The British Columbia cabinet has agreed to defer the logging of 2,000 hectares of old-growth forest in the Fairy Creek watershed and the Central Walbran Valley, Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday.
The two-year deferrals fulfil a request made by the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, but are unlikely to satisfy people who have been blocking logging activity in the area between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island.
“These are monumental steps,” Horgan said. “I know it appears at the moment to be just another announcement by another premier, but these announcements are 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.”
The deferral areas shown on maps the government released include 884 hectares of old-growth forest in the Fairy Creek watershed and 1,150 hectares in the Walbran. Logging is also deferred in a few hundred hectares of second-growth forests in the two areas.
The deferrals include a stop to new road building in some areas.
“We welcome the decision by the Government of British Columbia to approve the request made by our three Nations to defer old-growth harvesting in the Central Walbran and Fairy Creek watersheds for a period of two years,” said a statement from the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations.
“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.”
It also said the nations are committed to go through an integrated resource management planning process for their ḥahahuułi, or traditional territory, which will take an estimated two years.
“This important work will draw on the teachings of our ancestors, the wisdom of our Elders, the input of our citizens, the input of our valued partners, the best available forestry, fishery and integrated resource management advice,” it said.
The planning process would be guided by the sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of) and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one), it said.
The statement also said the nations respect the right of individuals to protest peacefully, safely and within the law, as long as that protest doesn’t interfere with authorized forestry activity.
“For third parties to be welcome in our ḥahahuułi they must respect our governance and stewardship, our right to economically benefit from our resources, and our sacred principles.”
The RCMP have arrested around 200 people for contravening a court injunction against blocking logging and road-building in Tree Farm Licence 46, which includes Fairy Creek and where the Teal-Jones Group is the licence holder.
A media contact for the BC RCMP said they are aware of the deferrals, but will continue enforcing the injunction in areas where people are obstructing the company's access to the area.
Representatives of the Rainforest Flying Squad, which has been organizing direct action against logging in the Fairy Creek area, were reviewing the government’s announcement Wednesday afternoon and not immediately ready to comment.
Earlier in the day the group shared an Instagram post anticipating the deferrals.
“Unless they include the entire 2,080 [hectare] rainforest then nothing will change in the fight to protect the area, and even if they do defer the entire rainforest we must keep on resisting in Bugaboo Creek and Edinburgh Mountain among many other locations,” it said.
“This is the last stand for our forests. It’s also important to recognize that a deferral is just a deferral, it’s not protection.”
Torrance Coste, the national campaign director for the Wildnerness Committee advocacy group, wrote on Twitter that the deferrals included an important part of the Walbran but were less than what’s needed in Fairy Creek.
“It sounds like approved road building and future cutblocks within the Fairy are on hold, but road building and blocks outside it aren't,” he said. “This is a problem.”
In total the deferrals apply to a relatively small area, Coste said. “There are dozens of hectares of old-growth within this map area that are approved to be logged and currently behind blockades, and [hundreds of] hectares more at risk.”
More needs to be done to ensure permanent protection, not just two-year deferrals, he added. “These things considered, I don't anticipate this will do a lot to turn down the heat on this issue. The public wants all old-growth protected.”
Horgan said he’s proud of the deferrals and the steps the government has taken to begin implementing the Old Growth Strategic Review written by foresters Al Gorley and Garry Merkel.
In their report to the government Gorley and Merkel made 14 recommendations that would totally overhaul the management of old-growth forests, starting with grounding the system in a government-to-government framework involving both the provincial and Indigenous governments.
Their second recommendation was to “prioritize ecosystem health and resilience” so that the health of forests comes first. It would mean a shift from seeing forests primarily through a financial lens where ecosystem health is viewed as a “constraint.”
“I want British Columbians to understand absolutely clearly, we are doing things differently in British Columbia,” Horgan said. “This is not your grandparents’ forest industry. It will be your grandchildren’s forest industry if we manage it correctly.”
He said he understands the passion people have for old forests and that he shares it. “I understand the importance of preserving these areas, but I also understand you can’t turn on a dime when you’re talking about an industry that’s been the foundation of B.C.’s economy.”
The BC Green Party welcomed the deferrals, but said further action is needed.
“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,” said Sonia Furstenau, BC Green Party leader and MLA for Cowichan Valley, in a prepared 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.”