Fairy Creek Blockade

Direct action to protect some of Vancouver Island's last intact old growth is evolving into a grassroots movement under the banner #oldgrowthblockade

by Bobby Arbess

Fairy Creek Valley, the last unlogged, intact valley on southern Vancouver Island (south of Bamfield) outside of parks. The middle of the valley is largely reserved as an Old Growth Management Area and Wildlife Habitat Area, but the headwaters and sections of the lower valley remain at risk of being logged. Photo ©TJ Watt

Joshua Wright is a seventeen year old filmmaker from Olympia, Washington with an irrepressible passion for protecting the last remaining old-growth temperate rainforests. And 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 alerted Vancouver Island grassroots forest activists that a road-building crew subcontracted to Surrey-based logging company Teal Jones was cresting the ridge into the headwaters of Ada’itsx/ Fairy Creek watershed, an area of old growth yellow cedar and the last unlogged tributary of the San Juan River system, unceded Pacheedaht territory, near Port Renfrew.

Drone footage captured by forest firefighter Will O’Connell showed earth-moving machinery operating on dangerously steep terrain and pushing into a never-before-logged watershed. This exposé 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.

Logging Roads near Fairy Creek

New roads recently constructed by Teal-Jones reaching the ridgeline of the Fairy Creek watershed. This is the last unlogged, intact valley on southern Vancouver Island (south of Bamfield) outside of parks. Photo ©TJ Watt

On Sunday August 9, thirty ancient forest activists from all over southern Vancouver Island gathered at Lizard Lake and decided to set up a road blockade 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 was slated the next work day. Tents were set up under the giant steel claw of a gargantuan excavator and a 10-foot 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, with the intention of protecting the Fairy Creek headwaters from road incursion.

One week 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 5,100-acre Fairy Creek rainforest, much of which is already under Old-Growth Management and Wildlife Habitat Area designation. People of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and island communities have been converging at the main basecamp ever since.

Fairy Creek Blockade | submitted photo

Decentralized grassroots action

The Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek blockades have evolved quickly into a decentralized grassroots movement under the banner of #oldgrowthblockade. Now entering a fourth month with no road-building or logging behind the two long-term barricades, and with no injunctions or arrests, it is the longest land-based direct action campaign on this island in over two decades.

The blockades have sent a message to government and industry that in down-spiralling climate and biodiversity crises, 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 objective of all these actions is to stem the tide of the colossal destruction of the equivalent of 32 soccer fields of old growth forests per day, and protect the last 1-3% of low-elevation old growth rainforests left standing on so-called Vancouver Island.

Winterized infrastructure has been built at the main Fairy Creek base camp, including wood-heated Elder and Indigenous Warriors’ tents, bear-proof kitchen arbour, tool shed, hot water shower, and change room. Dozens of volunteers communicating via several online platforms have provided coordination and mobilized material support to the front lines, which have been steadily maintained by a gritty, dedicated crew of core forest defenders and visitors from across the province, who provide daily logistical coordination, elder care, leadership, hosting, and reconnaissance on the ground. Over five hundred people have visited the blockades and donated to the movement.

Settler-Indigenous blockade

This settler-Indigenous blockade has been blessed with the support and wise leadership of Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones. Jones has asked that the entire valley – five kilometres from the Pacheedaht village and part of his childhood stomping ground and spiritual sanctuary of his people – be dedicated as an Indigenous Protected Area in honour of the victims of the smallpox epidemic.

Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones | submitted photo

Indigenous youth from many territories have participated in camp life and prominent elders and artists like Joe Martin, Herb Rice, and Rose Henry have visited the camp to show support and provide counsel. 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 Chiefs (UBCIC). Their breakthrough declaration calls on the Province to implement all 14 recommendations of their Old Growth Strategic Review report, to provide details on their plan to shift logging deferrals to permanent protection, and “working in partnership with impacted First Nations, to engage in discussions on expanding these deferrals to include all threatened old-growth forests, including areas like the Walbran Valley, Nahmint, Fairy Creek, Tsitika Valley, Mt. Elphinstone, Argonaut Creek.”

Most significantly, their declaration calls for government to invest in supporting First Nations to break free from economic dependence on old growth forest destruction on their land, and to “provide dedicated funding for First Nations Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and First Nations land use plans” – a major policy piece in the transition away from the destructive legacy of old growth logging, once and for all.

Kids playing in old growth | Photo ©Aaron Yukich

To join, support, or donate to the Fairy Creek and #oldgrowthblockade movement, go to www.oldgrowthblockade.com

Bobby Arbess is a parent, landscaper and longstanding social and environmental activist who has devoted decades of his life as a grassroots volunteer to the struggle to protect ancient temperate rainforests.

Watershed Sentinel Dec2020-Jan2021 CoverThis article appears in our December 2020 | January 2021 issue.

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