Fairy Creek - LandBack Camp.21

Fairy Creek’s fate is shrouded in silence — as logging deferrals set to expire

The southwest Vancouver Island forests that sparked massive, controversial protests and arrests could lose their protection in a matter of days. The B.C government is mum on its next move, and on the reckoning for old-growth logging that will follow

On June 8, a pair of old-growth logging deferrals protecting Fairy Creek and much of the neighbouring central Walbran Valley on southwest Vancouver Island are set to expire. The deferrals were the direct result of a major campaign to protect old-growth forest, which became the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history — more than 1,100 arrests were made. But, despite having two years to prepare for the white-hot political deadline, the B.C. NDP government has yet to reveal any hint of a post-deferral plan.

In lieu of an interview, the B.C. Ministry of Forests provided a written statement to The Narwhal that reads, in part: “We continue to work together with the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations on the long-term strategy for managing old-growth in the area. To support this work, an extension of the Fairy Creek watershed and central Walbran deferrals is under consideration and an update will be available soon.” 

The spokesperson declined to specify exactly how soon.

None of the three First Nations whose territory encompasses the deferral areas responded to The Narwhal’s interview requests. They were the ones who initially requested the deferrals, which came into effect on June 9, 2021, at the height of the protests. At the time, the First Nations said they were creating a long-term forest management plan, a process that appears to be ongoing.

Map of Pacheedaht territory and Fairy Creek
Fairy Creek logging has been hotly contested, but the protections currently in place are set to expire. Map: Samantha Leigh Smith / The Narwhal

The Teal-Jones Group, the forestry company that holds the tenure affected by the deferrals (tree farm licence 46), said nobody should expect chainsaws to fire up on June 9.

“We don’t have any current plans for the deferred areas in [tree farm licence] 46,” Conrad Browne, Teal-Jones’ director of Indigenous engagement, told The Narwhal. “We also don’t know what the province might do with the deferred areas. They have not been communicating with us.”

Browne’s evident frustration with the B.C. NDP’s lack of transparency may be the one thing he and Teal-Jones have in common with the “environmentalist protesters” he repeatedly decried.

“Government transparency is really problematic, and this is a great example,” Torrance Coste, campaign director with the Wilderness Committee, said in an interview. Old-growth logging deferrals are “a major environmental issue that the province has made some big promises on, and there’s so little clarity about what exactly is happening,” Coste said.

Conservation financing needed, Green Party leader says 

Sonia Furstenau, leader of the B.C. Green Party, also expressed frustration at the provincial government’s silence on this file. 

“If the proposal for First Nations is ‘you can have the logging activity on your territory and you can benefit from that with some revenue, or you can have no benefit and no revenue,’ then that puts First Nations in a very difficult position,” Furstenau said. “So the conversation has to include conservation financing,” whereby provincial and federal governments compensate First Nations and forestry companies for leaving old-growth untouched. 

Protestor on pole blocking Fairy Creek logging road
A protester waits to be extracted from her perch on a pole blocking a logging road near Fairy Creek in 2021. Photo: Jesse Winter / The Narwhal

That model protected 70 per cent of the old-growth forests in the Great Bear Rainforest on B.C.’s north central coast. “That’s what we should expect,” Furstenau said. “And if it’s not that, then it’s another example of this government failing to keep its word, particularly when it comes to protection of old-growth.”

In a mandate letter to Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen, B.C. Premier David Eby instructed Cullen to work with other ministries to develop a “new conservation financing mechanism to support protection of biodiverse areas.” But so far the B.C. government has declined to match a $50-million commitment from the federal government for old-growth protections. 

In its statement, the Forests Ministry said it has instituted deferrals covering 2.1 million hectares of old-growth forests across the province, with more to come. “Out of respect for the confidentiality of the engagement process, the province is not proactively disclosing the responses of individual First Nations,” the statement said. 

Those 2.1 million hectares belong to a wave of “voluntary” deferrals, distinct from the “regulation based” deferrals like Fairy Creek and central Walbran, where it is illegal to log — at least until those deferrals expire. But no such legal protection applies to the voluntary deferrals.

As a result, some old-growth logging has continued in those areas. An independent analysis conducted by Stand.earth using satellite imagery estimates more than 55,000 hectares of old-growth — equivalent to more than 27 Fairy Creeks — has been logged since the voluntary deferrals were put in place. The NDP government hasn’t shared precise figures on what’s been logged, just as it hasn’t disclosed where progress stands on negotiations with First Nations.

Fairy Creek negotiations happening behind closed doors 

So, is the province hiding behind its “respect for the confidentiality of the engagement process,” or is it genuinely embroiled in the gargantuan task of giving more than 200 First Nations the time they need to make long-term, ecosystem-based management plans?

