The beautiful and lush Canadian rainforests of coastal British Columbia have been gaining international media attention due to the ongoing confrontations between protestors and the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mountain Police) over logging the irreplaceable cedars and firs of one of the last unprotected old-growth forests, Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island. Protestors have been camping out since last August to prevent logging company Teal-Jones Group from cutting down the ancient trees. In April 2021, the company managed to obtain a court injunction which made it legal for the protestors to be arrested. This began another “War in The Woods'' which spurred the number of people from local communities camping out in the woods to block access points to Fairy Creek and the surrounding areas to grow exponentially, and raise the intensity of their outcry – blocking the roads, strapping themselves to treetop branches, or burying their arm in the ground.
The fight over Fairy Creek has put the focus on local forest policies and government promises to protect Canada’s last remaining old-growth. The province refuses to implement protection recommendations and continues to issue cutting permits, clearly committed to ensuring forestry remains an economic driver for the province and is adamant that logging old-growth is essential for that industry, which, last year, grossed $1.3 billion dollars in revenue and employs more than 50,000 people.
At the end of June 2021, the provincial government finally agreed to a two-year deferral on the Fairy Creek old-growth, however, the protestors have said they are not going anywhere until there is a province-wide moratorium implemented on all old-growth logging.
Facts about the trees of B.C.’s old-growth forests:
° The old-growth forests have been untouched since the last ice age (10,000 years ago)
° The oldest trees are about 1,000 to 2,000 years old
° They are as tall as a football field is long
° The variety of trees are mainly Red & Yellow Cedars, Sitka Spruce, Hemlock and Douglas Firs
° Each tree is home to a rare ecosystem only found in 1% of BC’s forests
° One independent study suggested that the majority of B.C.’s productive old-growth forests have been logged, and there are plans to log the majority of what remains
An old-growth forest (also known as a primary forest or virgin forest) is a forest that has reached a significant age and has gone nearly undisturbed by large-scale human activities. The global significance of untouched wilderness areas, such as B.C.’s Fairy Creek, are vast. Biodiversity and climate change are intrinsically connected to ancient trees. Old-growth and primary forests provide irreplaceable habitat for rare and endangered species and absorb a significant amount of carbon dioxide.
“We are losing biodiversity and we’re losing carbon storage. Old large tree ecosystems hold a phenomenal carbon store. We don’t have time to plant trees and wait 100 years.” (Rachel Holt, forest ecologist)
The international importance of these last remaining virgin ecosystems was highlighted by a recent study published in April 2021 which estimates that only 3% of the world's pristine areas remain. A pristine area refers to land with an ecologically intact ecosystem. The scientists behind this study focused on how to define and measure a pristine area by quantifying the status of the wilderness based on factors such as a high ecologically functional species density, no known species loss, and a low human footprint. They concluded that only 3% of the world’s land remains pristine by comparing various layers of data from previous years from each area. They identified that the last undisturbed habitats are the tropical forests of the Congo, patches of Amazon rainforest throughout South America (mostly in Peru, Brazil and Chile), Russia’s East Siberian forest and the boreal and old-growth forests of Canada.
Guardian graphic. Source: Plumptre et al, Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 2021. Note, the study did not include Antarctica
Climate change has long been the focus of the environmental crisis, however, nations are now becoming more aware that the protection of these pristine and biologically diverse ecosystems are vital for preserving our planet’s future. Climate change and biodiversity are so closely connected, that it has become apparent that one is directly affected by the other.
These old-growth forests are home to so many species, and so rich in biodiversity, that they are the key to a balanced ecosystem. Trees, plants and animals are interconnected in a chain that all together extensively contribute to climate change moderation and a cleaner, greener future. Conserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is key in the fight for climate change, and it should start now.
By the end of June, the total number of arrests at Fairy Creek totaled 254. Most of the protestors were charged with breaching the injunction and obstruction, while others were removed from the area without charges. The protests are being compared to the Clayoquot Sound protests of 1993 – also known as “The War In the Woods” – with 900 people arrested, it was the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history which brought about positive environmental policies – an increased protection for watersheds.
At Fairy Creek, the demonstrators have a unanimous sentiment – they are not coming down out of the trees until the logging of old-growth is completely stopped and criminalized. Fairy Creek has gone beyond saving just one forest, it is about safeguarding the future of our planet.
WRITING Emma Dora Silverstone-Segal