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Save Fairy Creek: the battle for the ancient forests of western Canada

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Save Fairy Creek: the battle for the ancient forests of western Canada

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CALGARY – Nolan Paquette started working part-time at his local sawmill more than 20 years ago when he was still in school, pushing a broom at the cleaning crew. Paquette, now 38, drives trucks and operates machinery at the same Western Forest Products-owned mill in Duke Point, Nanaimo, the third generation in his family working in forestry on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

He is one of 38,000 workers in Canada’s westernmost province whose work, according to the industry, depends on felling towering old trees, such as cedars, Douglas firs and western firs that are at least 250 years old, and in some cases more than one thousand.

The dispute over the logging of British Columbia’s ancient forests has come to the fore due to a months-long lockdown by private logging company Teal Jones in the Fairy Creek Basin of western Vancouver Island. . The protests that began last August have intensified in recent weeks, leading to more than 150 arrests.

Environmentalists camped out in the dense coastal jungle say they are fighting the Canadian version of the ivory trade. This weekend, activists urged more supporters to carpool and convoy to the Fairy Creek headquarters to show solidarity in one last stand.

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The forest industry says protesters are putting the livelihoods of thousands of working families at risk.

The Pacheedaht First Nation, on whose territory Fairy Creek is located, is divided on the issue.

The increasingly fierce fighting, taking place in British Columbia Prime Minister John Horgan’s own constituency, is unfolding amid record North American timber prices and the provincial government’s promise to review policies. that allow the felling of ancient trees.

“It would be devastating for the economy if we lost the old growth,” Paquette said, referring to calls from environmentalists to ban the practice. “You won’t find a C $ 31 an hour ($ 26) unskilled job on the island without forestry.”

INDUSTRY IN DECLINE

British Columbia used to be the epicenter of the North American lumber trade thanks to its vast virgin forests and still supplies nearly half of Canada’s softwood lumber. Domestically, the industry contributed C $ 24 billion ($ 19.8 billion) to Canada’s nominal GDP in 2019, and exports worth C $ 33 billion.

But reliance on logging old trees, which makes up a quarter of British Columbia’s annual timber harvest, is becoming a growing problem as ancient forests shrink.

Some coastal sawmills in British Columbia, such as Duke Point, are set up to process only large to very large trees.

Fairy Creek protester Shambu, 47, said it is “inevitable” that the logging of old trees will come to an end as the resource disappears and that government funding is needed to help the industry transition to logging and processing of planted forests.

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“Do we leave these loggers to make a living in a dying industry or do we help them? Either we arrange transitional financing now, when there is still a fraction of old growth left, or when there is none, ”said Shambu, who joined the Fairy Creek lockdown last August.

Since then, the camps have gone from nylon tents to buses with wood stoves and kettles, passing hundreds of people.

But the protests also raise questions about whether environmentalists should tell indigenous peoples how to manage their resources.

The Pacheedaht First Nation has said it does not welcome third-party activism on its territory, while elder Bill Jones supports the blockades and says the protesters are there at his invitation. He accused the gang’s council of “thinking that the forest is a commodity.”

ANCIENT ECOSYSTEMS

In a statement, Vancouver-based Surrey Teal Jones said harvesting work within its tree farm licensing area was responsible and supported hundreds of jobs. Throughout the protests, the company continued to cut down as many trees as it could and gained access to the nearby Caycuse watershed in late May, after the police cleared blockages there.

Last week, the left-leaning BC government unveiled details of a plan to modernize the forestry industry. It continues to work on implementing the recommendations of an independent review published last year, which called for a “paradigm shift” to protect old growth and defer logging in certain areas.

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The province will announce postponements in older areas later this summer, British Columbia Forestry Minister Katrine Conroy told Reuters, adding that her goal was to consult with First Nations and protect forestry jobs as well as ancient forests. .

“It’s a balance,” he said. “I don’t think we have to give up the environment for the economy.”

BC’s lumber trade was built in the forests at the bottom of the valley, the cathedral-like groves seen in tourist brochures, as loggers focused on the most lucrative and accessible trees. It’s been understood for decades that a transition would be needed as they run out, said Ken Lertzman, a professor of forest ecology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC.

“There is no question that it is important to the industry from an economic perspective, but that does not mean that you should not bear the cost of protecting it anyway,” he said.

HIGH PRICES

An unprecedented rally in lumber due to pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions and demand from homeowners is beginning to slow the start of home construction in North America, although it has given logging companies the opportunity to repair their balance sheets after several difficult years.

The center of North American industry has moved to the hot southern United States, where trees grow the fastest, said Mark Wilde, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets. Major Canadian companies, including West Fraser Timber Co Ltd and Interfor Corp, are investing there.

High prices have further polarized the debate over Canada’s old growth.

“These prices make it really difficult to tell people that we are going to leave this resource,” said John Innes, dean of forestry at the University of British Columbia. ($ 1 = 1.2107 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary, Alberta Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa Edited by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)

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