'These are monumental steps': B.C. government approves old-growth logging deferral on Vancouver Island

The British Columbia government has approved a request from a group of First Nations to defer old-growth logging in their territories on southwestern Vancouver Island for the next two years.

Premier John Horgan announced the province’s decision to approve the request on Wednesday, saying he was "very proud" to receive the deferral request and says more requests will be coming this summer.

The deferred lands include 884 hectares of old forests in the Fairy Creek watershed, near Port Renfrew, and 1,150 hectares of old growth in the central Walbran valley, near Lake Cowichan.

When asked if he thought the two-year deferral on roughly 2,000 hectares of old-growth forests would end the months-long protests in the region, Horgan was cautiously optimistic.

"I’m hopeful that those who have taken to the roads of southern Vancouver Island will understand that this process is not one that can happen overnight," the premier said.

"I understand the importance of preserving these areas," Horgan added. "But I also understand that you can’t turn on a dime when you’re talking about an industry that has been the foundation of B.C.’s economy."

The Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht First Nations told the province on Saturday of their plan to postpone old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek and central Walbran areas while the nations develop long-term resource stewardship plans.

Horgan acknowledged Wednesday that his government’s approval of the deferral request comes at a cost to the forestry sector but said the anticipated impact on jobs is "modest in this area."

"Over time there will be costs to moving in this direction but those are going to be dollars well spent," Horgan said. "We’re changing the way we do business on the land and that is hard work."

MORE LOGGING DEFERRALS COMING

Protesters have been blockading logging roads in the Fairy Creek area since August, preventing forestry company Teal-Jones from accessing the watershed. In April, the B.C. Supreme Court granted the company an injunction to have the blockades removed.

Since the RCMP began enforcing the injunction in late May, at least 194 people have been arrested, including more than two dozen arrests since the First Nations announced their deferral plans.

“These are monumental steps,” the premier said of the logging deferrals, noting that more deferral requests will be coming.

“These announcements are transformative for an industry that has been foundational to British Columbia’s success and will be foundational to our future success, but it has to be done a different way,” Horgan said.

“Today I am proud to have deferred these territories at the request of the title-holders and I’m very excited about the deferrals that will be coming later in the summer and all through the implementation of our old-growth plan,” the premier added.

Teal-Jones told CTV News on Monday that it would abide by the First Nations’ deferral request even before the province had accepted it.

"Teal-Jones acknowledges the ancestral territories of all First Nations on which we operate and is committed to reconciliation," the company said.

The deferral prevents not just old-growth logging but all logging activities in the designated old-growth areas. It also prohibits the construction of new logging roads, however some maintenance and deactivation work may continue for safety and environmental reasons.

The First Nations say forestry operations in other parts of their territories will continue without disruption and they are asking protesters not to interfere with these approved operations. 

"Today, we welcome the decision by the Government of British Columbia to approve the request made by our three nations," the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht said in a joint statement following the premier's announcement.

"We expect everyone to allow forestry operations approved by our nations and the Government of British Columbia in other parts of our territories to continue without interruption," the nations added.