Wild Times: Tall Orders or Tall Tales?

Governments’ promises to protect lands and waters have proven as hard to nail down as the mist that clings to old growth forested hillsides

by Joe Foy

RCMP at Argenta Face protest camp

RCMP at Argenta Face protest camp. This region is within the unceded territory of the Ktunaxa, Secwépemc, Sinixt and Syilx nations.

During the last several years there has been no shortage of good news stories in BC about Victoria and Ottawa promising to protect old-growth forests, species at risk and wild nature. The commitments made have been spectacularly tall orders — with Canada vowing to see 25% of lands and waters preserved by 2025 and BC announcing a total change in forestry to focus more on environmental protection and community wellbeing, an end to logging old growth, and a new law to protect endangered species and their habitats.

Any one of these promised initiatives would be a big deal in their own right – but combined they represent a huge step forward in the 21st century world wide battle to defend Earth against an ever-expanding industrial onslaught. I should say that many people had hoped these promises would result in a big step forward.

The sad fact is, the details of both governments’ promises have proven as hard to nail down as the mist that clings to old growth forested hillsides. And like mist, some promises – such as BC’s endangered species law – have evaporated completely, without so much as a sorry or even an explanation. Poof.

The ongoing loss of forests, clean air and water, wildlife, and a stable climate is a big global threat. But the fight to protect nature is often carried out by on-the-ground courageous acts done by individuals. This is done not without cost. The BBC reports that 2020 was the deadliest year yet for environmental activists, with a record number murdered worldwide.

Here in BC being an environmental activist is not such a high risk endeavour. But by late summer last year, BC was headed for a record number of arrests of activists protesting old-growth logging. Makes one wonder, what’s gonna happen this year?

New logging road to Teapot Valley

New logging road ends at entrance to unlogged Teapot Valley in the Nahatlatch watershed within unceded Nlaka’pamux Nation territory.

In West Kootenay in May, a logging company declared that they would soon start cutting local old forests on the Argenta Face despite strong community opposition. This region is within the unceded territory of the Ktunaxa, Secwépemc, Sinixt and Syilx nations. It contains important forest habitat for mountain caribou, grizzly bear, wolverine, and mule deer.

A protest camp was set up. Soon after, a special RCMP team showed up and began arresting everyone they could get their hands on. The first cutblock is within forest designated as winter range for the declining local population of mule deer. Logging of the mountain caribou forest habitat is scheduled to start soon. The last three mountain caribou known to be still living in these parts were documented using this forest as recently as 2019.

Meanwhile in the Fraser Canyon area within unceded Nlaka’pamux Nation territory, logging plans have just shown up for the pristine Teapot Valley within the Nahatlatch watershed. The proposed cutblocks are in old growth forests that are high quality spotted owl habitat and have been designated by BC as priority deferral areas. The last three spotted owls in BC live nearby. As usual it’s going to be a tall order to get this logging stopped – or maybe BC’s promise to protect old-growth forest and to serve communities is just another tall tale. Time will tell.

Joe Foy is the protected areas campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.

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