“It’s a bit of both,” according to Coste. “But at the end of the day they did make some promises on old-growth on a province-wide basis. They, of course, have nation-to-nation responsibilities with every First Nation, but they need to square those two. That’s their responsibility. They made the promises.”

Those promises have generated as much suspicion from logging companies as they have from environmentalists and opposition parties, for opposite reasons. In a December 2021 interview, Conrad Browne, from Teal-Jones, said: “I think that the province has now switched into the propaganda stage. … Our forestry — no matter what the environmentalist protesters or governments try and tell you — our forestry practices lead the world. So when the government is out there knocking our current forest practices it’s really hard to take.”

Protester at Fairy Creek blockade
A protestor named Aimee prepares to be arrested by RCMP at a Fairy Creek road blockade. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

That statement may sound laughable to the blockaders and others concerned about old-growth logging –– for one thing, the B.C. NDP has taken infinite flack for not criticizing Teal-Jones or the aggressive tactics RCMP sometimes used to arrest protesters on the company’s behalf; for another, a simple flight over Vancouver Island reveals the devastating legacy of industrial logging here. But Browne is right about at least one thing: The Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations have a much better relationship with Teal-Jones than they do with the people who swarmed their territory in 2021, refusing to leave despite repeated requests from the nations’ leaders.

Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism.
Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism.

“Since taking responsibility for managing tree farm licence 46 in our territory in 2004, Teal-Jones has consistently demonstrated respect for our rights and values,” Pacheedaht Chief Jeff Jones is quoted as saying in the memorandum of understanding his nation signed with the company in September 2022. The memorandum commits the two parties to jointly develop “a world-class integrated resource management plan to ensure responsible stewardship of at-risk species and ecosystems within the Nation’s traditional territories now and for future generations.” 

Browne said he doesn’t know what forest management plans the Pacheedaht Nation is negotiating with the province, or when they will be announced. 

“Teal-Jones is waiting for the government to declare what is happening within the deferred area, and the outcome of that will then kick off our conversation with Pacheedaht Nation,” Browne said. “We’re the meat in the sandwich here.”

Protests or lawsuits: B.C. faces unsavoury choices as it contemplates renewing deferrals

B.C.’s Forest Act allows the province to ban logging within a tenure for up to four years before the affected company can sue for damages. So one easy out, and perhaps the likeliest outcome, is for the provincial government to renew the deferrals and buy themselves two more years.

Either way, a reckoning is coming. If the government re-opens the deferred areas to logging, they risk a fresh round of protests. If, on the other hand, they work out an agreement with First Nations to permanently protect the old-growth in their territory, they run an equal risk of being sued by Teal-Jones.

Neither risk is hypothetical. RCMP spending at Fairy Creek has already cost the province more than $18 million, plus untold political capital. Yet in a separate case, Teal-Jones is suing the province for $75 million in damages it claims resulted from the imposition of ecosystem-based management on two of its tenures in Haida Gwaii, after the Crown reached an agreement with the Council of Haida Nations to reform forestry there. 

That trial is currently underway at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, and is expected to run well into the fall. The government and Teal-Jones both refused to comment on the matter while it’s before the courts. 

But when it comes to the June 8 deadline looming over Fairy Creek, public opinion is the only court involved. In that room, the government’s silence is getting louder, and costlier, every day.

This work is made possible with the support of the glasswaters foundation. As per The Narwhal’s editorial independence policy, no foundation or outside organization has editorial input into our stories.

We’ve got big plans for 2024
Seeking out climate solutions, big and small. Investigating the influence of oil and gas lobbyists. Holding leaders accountable for protecting the natural world.

The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

How? Because of the support of a tiny fraction of readers like you who make our independent, investigative journalism free for all to read.

Will you join more than 6,000 members helping us pull off critical reporting this year?
We’ve got big plans for 2024
Seeking out climate solutions, big and small. Investigating the influence of oil and gas lobbyists. Holding leaders accountable for protecting the natural world.

The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

How? Because of the support of a tiny fraction of readers like you who make our independent, investigative journalism free for all to read.

Will you join more than 6,000 members helping us pull off critical reporting this year?

Agriculture has historically ravaged wetlands. These farmers are trying to change that

The way it’s raining over the Guilford Hereford ranch, you’d hardly know there’s a drought. “An April rain is invaluable to me, because that’s what...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Thousands of members make The Narwhal’s independent journalism possible. Will you help power our work in 2024?
Will you help power our journalism in 2024?
That means our newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers getting a weekly dose of in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
Readers used to find us on Facebook. Now we’re blocked
That means our newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers getting a weekly dose of in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
Readers used to find us on Facebook. Now we’re blocked
Overlay Image