November 16, 2020
A brief history of the Fairy Creek Blockade
JOSHUA WRIGHT is a 17-year-old filmmaker from Olympia, Washington with an irrepressible passion for protecting the little that is left of the old-growth temperate rainforests. He has handy access to a state-of-the-art digital mapping program that allows him to track and monitor industrial logging activities in near-real time. In late July this year, he gave a heads-up to Vancouver Island veteran grassroots forest activist grandmother Eartha Muirhead of a road-building crew subcontracted to Surrey-based logging company and TFL 46 tenure-holder, Teal Jones, cresting the ridge into the old-growth Yellow Cedar headwaters of Ada’itsx/ Fairy Creek watershed. This is the last unlogged tributary of the San Juan River system; it is unceded Pacheedaht territory and near Port Renfrew.
Forest firefighter Will O’Connell surveyed the road-building operation with spell-binding drone footage that captured earth-moving machinery operating on dangerously steep terrain pushing into a watershed never before logged. Though no cutblocks are yet approved, the investment in road infrastructure foreshadows approval and logging of this rare wilderness valley.
A Teal Jones excavator about to crest the ridge above pristine Fairy Creek Valley (Drone photo by Will O’Connell)
O’Connell’s stark visual reveal of a logging road incursion into one of the last roadless places on southern Vancouver Island rapidly spread on social media and, in the midst of a pandemic, galvanized forest defenders into non-violent direct action.
On Sunday, August 9, thirty ancient-forest activists from all over the south island, including the nearby communities of Port Renfrew and the Cowichan Valley, gathered at Lizard Lake and decided to set up a road blockade above the clouds—1000 metres up a treacherous logging road on a steep ridge overlooking the Gordon River Valley, on the western flank of Fairy Creek, where road-building into the Fairy was slated the next work day. Tents were set up under the giant steel claw of a gargantuan excavator. A 10-foot-diameter cedar log round, from an ancient tree felled in the Klanawa Valley, propped vertically on a plywood frame, was installed as a barricade centrepiece across the road.
When the Stone Pacific road crew arrived in darkness at 5AM the next morning, they were politely confronted by a dozen people putting on the morning coffee around a small fire on the road end. They intended to hold the line at the very height of land and protect Fairy Creek from any further road incursion.
The blockade on Teal Jones’ new road
One week later, another blockade was set up to protect the watershed on its eastern flank and to stop clearcut logging in an area of contiguous ancient forest that is part of the 5100-acre Fairy Creek Rainforest, much of which is already under Old-Growth Management and Wildlife Habitat Area designation. People of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and island communities have been converging at the main basecamp ever since.
Pop-up blockades disrupting business as usual in surrounding remnant old-growth forest locales on Pacheedaht territory have also sent a message to government and industry that in a down-spiralling climate and biodiversity crisis, disruption to the status quo is to be expected until the government takes decisive action to protect what is left of these globally significant and irreplaceable forests. The objectives of all these blockade actions is to protect the last 1-3 percent of low-elevation old-growth rainforests left standing on so-called Vancouver Island.
Old-growth Red Cedar in Fairy Creek Valley
The Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek blockades are now entering their fourth month with no road-building or logging behind the two long-term barricades—and no injunctions or arrests. This blockade, now the longest land-based direct action campaign on this island in over two decades, has evolved quickly into a decentralized grassroots direct action movement under the banner of #oldgrowthblockade, aimed to stem the tide of the colossal destruction of the shocking equivalent of 32 soccer fields of old-growth forests per day on Vancouver Island alone.
Winterized infrastructure has been built at the main Fairy Creek Base Camp, 7 kilometres off the the Pacific Marine Road, including wood-heated Elder and Indigenous Warriors’ tents, bear-proof kitchen arbour, tool shed and hot water shower and change room.
Those blockading the road have prepared for a long battle to protect the Fairy Creek Rainforest from logging
Dozens of volunteers communicating via several online platforms have provided coordination and mobilized funds and material support to the frontlines, which have been steadily maintained by a gritty, dedicated crew of core forest defenders of all ages, predominantly women from many communities, who provide daily logistical coordination, elder care, camp leadership, hosting and reconnaissance on the ground. Over 500 people have visited the blockades and donated to the movement.
This settler-Indigenous blockade has been blessed with the solid support and wise leadership of Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones who has asked that the entire valley, five kilometres from the Pacheedaht village and part of his childhood stomping ground and spiritual sanctuary of his people, be dedicated as an Indigenous Protected Area in honour of the victims of the smallpox epidemic. Indigenous youth from many territories have participated in camp life and prominent elders and artists like Joe Martin, Herb Rice, and Rose Henry have visited the camp to show support and provide counsel. Pacheedaht Chief and council have not responded for or against the blockade.
Pacheedat Elder Bill Jones on the road overlooking the San Juan River Valley
The area is in the electoral riding of Premier John Horgan who has yet to respond to the demands of the blockade to protect Fairy Creek rainforest and all remaining old-growth temperate rainforests on the island.
On September 29, the blockade received a strong statement of support from the Union of British Columbia Chiefs (UBCIC), who issued a breakthrough declaration calling on the Province to implement all 14 recommendations of their Old-Growth Strategy Review report and for the immediate protection of key old-growth forest hotpspots including Fairy Creek. Most significantly, their declaration called for government to assume responsibility in re-investment in supporting First Nations to break free from the economic dependency on the old-growth forest destruction of their land-base, a major policy piece in the transition away from the destructive legacy of old-growth logging, once and for all.
Bobby Arbess is a long-time forest defender.
Support the Fairy Creek Blockade at: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/bc-old-growth-blockade