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Dirty pool in BC’s forests

Comparisons with the '90s and conflict over Clayoquot Sound miss the crucial role of the Internet.
(Wirestock Creators /

According to Dan Lewis, executive director of Clayoquot Action, a Tofino-based “conservation advocacy group,” and a veteran of the first War in the Woods, the strategies and tactics of protesters at Fairy Creek are “very much the same thing” as they were at Clayoquot Sound 30 years ago. The big thinking is similar, he said in a radio interview reflecting on current events, insisting as well that the Fairy Creek protesters were taking a “very peaceful” approach in their use of “disciplined non-violence” to make their point.

Conrad Browne, director of Indigenous partnerships and strategic relations for The Teal-Jones Group, which holds the harvesting licence for TFL 46, begs to differ. “I can give you a laundry list of underhanded tactics,” he says.

The inventory includes causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to roads that Teal-Jones is responsible for maintaining. “I’ve lost count of the number of trenches that have been dug,” he says. These trenches range in depth from 2 -10 feet. Often, protesters are cemented into them to make them difficult to extract, which makes it more dangerous for both the extractors and the ones buried. Protesters are also blocking efforts to repair the roads, and if they are not restored before winter it could result in significant environmental damage.

TFL 46 is in the traditional territories of the Pacheedaht First Nation, and despite requests from the Nation’s elected leadership for protesters to decamp and leave the Nation and its traditional territories so that it can sort out its own affairs, the anti-logging forces have built illegal trails and camps and gone so far as to exploit internal divisions within the Pacheedaht Nation, creating the ugly spectacle of First Nations on both sides of the blockades.

“It’s disgusting,” says retired forester Bill Dumont. “It’s a tactic of colonial times. This is the antithesis of reconciliation.”

Other tactics have included illegally falling trees to build roadblocks and above-ground contraptions typically referred to as tripods that protesters occupy and even sleep in; bulldozing them out of the way is not an option. Camo-clad protesters are also infiltrating active logging areas and hiding. “They go into the trees and wait for the loggers to show,” says Browne, “and when they do, they jump out at key times and get in the way. It’s very dangerous for everyone involved.”

Some tactics can only be described as grotesque, adds Dumont, who says human excrement has been smeared on structures and gates to discourage police and workers from touching them. There have been numerous cases of tree spiking, which can cause serious injury, and perhaps even fatalities among workers.

Embedded journalists have described internal protest-camp operations as being organized along military lines. New arrivals receive an explanation about how the camp operates, learn about the hierarchy of command, are advised what to do and how to react in confrontations, and then told to keep their cameras ready.

But the regimentation only goes so far. Fringe actors have also exploited the situation, with some treating it as something of a lark. According to a posting on the Puget Sound Anarchists’ website, a group of US-based activists travelled to Fairy Creek in the early days of the action to “throw sand in the cogs” of industrial logging. “In this case for us it was establishing a temporary blockade,” it says. “We did this because it was fun and easy, and we had no interest in getting caught or waiting to be arrested.” The stated goal is to put a stop to any kind of logging, including second growth. And if that fails? “Worst case scenario we simply have some fun along the way, and cause them to think twice the next time. The more action is decentralized, the more uncontrollable it will become.”

Other tactics are more insidious and amount to psychological warfare. “We’re being subjected to a constant stream of threats and criticism,” says Browne, up to and including threats to “burn down” the Teal-Jones mill in Surrey. Anti-logging advocates have also attempted to frustrate daily operations by tying up company phone lines with a constant stream of nuisance calls. There is even an international component; Teal-Jones customers in both North America and Europe have been contacted and asked to boycott the company.

But what’s really been a game changer since Clayoquot is the Internet and the way in which it has opened the door to alternative media outlets, and the anti-logging forces have become adept at using them to further their cause. In 1993, there was little alternative to getting the word out than by traditional media. However, says Dr. David Tindall, a professor in sociology at the University of British Columbia, story fatigue often sets in at major media outlets, and when things simmer down, they move on to other events and stories. In addition to serving as a bulletin board for anti-logging activities, social media allows organizers to keep the pot boiling, providing a constant stream of information flowing from operations on the ground to supporters around the world.

