver Island. Residents of the region: contact the blockaders, donate, spread the word, and most importantly go to the blockade yourself.
For more information:
Fairy Creek Blockade Facebook Page
Protesters showcase massive old yellow cedar as Port Renfrew area forest blockade continues
A previous interview with Joshua Wright
Media Release on the Blockade at Fairy Creek
Featured image by TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance.
This episode of The Green Flame features an interview with James Darling who is currently on the 8th day of a hunger strike against logging of old-growth forests in British Columbia, Canada (occupied First Nations territory). You can contact James at: (250) 816-4321, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this interview, James talks about why he started the hunger strike, the old-growth logging in British Columbia, the path forward for the movement, and revolutions that have used hunger strikes.
Find the press release here.
Music: “Weightless” by LiQWYD. Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0.