By Sherry Marr
All winter, through the blustery, windy, rainy cold, a group of grassroots forest defenders have shivered in tents and vehicles, standing guard at blockades to stop the logging company Teal Jones from moving into the heart of the pristine Fairy Creek forest, on unceded Pacheedaht territory, some of the very last of the old growth left on Vancouver Island.
As you can see on the map, there is very little left of low-elevation, high-biodiversity rainforest. Only 3%. Yes. Three. Orange shows that most of the forest on the Island has already been logged. The purple areas are what is presently “protected”, though still at risk of changing policies, after other forests are lost; green is unprotected and on the chopping block.
It is “talk and log” as usual, with government, while the logging companies decimate, not just trees, but ecosystems, water systems, habitat for wildlife, the biodiversity necessary for health and survival of all species. Including us. While scientists and conservationists frantically search for technological responses to the climate crisis, they are cutting down the best absorbers of carbon on the planet: trees.
This feels very personal to me. In 1993, I stood on the road to protect the forests of Clayoquot Sound, in the single biggest instance of Canadian civil disobedience at that time. Galvanized by the evening news, thousands came to join us from all over the world. By the end of that glorious summer, 900 were charged and many drew fines and jail time for blockading during what is now known as the Summer of ’93.
In the end, the logging company withdrew. We made it too much trouble for them to continue; they went somewhere else. Clayoquot Sound was declared a biosphere region. This does not mean the forest is protected forever. We have lost an unbelievable amount of trees since then, and are losing more every year. But, so far, our mountainsides are still green and large tracts of what is now the very last of the Island’s intact old growth rainforest are still standing.
The Summer of ’93 showed that when enough of us stand firm, we have an impact. It is even more urgent that we stop the “talk and log” farce: endless discussion while the logging companies chop as fast as they can. It is unbelievable to me, all these years later, that we are still fighting this battle, with hardly anything left to save, even as the climate crisis accelerates.
It is unfathomable to me that clearcutting still continues, that the trees are then exported to other countries. For years, our old growth went to California to be made into phone books. We are a sadly unenlightened species.
Close to home – one short block away from me – is Tonquin forest. Half of it is slated to be felled to make way for a housing development, and they are already talking about Phase II. My heart sinks. To have this treasureof old growth forest to walk through is such a gift.
Trees have a certain consciousness. They communicate; they hold hands under the forest floor through their root systems, which are interconnected. They pass information when danger comes. I can only imagine their terror when the grapple-yarders roll in. It is going to hurt my heart, listening to this beloved forest falling, hearing from my yard the whine of the saws, the thumps as those huge bodies hit the ground.
In Tofino today, all these years after the Summer of ’93, we still do not have a tree protection bylaw. A group of us are working with District Council to develop one, but they are dragging their heels. I fear by the time it is passed Tonquin Forest might be nearly gone. Tourists come here from countries that have no old growth left; they are in awe of the treasure we have in our back yard. In a biosphere region, one would think trees and wildlife would be safe. But in the past few years we have seen more trees come down than ever before, thousands alongside the highway for a miles-long bike path paralleling Long Beach.
And now they are coming for Fairy Creek, where the tree defenders are determined to make their Last Stand. They have been blocking two entries into the valley since August 2020.
A few hundred people have come and gone during these months to support or participate in blockades; hopefully many more will come, if we need to repeat the uprising of Clayoquot Summer. “Worth More Standing” say their signs. “No Jobs on a Dead Planet.” The few jobs the logging company touts as justifying continued clearcutting are not worth the cost, to the Island, and the planet. These jobs will end soon, as the very last of the irreplaceable old growth forest disappears.
Years back, had the province legislated a requirement for sustainable, selective logging, with trees staying local and used for value-added industry, (all the things we asked for decades ago), we could have protected forestry jobs forever. But logging companies don’t care about sustainability – or loggers; only profit.
The B.C. government recently released a report stating they would defer logging in nine locations across the province, accounting for 353,000 hectares. The Fairy Creek watershed was not included in that deferment. The protectors say this is not enough; they are calling for a cessation of logging of old-growth in the province to save the precious little that is left.
“Our ancient old growth is being taken down faster than ever,” said one protest participant. “There is no room to lose any more. We are losing our biodiversity … but we aren’t going to stop. Some of us are determined to save the future for all of us.”*
So far, since it was winter, the logging company has not challenged the blockade. But now it is spring. They are ready to roll.
On March 5th, Teal Jones went to court seeking an injunction which would allow the arrest and removal of the protectors. The judge adjourned the hearing, granting the tree defenders three weeks to assemble their defense, “in the interests of justice.” This, and the fact the judge is a woman, gives me some hope the defenders will at least be heard. I say “at least” because there is no winning against corporations in a capitalistic system. But we have to try.
It is insane that we are removing, like mad surgeons, the very last of the lungs of the planet. We need the big trees standing. More carbon is sequestered by a 500 year old tree than a whole acre of seedlings. Our grandkids will be waiting decades for newly-planted carbon-breathers to grow. The greed and denial in a system whose bottom line is always money is already being felt in storms, wildfires, floods, melting poles and warming temperatures on land and sea. My Irish fatalism is clicking in when I look ahead five years, ten years. Years our grandchildren will be living through.
I hope others will come to stand with the tree defenders at Fairy Creek, as they did in Clayoquot Sound in 1993. The issue is even more urgent now. Elders from the Pacheedaht territory have been to the camp and have spoken at rallies before the legislature in Victoria about the need to protect the forest.
Personally, I wish all of the remaining old growth on the Island, the scarcity left by our colonial ravishing of the land, could be given to First Nations to manage – they, who lived in harmony with the land for ten thousand years, who observe strict protocols about use of resources in a manner sustainable to the seventh generation. What must it be like for them to observe our wanton ways, our sense of privilege and entitlement, and the devastating impact we have had on their ancient culture, on the wild world and its human and non-human beings?
Will Fairy Creek, one of the last of the old growth forests still alive, be the next magical grove to fall to the voracious, insatiable maw of industry? Not if the tree defenders have anything to say about it. Stay tuned.
For this week’s challenge, write a poem about the trees in your part of the world. Has forest loss impacted the area where you live? How has it affected human and non-human life? Contemplate the direct connection between forest loss and the accelerating climate crisis. Have you felt those effects yet? Do you have any old growth left? Paint us a picture of your particular landscape as it relates to trees.