B.C. has accepted a request by the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations to defer old-growth logging for two years in the Fairy Creek watershed and Central Walbran areas on southwest Vancouver Island, Premier John Horgan announced on Wednesday.
“Today, cabinet has approved a request by the Pacheedaht to defer old-growth forestry in Fairy Creek as well as the Central Walbran,” Horgan told reporters at a news conference. “This is critically important for a number of reasons. Most importantly, we have allowed, as a province, the title holders to make decisions on their lands.”
Horgan said the decision to defer logging while the three nations prepare resource management plans is consistent with the government’s commitments to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and to protecting old-growth forests.
“The first step in protecting old-growth must be respecting Indigenous Peoples’ land-management rights in their territories,” the premier said.
The announcement, made during a news conference, comes as the RCMP continue to arrest protesters who have been camping in the Fairy Creek area since last summer in an attempt to prevent old-growth logging of the valley in Pacheedaht territory. More than 180 people have been arrested since forestry company Teal-Jones obtained a court injunction in April to allow the arrest and removal of protesters from access points to planned logging in the Fairy Creek area.
In response to questions from The Narwhal about whether enforcement would continue in the wake of the province’s decision, the B.C. RCMP said it was “aware of deferrals that involve a portion of the currently permitted harvest activity in the injunction area.”
“Other harvest activity that continues remains subject to the court order which prohibits obstructing or interfering with harvest activates within the injunction area,” the emailed statement continued. “We note that the activity to obstruct access by the plaintiff is continuing in the area.”
Horgan said he is hopeful that the deferral decision will end the protests at Fairy Creek.
But in a statement posted on Twitter, the Fairy Creek Blockade said the protests will continue because other nearby old-growth areas are at risk from planned logging. “There are still thousands of hectares of at-risk old-growth forest experiencing active clear cutting and road building,” the Fairy Creek blockade said in a post on Wednesday. “These forests must be defended.”
The blockaders said they are camping in the Fairy Creek area at the invitation of Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones. But in mid-April, the Pacheedaht First Nation’s hereditary and elected leadership asked protesters to leave its territory, saying: “We do not welcome or support unsolicited involvement or interference by others in our territory, including third-party activism.”
On June 7, the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations announced they have signed a declaration called the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration to take back their power over their ḥahahuułi (traditional territories).
“For more than 150 years they have watched as others decided what was best for their lands, water, and people,” a statement released by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations said. “This declaration brings this practice to an immediate end.”
The Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations said they welcomed the province’s announcement. “We will work with the government of British Columbia and the licensees to monitor all forestry activity outside of the deferral areas to ensure that continuing forest activity does not impact the old-growth timber within the Central Walbran and Fairy Creek protected areas,” the three nations said in a joint statement.
The three nations added “we are humbled by the broad base of support we have received for the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration from across British Columbia and Canada.”
“We sincerely thank all those people and organizations who are supporting our rights and our responsibilities to decide what is best for our lands, our waters, our resources, and the well-being of present and future generations.”
Horgan said the government will provide maps of the deferred areas, which include about 2,000 hectares in the Central Walbran, “as quickly as we can.”
Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Cowichan Valley, said she is encouraged to see the province support the deferrals.
“But while the BC NDP are celebrating this long overdue step, it is important to recognize that they are ignoring First Nations across B.C. who have been calling for deferrals and protection of old growth in their territories, in some cases for years,” Furstenau said in a statement. “This government has a tendency to spin numbers and mislead British Columbians when it comes to protecting old-growth. They have a long way to go to rebuild trust on this issue.”
Horgan said the government had hoped to include the Central Walbran in nine logging deferral areas announced last September.
“But at the time the Pacheedaht said to the government they were not yet ready to defer that territory,” Horgan said. “So we removed that from the inventory, had a dialogue, allowed the Pacheedaht to do their planning, to look at their needs over the long-term and I was very pleased to see that along with Fairy Creek that they also requested that the 2,000 hectares within the Central Walbran would also be deferred for the next two years while planning could be undertaken.
“These are momentous steps, although it appears at the moment to be just another announcement by another premier,” Horgan said, calling the announcements “transformative for an industry that has been foundational to British Columbia’s success and will be foundational to our future success.”
“But it has to be done in a different way.”
Asked about other First Nations that have requested old-growth logging deferrals in their territories, Horgan said the government will respond “as quickly as we can” to requests from Indigenous communities.
The premier also reiterated the government’s commitment to implementing all 14 recommendations made by an old-growth strategic review panel led by foresters Al Gorley and Garry Merkel. Gorley and Merkel’s report called for a new forestry paradigm in B.C., pointing out that old-growth forests are not a renewable resource and must be managed for ecosystem values.
In a recent interview with The Narwhal, Merkel said B.C. can expect more Fairy Creek-style protests to take place if the province does not put Indigenous collaboration front and centre of its forestry management. The panel’s first recommendation to the province was to “engage the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations to review this report and any substantive policy or strategy development and implementation.”
Merkel told The Narwhal he believes “it is critical to implement [the panel’s recommendations] in cooperation and collaboration with the Indigenous community.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Horgan said the province is “embarking on the journey to transform forestry.”
“No sector is more important to the history and future of British Columbia than our forest sector,” Horgan said.
“We are doing things differently in British Columbia. This is not your grandparent’s forest industry.”
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