There is nothing wrong with that—Canada is a country that respects free speech—but the social media outlets also allow the protesters to engage in disinformation campaigns. It is an often-repeated refrain on social and alternative media that Fairy Creek is the last “intact watershed” on Vancouver Island. And at least some politicians are piling on. “People are being arrested for attempting to stop preparations for logging in Fairy Creek—the last intact ancient forest valley on southern Vancouver Island,” claimed BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau.

These claims are patently false, says Dumont, who points out that there are 10 intact watersheds on southern Vancouver Island alone, most of them larger than Fairy Creek, which comprises 1,200 hectares. They include Cullite Creek (1,618 hectares), Tsusiat (3,312), and Carmanah Creek (5,626). There is also a constant stream of disinformation about precisely how much old growth remains in British Columbia. According to a Sierra Club of BC headline, only 3 per cent of old-growth forests “with huge, old trees are still standing across BC—and most are on the chopping block.”

This does not jibe with government data. As much as 60 per cent of the province’s 95-million-hectare land base is forested, and 23 per cent of that (13 million hectares) is old growth, with a further 46 per cent (26 million hectares) comprised of mature trees.

The Internet has also supercharged the ability of the anti-logging forces to raise money. As of this writing, Direct Action for the last Ancient Rainforests had raised over $700,000 via GoFundMe, while the The Last Stand for Ancient Forests—Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek Blockades brought in $565,000.

So far there have been no public disclosures about how the money is spent, although much of it is likely earmarked to supply the protesters with supplies, and to provide legal aid to some of the more than 1,100 that have been arrested.

And those are just the big-ticket earners. A search for Fairy Creek on GoFundMe generates more than 1,800 results. They range in size from small groups to individuals looking for pocket money to support them on the front lines. Included among them is a mother and daughter team looking for $2,000, a group of students hoping to buy a bus to transport them to the blockades, and another man looking for $5,000 so he can remain in camp and dig trenches. “I love to dig holes and trenches,” he says, establishing his bona fides.

There has been criticism that the protesters are financially supported by non-Canadian NGOs and individuals, but this is largely a distraction, says UBC’s Dr. Tindall. Indeed, Canadians can log on to CanadaHelps, a charitable giving platform, and donate to a half-a-dozen organizations dedicated to saving the Amazon rainforest, as well as a host of other environmental causes around the world, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that non-Canadians are donating to causes in Canada they view as important. As well, a recent study by the Alberta government commissioned in the hopes of proving that Alberta’s anti-oil and gas forces were funded by foreign agents failed to do anything of the kind. After the Alberta government spent $3.5 million, the Edmonton Journal reported that there was, “No evidence of wrongdoing found in Allan inquiry report into 'anti-Alberta' campaigns.”

Better to focus on efforts that can bear the most fruit, and that includes influencing public opinion, and on that front, industry appears to have been put on the defensive. “There is a sense that the people protesting have public opinion on their side,” says Dr. Tindall. “And if the government thinks people will vote on it, they’ll do something.”

And serving as a clear indicator of which way the provincial government thinks the wind is blowing—and how to formulate policy—is the recent announcement that it was deferring the harvesting of 2.6 million hectares of old-growth logging across the province. Some deferrals were expected, but this was a bombshell. Government estimates of job losses were in the range of 4,500, but the Council of Forest Industries predicts as many as 18,000 eventually getting furloughed, and the shuttering of up to 14 sawmills. It will also serve as a torpedo under the waterline for BC’s struggling value-added sector, says Brian Hawrysh, CEO of the BC Wood Specialties Group Association.

That the wind is blowing this way in government should come as no surprise, says Stewart Muir, executive director of Resource Works, an industry advocacy group, because when it comes to formulating government policy, the fox is in the henhouse. He points out that George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, is a former executive director of Sierra Club BC, and that “four of the five appointees to the province’s Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel have ties to the same organization.”

The war is by no means won or lost. The outcome will be determined by the legislature and the courts, including the court of public opinion. In the meantime, workers on the ground will continue to bear the brunt of it, struggling to do their jobs in a hostile and often dangerous environment.

“It’s difficult when you’re on the right side of the law trying to do well what you have done well for many years,” says Browne. “But I am very proud of our teams and their ability to stay on the high ground during some extremely emotional situations.”

This article originally appeared in Truck Logger BC Magazine. Click here to subscribe  or here to read the latest or past issues.