Old-growth logging activists defend use of second-growth trees to form blockade at Fairy Creek

Activists calling for an end to old-growth logging in B.C. are defending their use of second-growth trees that were reportedly felled to form a blockade in the Fairy Creek watershed area of Vancouver Island on Saturday.

Over the weekend, RCMP accused protesters of cutting down 18 living tees to lay across a logging road to prevent vehicles from driving into the watershed.

That same day, 16 people were arrested, 15 for obstruction and one for civil contempt of court for breaching the injunction, said police.

On Monday, activists with the Rainforest Flying Squad said that the use of second-growth trees to make the blockade was minimal compared to the amount of trees that are cut down to accommodate old-growth logging.

Protesters say that a significant amount of second-growth is cut down to create logging roads to old-growth cutblocks, and even more are felled around the sites themselves.

"They’re (the activists) only cutting on the right-of-way, which will be cut again anyway. That's common practice," said Bill Jones, an Elder with the Pacheedaht First Nation who supports old-growth logging protests in a statement Monday.

"It’s not really something to make a mountain out of. It’s not a threat to the ecology. It’s okay with me," he said. "There’s miles and miles of second-growth on rights-of-way that’s simply mowed down."

On Saturday, RCMP said they were concerned about wildfire dangers after one protester was reportedly seen smoking a cigarette at the top of a tripod structure.

Members of the Rainforest Flying Squad say they are aware of fire risks and have been using a "strict fire safety protocol" for roughly a month. The activists say they're re-emphasizing the importance of the fire safety protocol, while noting that regular logging activities also create their own fire risks.

"I don’t pretend that the Pacheedaht or any mankind owns the old-growth," said Jones. "I feel the-old growth belongs to the Great Mother and it’s our duty -- and all our duty -- to protect and care for it."

Nearly 500 people have been arrested on Vancouver Island since RCMP began enforcing an injunction against old-growth logging blockades in May.

As of Saturday, 494 people have been arrested, including at least 28 people who have been arrested more than once, according to RCMP.

While Pacheedaht Elder Jones has been supporting protesters in the area, elected Pacheedaht officials have repeatedly called for activists to leave the area, saying that the Nation expects its rights over its land and stewardship responsibilities to be respected.

In June, a group of three Vancouver Island First Nations and the province agreed to a two-year deferral of old-growth logging in large sections of the Fairy Creek watershed and central Walbran valley.

Protesters say that more has to be done, however, and are calling for the protection of all B.C. old-growth forests in perpetuity.