Nearly two weeks after RCMP started enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction to remove activists blocking access to a cut block near Port Renfrew, the Surrey-based logging company at the centre of the battle to save old-growth forests on Vancouver Island says it just wants to return to work.
“I just don’t understand why they’re still targeting us after the courts ruled that what they’re doing is illegal,” Jack Gardner, a log purchaser for Teal-Jones Group, told Global News.
RCMP set up a checkpoint near the Fairy Creek watershed earlier this month and gave notice it would make arrests if activists did not follow the April 1 court injunction.
As of May 28, RCMP said 137 people had been arrested, at least nine of whom have been taken into custody more than once, as they attempt to protect what they say is the last pristine stand of ancient trees in the area.
Teal-Jones Group holds a valid and legal licence to harvest timber in the disputed tract of land, and the company argues that activists are putting hundreds of jobs at risk, cutting off fiber to its mills, and preventing it from accessing about $10 million worth of timber.
“We are pretty frustrated, it’s time to get back to work, ” Gardner said.
“We do everything the right way, we engage with the local First Nations, we log responsibly and moderately, and definitely within the government regulations.”
The Pacheedaht First Nation approved cutting permits issued to Teal-Jones, and also negotiated an agreement with the province in 2017 to receive revenue from all timber cut on its land.
Its leaders have also repeatedly made it clear that they support logging in their traditional territory.
In an April 12 statement, Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones and Chief Councillor Jeff Jones said the Pacheedaht First Nation has always harvested and managed its own forestry resources, including old-growth cedar.
“All parties need to respect that it is up to Pacheedaht people to determine how our forestry resources will be used,” read the statement signed by elected chief Jeff Jones and hereditary chief Frank Queesto Jones.
“We do not welcome or support unsolicited involvement or interference by others in our territory, including third-party activism.”
Still, activists at Fairy Creek blockade headquarters — including Reuben George who is visiting from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation — said they are not going anywhere.
“I come in solidarity to stand with the nation that’s against it,” George told Global News Saturday.
“We need to protect what we love and that’s the trees.”
Tamara Meggitt of Support B.C. Forestry said there is a lot of misinformation being circulated in the old-growth forest fight.
“If the whole First Nations’ community truly believed in what these environmentalists were standing for, they would all be there on the front lines with them,” Meggitt told Global News.
“They’re not. They’ve asked you to leave, leave.”
Meggitt, whose husband works in the industry, joined loggers at an information roadblock west of Lake Cowichan Saturday.
“I’ve had enough of listening to these people that are attacking our livelihood and the forest industry,” said Mark Ponting.
Ponting, a contractor and fourth-generation logger, said the forest is “virtually untouched” all the way down the B.C. coast.
“There’s vast, vast amounts of trees, and to try and project this image that there’s only one per cent old-growth is a farce.”
The NDP government said it’s committed to implementing an expert panel’s 14 recommendations on how to better manage the province’s old-growth forests, but the premier claims it will take time and consultation.
“We need to engage with Indigenous peoples and that’s what we’re doing,” John Horgan told Global News on Thursday.
“We definitely want to look after the forest and make sure we do it right,” added Ponting.
“We have the best Forest Practices Code in the world here in British Columbia.”