The Fairy Creek blockade, explained from the ground
Despite an injunction, the Fairy Creek blockade swells with supporters
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Despite an injunction, the Fairy Creek blockade swells with supporters
The Fairy Creek blockade has been going for months, through the winter, to prevent the logging of a patch of old-growth forest. But since then the issue has been thrust into the public conversation and become about much more than one watershed; some are seeing this fight as a proxy for old-growth logging and the future of forestry on Vancouver Island.
Capital Daily sent podcasters Jackie Lamport and Emily Vance to cover the blockade, as well as science writer Harley Gordon and photographer Sergej Krivenko to find out what's happening in Fairy Creek. This explainer is one part of our multi-platform coverage of the blockade. Another feature, on life at the blockade, is coming soon.
When new activists arrive to join the Fairy Creek blockades, they’re first asked if they are willing to get arrested.
After the BC Supreme Court granted an injunction against the blockades last week, activists have been expecting RCMP enforcement. And since they don’t plan on backing down, arrests are likely.
Since August 2020, blockades have been set up along logging roads near old-growth forests around Port Renfrew. What started as a movement to prevent old-growth logging in the northern headwaters of the Fairy Creek watershed has grown to at least eight different blockades, each stopping logging company Teal-Jones Group from accessing its cut blocks throughout southwestern Vancouver Island.
When Capital Daily last visited the blockades in November, things were relatively quiet. However, spring has brought an escalation of the conflict from both sides. On Tuesday, activists were officially served the injunction notice, but instead of deterring new arrivals, the recent legal action has reinvigorated the movement and caused the number of activists to swell—so much so that some blockades have closed to new arrivals.
As injunction enforcement looms, blockade organizers—dubbed the Rainforest Flying Squad—are doing everything they can to minimize the impact and effectiveness of the coming police action. Activists have been spaced out between the blockades to slow down RCMP enforcement and ensure a very slow process for crews aiming to get to work. Legal observers—often retired or practicing lawyers—are also spread out throughout the area to document every arrest.
Over the weekend, workers did once again try to move equipment to the Teal-Jones cut blocks in Caycuse, but activists say the workers were repelled by the persistent blockades. In an email to activists, the Rainforest Flying Squad predicts the Caycuse blockade will be the site of the first arrests.
Under the injunction, the right to protest throughout the public land of Teal Jones’ timber licence remains. However, blocking roads, going within 50 metres of workers’ equipment, harassing workers, or impeding and damaging work are all prohibited.
An injunction is a court order requiring individuals to acknowledge the legality and right of Teal-Jones to undergo their work. Those found to be in violation could be fined, or arrested and charged with contempt of court.
Injunctions such as this are not uncommon; however, there is no set charge for those in violation, and consequences are up to the presiding judge.
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According to Leo McGrady, an environmental lawyer recently interviewed by the Capital Daily Podcast, smaller fines are often handed out first but fines increase the longer the violations occur. McGrady said the judge who ruled over pipeline protesters in Burnaby was particularly strict, handing out 30-day jail sentences to those violating the injunction.
For many of the activists, however, this threat is not enough to deter them from supporting a cause they believe in.
“I think a big thing that we’ve learned lately is that there’s a lot of people that are willing to be arrested that actually didn’t have the life schedule to dedicate to sustaining a blockade,” Shambu, an active member of the Rainforest Flying Squad, told the Capital Daily podcast.
“So, we thought that the people that sustained the blockade were actually those people that believed enough to throw down. But actually, we have a stream of people coming through this weekend who are saying, ‘I’m ready, I’m here. I’m doing this.’”
Banners emblazoned with the words “the last stand for ancient temperate rainforests” decorate wooden barricades and vehicles throughout the blockades.
The environmental movement that began eight months ago may have started at Fairy Creek, but it has since grown to encompass a much larger issue. There is a real sense of urgency among the activists: the “last stand” is not just a fight for Fairy Creek, it is a fight for the last remaining unprotected ancient forests throughout the province.
BC has 57,000,000 hectares of forest; however, there are only 35,000 hectares remaining of old-growth forests containing large, ancient trees. That is about half the area of Greater Victoria, spread throughout the province.
Much of the Fairy Creek watershed is already protected from logging, except for Teal-Jones’s small approved cut block in the watershed which immediately threatens the headwaters of Fairy Creek. In many ways, the area is a microcosm of what is happening throughout BC.
In a handbook put together by the Rainforest Flying Squad, the group details its civil disobedience campaign and aims for those hoping to join the cause. First and foremost, the group is calling for an immediate moratorium on all old-growth logging, at least until the delivery of a comprehensive old-growth policy, expected from the NDP in two years. It is also demanding that the government implements the 14 recommendations of the Old-Growth Strategic Review, and that the government immediately shifts all forestry operations to sustainable management of the silvicultural land-base as a source of long-term employment in local and First Nations communities.
The blockades are not trying to halt logging in BC, they are trying to force the industry to fully transition to second-growth harvest, a transition that has been coming for a long time. About a quarter of logging in BC currently takes place in old-growth forests; in 2003 over half of all logging in the province was old-growth.
The NDP will likely face growing calls for change as the blockades escalate and arrests mount, but they have to balance the fact that around 100,000 people are employed in BC’s forestry industry, and the industry claims 38,000 of those jobs rely on old-growth logging. As well, old growth offers about three times the value per hectare, and with an unprecedented rise in timber prices, the economic incentive to log is higher than ever.
Eight months in, the blockades are a well-oiled machine. Visitors and newcomers are encouraged to visit the Fairy Creek headquarters where they are directed on to blockades throughout the region.
On Monday, the blockades were having the kind of problem environmental movements only dream of: too many people were showing up. Cars were lined up in front of the information tent, with drivers and passengers waiting to receive information and join the blockade.
The most well-established camp, River Camp, closed to new arrivals as the number of people swelled, but even so, much of the 7km of logging road preceding the camp is lined with activists. The number of people is in constant flux, but organizers estimate 50 to 100 people are set up along the 7km stretch.
Financial donations to the cause have also ballooned following the injunction. The GoFundMe run by Rainforest Flying Squad has raised around $200,000 dollars, and in the 24 hours preceding this article alone, $8,418 was raised.
Despite the overwhelming support, however, environmental activism during a pandemic definitely has its challenges. On Monday, as activist numbers swelled, organizers faced a shortage of paper sign-in sheets used for COVID-19 tracing, emphasizing the increasing risk of an outbreak at the blockades.
With cases skyrocketing in BC, dangerous variants spreading, and a massive influx of visitors, a concerted effort is being made to keep the blockade and the camps COVID-compliant.
As you enter the camps, information tents and bulletin boards are filled with information about the blockades and protesting in a pandemic. Masks are encouraged, and the guidelines from the Rainforest Flying Squad recommend staying with the group you arrived with—your pod. It is a novel experience to enter a logging road, be asked to mask up, and get your temperature read.
Social campfires, linked arms, and solidarity stands are a normal part of environmental activism. These are not normal times.
The injunction has been issued. Soon police enforcement will begin. There is not much old-growth forest remaining, and the logging industry fully understands that eventually all harvests in BC will be second growth. When that transition occurs, and just how much old-growth will be spared the saw, that’s in the hands of the current administration.