The Fairy Creek Blockade:
Fighting for the Protection of Old Growth Forests on the Coast of the Pacific
October 7, 2022
Fairy Creek is an area of old-growth forest found on the southwest part of Vancouver Island in Canada. Protestors have set camp in the area since the summer of 2020 to prevent logging by the Teal Jones company, in spite of numerous promises made by the provincial government of British Columbia to preserve areas significant to Indigenous peoples, as well as promises to further engage in environmental protection and climate actions initiatives. This beckons one to question the integrity of the leaders our society allowed to make such imperative decisions, as well as contemplate to what extent the business sector is willing to continue sacrificing the environment for financial gain. The scientific and cultural value that old-growth forests maintain in British Columbia far outweighs economic gain in these circumstances, and this can be further seen through the support of the public. This article will explore the significance of protecting old-growth forests, as well as the legal and social reform necessary for supporting the efforts of protestors.
Old growth forests play an integral role in reducing emissions and preventing carbon dioxide levels from rising, as they absorb it from of the air. The resiliency that they hold is far stronger to that of younger forests as they haven’t been impacted by human activity in the same way, which allows for a particular type of habitat for endemic species, such as Wapiti Elk or the Rufous Hummingbird, that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. These forests also have plenty of rotting trees that act as nursing logs that help specific types of plants and trees grow. Currently about 30% of land is covered by forests, and by estimate of the World Resources Institute, only 21% of that small 30% are old growth.
Global carbon emissions have not necessarily been rising over the last decade, but they have not decreased either, and particularly with this new global mindset of prioritising the environment and reversing the effects of climate change, protecting old growth forests should be deemed essential. These forests are crucial in absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. They also play an integral role in ocean health by providing iron for the replication of Cyanobacteria (responsible for oxygenic photosynthesis), which all the more adds to the case for preserving Fairy Creek, as it is right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
Violent Outcomes of Peaceful Protest
Beyond a scientific perspective, old growth forests also hold great significance in First Nations culture (referring to peoples indigenous to Canadian land prior to European invasion), particularly to the Pacheedaht peoples in this specific area. Historically, First Nations peoples have suffered through tremendous loss and oppression, and many aspects of their culture have been demolished. Preserving what is left of this culture is an absolute priority on the path to reconciliation with the Canadian government. These territories are forthright the traditional and unceded lands of the Indigenous peoples, ultimately implying that they should have say over what may be done with the land for future use.
In a legal perspective, the Heritage Conservation Act 2009 (1)? ensures that culturally modified artifacts, including trees found in old growth forests, are preserved. The BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act 2019 (2), which must align with that found in the UN Declaration, also states that in accordance with sections 6 and 7 the government must, “allow for flexibility for the Province to enter into agreements with a broader range of Indigenous governments and to exercise statutory decision-making authority together.” However it is clear that Indigenous rights are still not being respected to the degree which they should be. In the words of Elder Bill Jones, “The Fairy Creek watershed is a sacred place for many reasons. I have many stories about this area, from my own experiences as a child and young man and also stories that were told to me by my elders. It breaks my heart in half when I see these last remaining stands being ravaged so a few people can have jobs for a few more months.” (5)
Since protests started in August of 2020, 1194 arrests have been made. Teal Jones (the logging company) won the case for a court-enforced injunction to be placed on logging protests in May of 2021. According to CBC’s article, ‘1 year into injunction enforcement at Fairy Creek blockades, 100s of protesters await trial,’ (4) since then protestors have been arrested mainly for contempt of court (violating the injunction), obstruction, mischief, and assaulting police. A total of 50 cases went to court and defendants had sentences varying from a $500 fine to 10 days in jail. This is incomparable to the amount of police brutality experienced by people at the campsite.
Reports from the camp have been made, with video evidence that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been unlawful and acting outside of their legal power. Reports have claimed that police have targeted specifically Indigenous peoples. In one case, a woman was arrested while dropping off food to those on the frontlines, while in another two men were verbally and physically abused by the police at a campsite outside the injunction zone. This simply goes on to show that the issues present are spread throughout what are supposed to be some of the most trusted members of our society. In Teal Cedar Products Ltd. v. Rainforest Flying Squad (3), it was unclear whether the defendant had actually violated the injunction, as they were only marching and drumming. It was ruled that this did not constitute a violation. While many of these arrests have gone on to be proven void of effect, the Court decided to extend the injunction in January.
Legal and Societal Reform Moving Forward
Large areas of old growth forests across North America are protected under conservation laws. However there are a few places, like Fairy Creek, which haven’t been. Legal reform should lead to all old growth forests being protected, rather than having to be deemed nature conservation sites, in the way that other parks are. Evidently the support of the public has been very present, as could be seen at Extinction Rebellion protests held in downtown Vancouver. The majority of the public has been advocating for the protection of old growth on Vancouver Island, however the impact of this continues to not be enough. If this is the case, then perhaps the wrong people are representing the best interests of the public. The police are also a powerful institution, and better regulation needs to be implemented for them. Their actions have been known to be dependant on the subject of a protest, as well as proving that they have made targeted arrests which is unacceptable.
Fairy Creek is a prime example of the actions of a government that advocates one thing, but does another. Environmental conservation and climate change concepts are about protecting those that are vulnerable. We must aim to support those that are fighting for the environment, rather than seeking to punish their efforts, as these people are engaging in an act that will only seek to benefit our future.
(1) Heritage Conservation Act (2009) [RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 187
(2) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (2019)
(3)Teal Cedar Products Ltd. v. Rainforest Flying Squad  BCSC 515
(4) Marlow, Kathryn (2022). 1 year into injunction enforcement at Fairy Creek blockades, 100s of protesters await trial (CBC)
(5) Last Stand for Forests (2022) A letter from elder Bill Jones. (n.d.)
Gilhen-Baker, M., Roviello, V., Beresford-Kroeger, D. et al. (2022) Old growth forests and large old trees as critical organisms connecting ecosystems and human health. A review. (Environ Chem Letter)
UNFAO (2022) Forest cover: International comparisons. Forest Research. (n.d.)
(image) Woodside, J., & Reporter, L. J. I. (2021, August 31). Everything you need to know about the Fairy Creek protests. thestar.com. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/08/31/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-fairy-creek-protests.html