(Reuters) - Since August 2020 protesters have been blockading logging roads near the Fairy Creek drainage on western Vancouver Island. The dispute has reignited a debate on whether there should be a moratorium on logging Canada's ancient forests.
WHERE IS FAIRY CREEK?
The Fairy Creek watershed is part of Tree Farm Licence 46, a 59,000-hectare timber harvesting tenure held by private logging company Teal Jones, near Port Renfrew on the southwestern side of Vancouver Island.
Since last year blockades have spread out to other sites within the licence area, including the Caycuse watershed, but Fairy Creek remains a catch-all term for the protests.
WHAT IS AT STAKE?
Protesters say they are trying to save the last intact watershed outside of a park or protected area on southern Vancouver Island, home to 1,000-year-old yellow cedars.
In British Columbia's coastal region trees older than 250 years are defined as old growth. Old-growth forests support a greater diversity of plant and wildlife, including endangered marbled murrelet birds and northern goshawks.
Of the 13 million hectares of old-growth forest left in B.C., the majority consists of high-alpine trees unsuitable for logging. The remaining valley-bottom trees are the crux of the conflict between the forestry industry and conservationists.
There are 3.6 million hectares of old-growth forest available for logging on public lands in B.C. and 50,000 hectares, an area more than eight times the size of Manhattan, are cut every year.
WHY IS OLD-GROWTH SO VALUABLE TO INDUSTRY?
Old-growth trees yield "tight clear wood" without knots, favoured for products like shingles and decking. The industry argues logging smaller second-growth trees alone would be uneconomical.
In 2019 the forestry sector contributed C$13 billion, roughly 5%, to provincial GDP, according to lobby group the B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI). Of that, C$3.5 billion came from old-growth logging.
WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING?
Protesters set up their first camp last August, after an environmentalist using satellite imagery spotted a new logging road being built near the headwaters of Fairy Creek.
Since then other blockades have been set up in the area to protect stands of old-growth trees.
The B.C. Supreme Court granted Teal Jones an injunction in April, and police moved in to start breaking up camps and making arrests in May.
Activists remain camped in the forest and there has been an explosion in support on social media, with hundreds of new protesters joining the demonstrations.
WHO IS INVOLVED?
The blockades are being coordinated by environmental activists calling themselves the Rainforest Flying Squad.
Teal Jones is a private company based in Surrey, near Vancouver. The company, the world's largest maker of cedar guitar heads, says although the Fairy Creek watershed is almost 1,200 hectares, only about 200 hectares are available for harvest.
The Pacheedaht First Nation, within whose territory Fairy Creek lies, is divided on the issue. The First Nation owns three sawmills and has signed a revenue-sharing agreement with the province for logging activities in its territory.
(Reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary, Alberta; Editing by Matthew Lewis)