The province will approve the request from three Vancouver Island First Nations to defer logging of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek for two years, Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday.
“Today, cabinet has approved a request by the Pacheedaht to defer old-growth forestry in Fairy Creek as well as the central Walbran,” Horgan said.
Horgan said he was “very proud” to receive the request from the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, saying its approval is in line with the province’s commitment to aligning legislation with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
A map shows the areas of deferral approved by the B.C. government.
The formal notice was submitted to the B.C. government on Saturday, June 5 and is intended to give the three nations time to prepare a forest stewardship plan. It was delivered one day after the three signed a declaration to take back their power over their traditional territories.
The order was passed in cabinet Wednesday and Horgan said in total, just over 2,000 hectares of old-growth will be deferred from logging for two years.
As to whether he thought the approval would encourage protesters to stand down from blocking logging roads leading to old-growth areas, Horgan said he hoped they would understand “that this process is not one that can happen overnight.”
Activists responded to the announcement by saying they didn’t see anything in Horgan’s statement that would have them end their ongoing protest.
“There’s no guarantees that they won’t just go and cut somewhere else,” said Kathy Code of the Rainforest Flying Squad. “We’re fine if they want to cut second-growth, we have no quarrel with that, we’re not anti-logging at all, but we’re still here to protect the old-growth and we don’t see that in the premier’s statement.”
Saul Arbess, a member of the group, said in a statement that while the government’s announcement is a positive step, “it falls short of the deferrals required to pause logging in all the critically endangered areas currently being defended, for generations to come.”
The group is calling for the protection of about 4,600 hectares in both areas.
The three First Nations that issued the declaration responded to Horgan’s announcement by saying they now want to see respect for their continued logging operations outside the old-growth logging area, and for second-growth logging within it.
While the resource management plan is being developed, the three nations are asking that individuals allow forestry operations in other parts of their territories, approved by the nations and the province, to continue without disruption.
Following the news of the deferral notice, Teal-Jones — the company logging in Fairy Creek — told CHEK News that it intends to abide by the declaration and said they “look forward to engaging with the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations as they develop Integrated Resource Forest Stewardship Plans.”
Horgan said job impacts would be “modest” in the area and that the deferral is non-compensable by the government.
“But over time there will be costs to moving in this direction, but those are going to be dollars well-spent to ensure that we can distribute tenures in a more effective way, to get more jobs out of the land-base, to make sure we’re focusing on adding more value,” he said. “We are on a path that B.C. has not been on ever. We’re changing the way we do business on the land.”
Meanwhile, there have been 185 arrests so far at blockades set up to prevent old-growth logging in the region, at least nine of whom have been arrested more than once.
Activists say very little of the best old-growth forest remains in B.C., and Fairy Creek is the last unprotected, intact old-growth valley on southern Vancouver Island.
With files from The Canadian Press.