– by Bobby Arbess –
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. He has 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 a heads up to Vancouver island grassroots forest activists regarding a road-building crew subcontracted to Teal Jones, a Surrey-based tenure-holder of TFL 46. The road crew was cresting a ridge into the old-growth Yellow Cedar headwaters of the Ada’itsx/ Fairy Creek watershed, the last unlogged tributary of the San Juan River system, unceded Pacheedaht territory, near Port Renfrew, Vancouver island.
Forest firefighter Will O’Connell surveyed the road-building operation with spell-binding drone footage. It captured earth-moving machinery operating on dangerously steep terrain. The road was pushing into a watershed never before logged and with no current cutblocks approved. Nonetheless there was the risk of logging plan approvals once the road infrastructure had been put in place. This bold exposé of a logging road incursion into one of the last roadless places on southern Vancouver Island rapidly spread on social media – in the midst of a pandemic – and galvanized forest defenders into non-violent direct action.
On Sunday, August 9, twenty ancient forest activists from all over the 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 3000 feet up a treacherous logging road. They were on a steep ridge overlooking the Gordon River valley, on the western flank of Fairy Creek, where road-building into the Fairy was slated for the next day. Tents were set up under the giant bucket of a gargantuan excavator, and a 10-foot diameter cedar log round from an ancient tree felled in the Klanawa Valley. It was propped vertically on a plywood frame and 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 at the road end – and intent on 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 the area is already under Old-Growth Management and Wildlife Habitat designation that still allow clearcuts and roads.
Pop-up and satellite blockades, carried out by small groups of people to meet the Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, have shut down other road-building operations into nearby ancient forests, including a 2.5 kilometre road into an Old-Growth Management area containing massive old western Red and Yellow Cedars in the very the last tract of ancient forest in the Bugaboo Creek watershed. Machines have been pulled off the mountainside, and efforts to move them elsewhere to access the forest via an adjacent watershed at Camper Creek have been successully blockaded.
Further disruption of the movement of log trucks transporting ancient trees along the Trans-Canada Highway from south island clearcut and road-building operations to ports shipping raw logs overseas have reinforced a message to government and industry: namely, that in a down-spiralling climate and biodiversity crisis, an escalation of spontaneous acts of resistance against destruction of this endangered ecosystem is to be expected. They will continue until government takes decisive action to protect what is left of these globally significant and irreplaceable forests. The purpose of all blockade actions is to protect the last few percantages of low-elevation old-growth rainforests left standing on Vancouver Island.
The Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek ancient forest blockades are now entering their fifth month with no injunctions or arrests. The main base of operations, River camp, has been in lockdown, with no visitors. This blockade, now the longest land-based direct action campaign on Vancouver Island in over two decades, has evolved quickly into a decentralized grassroots direct action movement, aimed to stem the tide of colossal destruction, 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, seven kilometres off Pacific Marine Road. This includes wood-heated tents, a bear-proof kitchen arbour, a tool shed, a hot water shower, and a 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 and visitors from across the province. They 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. The 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 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 29, the blockade received a strong statement of support from the Union of British Columbia Indian 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 hotspots including Fairy Creek, Walbran Valley and Edinburgh mountain. Most significantly, their announcement called for government to help First Nations once and for all break free from economic dependency on destruction of old-growth forest on their land base. This would be a major step in the transition away from the destructive legacy of old-growth logging.
First published in the Watershed Sentinal.
To contribute and get involved, visit fairycreekblockade.com