Industrialized clear cut logging began reshaping the forests of British Columbia at the end of the nineteenth century (Ancient Forest Alliance, 2017). The logging industry quickly became part of British Columbia’s colonial identity, which remains to this day. However, old growth logging has been a hotly-contested issue for decades as these forests are highly valued, economically for logging companies and ecologically for conservationists. This difference in values across BC has led to many historical stand-offs between loggers and conservationists.

Bendickson logging crew on Broughton Island, 1907. (Museum at Campbell River)
Bendickson logging crew on Broughton Island, 1907 (Museum at Campbell River)

The most notable of these remains the Clayoquot Sound protests, commonly known as the War in the Woods. The summer of 1993 saw over 12,000 people show up in Clayoquot Sound to stand against the clear cutting of old growth by logging company Macmillan-Bloedel (Pierce, 2018). In one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history, nearly a thousand people were arrested at the blockade, bringing the issue of old growth logging to the mass public (Pierce, 2018). In 2000, Clayoquot Sound became recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and while this designation was significant, just six years later 10,000 hectares of the region were reallocated for logging development (Tofino Resort and Marina, 2020).

Protests in Clayoquot Sound, 1993 (Tofino Resort and Marina)

Despite the high levels of opposition to old growth logging, the province continues to profit from the exploitation of this rich resource. In the temperate rainforests of Vancouver Island, ‘productive’ old growth forests only grow in low elevations. These productive areas store the greatest amounts of terrestrial carbon and are ironically where the most profitable trees are found. Approximately 10,000 hectares of these old growth areas are cut down every year, which is the equivalent of logging 34 soccer fields of old growth per day (Gordon, 2020; Sierra Club, n.d.). This leaves only 1-3% of productive old growth standing as sparse patches scattered across the Island (Arbess, 2020).

Comparison maps showing range of productive old growth forests before and after industrial logging on Vancouver Island and BC lower mainland (Sierra Club)
Maps Showing the Disappearance of Old-Growth Forests on Vancouver Island 1900 – 2016 (Ancient Forest Alliance)

On the southwest coast of Vancouver Island the San Juan River flows to the Pacific Ocean through the unceded and ancestral territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation. Despite decades of extensive clear cutting along the San Juan, a single watershed has remained intact, Ada’itsx, the Fairy Creek watershed (Arbess, 2020). This forested valley near Port Renfrew is a biodiversity haven and is home to some of the largest yellow cedar trees in the province.

Fairy Creek Valley (TJ Watt)

In early August of 2020, Surrey-based logging company Teal-Jones began constructing a new road towards the north end of the Fairy Creek watershed (Arbess, 2020). On August 10, community activists erected a blockade in the path of Teal-Jones, days before they would have crested the ridge into the valley headwaters (Arbess, 2020). Since the blockade was set up, it has become the longest-standing land-based direct action campaign that Vancouver Island has seen in over two decades (Arbess, 2020). The Fairy Creek blockade has not only prevented the construction of logging roads into the watershed, but it has also reignited a grassroots movement to protect the old growth forests of Vancouver Island. In addition to the legalized amnesty of the Fairy Creek watershed, the movement is calling for the sweeping protection of all productive old growth that remains on Vancouver Island.

Fairy Creek blockade, week 1 (Bobby Arbess)

There are several ways in which the BC government could protect old growth forests, one of which being through the establishment of old growth management areas (OGMA), areas where industrial logging is prevented. The Fairy Creek watershed is partially protected as an OGMA, however the north and south ends remain vulnerable to industrial development. The cartography and spatial analysis of this project seeks to determine exactly how much of the Fairy Creek watershed is protected as an old growth management area?

Fairy Creek Headwaters Under Treat (Ancient Forest Alliance)

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