Two dozen placard-waving people from the Alberni Valley and as far away as Coombs lined Johnston Road outside Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne’s office last Thursday. The group was protesting old-growth logging, saying the B.C. government’s deferral earlier that week doesn’t go far enough.
The B.C. cabinet on June 9 approved the request of three Vancouver Island Indigenous communities to defer old-growth logging on about 2,000 hectares of old-growth forest that has been a target of protests since last year.
“Deferment is not what the NDP promised,” said Judy Thompson at the rally in Port Alberni. The rally was part of a province-wide initiative that took place in numerous communities on the same day.
“They promised protection of all endangered ecosystems.”
In the government paper “A New Future for Old Forests” the government promised development in old forests where ecosystems were at high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss would be deferred until a new strategy is implemented. “They haven’t done that,” said Keith Wyton of Bamfield, a longtime environmental advocate for forests and watersheds.
Logging old growth is coming to an end, either by logging it all or logging so much of it that the rest of the old-growth stands cannot survive, he added. Wyton said society needs to support a forestry system that doesn’t rely on old growth, but instead uses second or third growth “in a more meaningful way.”
Brenda Sayers and her sister and brother-in-law, Reanna and Bill Erasmus, supported the protesters. Members of the Hupacasath First Nation, Sayers said protecting sensitive ecosystems is most important. Logging old growth will not achieve that protection, she said.
“People have a hard time understanding what old growth is,” Bill Erasmus said. “These trees are 700-800 years old. These trees have been here longer than Christopher Columbus. These trees have been here longer than when Captain Cook came here on the west coast.”
The oldest trees are sacred to First Nations, Sayers added, saying logging protected culturally modified trees “would be erasing our history.”
A culturally modified tree is one that has been altered by Indigenous people as part of their traditional use of the forest. Some such trees include bark-stripped trees, trees logged with Indigenous methods or those modified for pitch or sap collection. There are official government classifications for such trees as well as official resource protections.
“These trees are sacred to us,” she said.