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.

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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.