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In Fairy Creek, Pacheedaht and Protestors Clash on the Future of Old-Growth

In Fairy Creek, Pacheedaht and Protestors Clash on the Future of Old-Growth

Noe Yasko

Staff Writer

South of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, a lush forest alive with ancient western hemlocks, Douglas firs, and yellow cedars flourishes. This old-growth woodland, named Fairy Creek, has been the site of massive protests since August 2020. In April of this year, however, some members of the Pacheedaht nation- who own the land being blockaded upon- asked protestors to leave their grounds. This raises an important question: how can we balance environmental protection with the respect of indigenous land rights?

In scenic Fairy Creek, thousand-year-old trees tower in masses. Beneath them, shorter and newer growth burgeons. Dead and fallen logs weave themselves on the forest floor, providing optimal habitats for fungi; In return, these organisms decompose the decaying wood they live on. This enriches the soil with nutrients and promotes a new, successive growth cycle. Perched high in their nests, endangered marbled murrelets - small, penguin-like birds- lay their eggs in the safety of the rigid structure of old-growth trees. With increased logging threats on the horizon, their future rests unsure.

According to the government of British Columbia, an old growth tree in a wet, coastal region is one that has lived for 250 years or more. With relatively no human disturbance, old-growth trees thrive and reach phenomenal heights; Fairy Creek’s douglas firs, for instance, are around 45 to 60 meters tall with diameters 1.5 meters wide. In old-growth forests, trees are in constant competition for sunlight as the forest canopy thickens, shading growth below it. This results in slower growing trees, as the lack of light decelerates their development. According to Jim Pojak, senior ecologist for the Ecological Society of America, old-growth forests are categorized by deep, multi-layered canopies, wider tree spacings, a significant amount of downed logs, and many trees of old-age that vary widely in size, height, and species type.

So what exactly has protestors so concerned? Well, cutting down a tree of a thousand years of age brings more adverse consequences than the logging of new growth. Think about it: can a tree that takes a thousand years to grow back still be deemed a renewable resource? Old-growth trees are central components in Fairy Creek’s ecological community, and cutting them down means altering an entire ecosystem and its dynamics. Additionally, since these massive trees have been in century-long processes of carbon sequestration, clear cutting them allows for a sudden release of large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

Old-growth is highly sought after for its sturdiness and for the absence of knots on the wood’s surface. This billion dollar industry’s workforce is large in number and includes, though in vast minority, Indigenous people. According to the BC Council of Forest Industries, “5,300 Indigenous people are directly employed in the industry, more than any other resource sector in B.C. Indigenous communities are also vital industry partners as owners, and through business and stewardship partnerships.”

The Pacheedaht nation has been practicing sustainable forestry for decades for cultural and economic purposes. While the nation as a whole shares the protestors’ concern for the future of Fairy Creek, ideas on how preservation should be achieved differ amongst individuals. Many believe that protestors have no right to interfere with their forestry management strategies. “We do not welcome or support unsolicited involvement or interference by others in our territory”, wrote Frank Queetso Jones, hereditary Chief of the Pacheedaht nation, in an official statement. Jones also pointed out that their community benefits from logging, allowing them to buy back land that is rightfully theirs. “We are finding ourselves buying our own land back”, he told journalists.

Some protestors, who aim to respect Indigenous land rights while also continuing their fight for environmental preservation, have responded to Jones’s statement. Extinction Rebellion, a global organization that fights for the environment, made a statement of their own in April 2021. “We recognize we have no place to comment on the internal governance of the Nation, however XR [Extinction Rebellion] Vancouver believes that protecting these ancient ecosystems remains crucial. We support the call to action at the blockade in Fairy Creek”, it reads. Ultimately, it seems as though protestors have not let Jones’ statement affect their plans.

Currently, around 3.6 million hectares of old growth available for harvest in British Columbia remain. Another 10 million hectares are, thankfully, safe under protection due to being deemed either uneconomical or unsustainable to log. As the situation develops, the future of logging in Fairy Creek remains to be seen.



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