British Columbia’s forest minister added confusion to the debate about old-growth logging in Vancouver Island’s Fairy Creek Friday by suggesting a pause was placed on logging in the contentious area almost two months ago.
If correct, the moratorium has been in place even as the RCMP arrested more than 150 people for contravening a court injunction against blocking logging and road-building in Tree Farm Licence 46, where the Teal-Jones Group is the licence holder.
Minister Katrine Conroy’s assertion comes as a surprise to people engaged in the fight to protect B.C.’s old-growth forests and seems to contradict comments Premier John Horgan made earlier in the week.
“Pacheedaht, industry tenure holders, and the province have agreed that no harvesting will happen in Fairy Creek while the Pacheedaht develop their own stewardship plan,” Conroy wrote in a Vancouver Sun opinion column.
“The Pacheedaht is engaging in that internal process right now, and no harvesting is happening in Fairy Creek,” Conroy wrote. “Our BC NDP government supports that work, and we will respect the request of Pacheedaht to not interfere. We believe working respectfully with First Nations and when the land is respected it is a win-win for everyone.”
The piece also said the government anticipates more deferrals of old-growth logging will be announced over the summer.
After the piece appeared, Conroy clarified on Twitter. “This is the pause previously referenced by the Pacheedaht in their statement. We continue to support the Pacheedaht as they work on their stewardship plan.”
She included a link to an April 12 letter signed by Pacheedaht Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones and Chief Coun. Jeff Jones.
It said “to provide our community with the time necessary to develop our stewardship plan, we have secured commitments from tenure holders and the government of British Columbia to suspend and defer third-party forestry activities within specific areas identified by Pacheedaht.”
The letter did not, however, specify which areas were meant. Nor did it make any mention of Fairy Creek.
At the same time the letter said people blockading logging activity were unwelcome. “We do not welcome or support unsolicited involvement or interference by others in our territory, including third-party activism,” it said. “Pacheedaht needs to be left in peace to engage in our community-led stewardship planning process so that we can determine our own way forward as a strong and independent Nation.”
A phone call to the Pacheedaht’s forestry lead wasn’t returned Friday afternoon.
At Teal-Jones the person answering the phone took questions and said they would forward them to someone who could answer them, but no response came by publication time.
The question of deferring logging in the Fairy Creek area came up earlier in the week when Premier Horgan and Conroy announced the government’s intentions for managing the forestry industry.
“The critical recommendation that’s in play at Fairy Creek is consenting with the title holders, the people whose land these forests are growing on,” he said.
“Those consultations have to take place. If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place there, that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to as a result of issues from Kamloops this week. I’m not prepared to do that.”
Horgan gave no indication that there may already have been a pause in place. “There’ll be more discussions about tables that are being developed as a result of the issues around Fairy Creek, and that will be happening in the days and weeks ahead,” he said.
Torrance Coste, the national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee advocacy group, said that despite having paid close attention, Conroy’s column was the first he’s heard of a pause on logging in the Fairy Creek watershed.
“It’s really confusing messaging,” he said. “What Conroy is saying in this op-ed is very different from what Horgan said three days ago.... To see such a different message so close together, one from the premier and one from the forests minister, it’s weird.”
It’s also surprising that if there was a pause in place in April that Jones and Jones wouldn’t have made that explicit in their letter on behalf of the Pacheedaht First Nation, he said.
Coste pointed out that on the same day that Conroy’s op-ed ran, people were getting arrested on the approach roads into Fairy Creek.
“What a wild message,” he said. “I think this indicates they seem to be panicking a little bit.”