First Nation leaders call on B.C. to take immediate action to protect old-growth trees

Sparked by ongoing wildfires and current logging practices, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) announced a “Protect Our Elder Trees Declaration,” which calls for a deferral on cutting old-growth and demands First Nation engagement in any logging issue.

According to BC Wildfire Service, 269 active wildfires are burning as of Wednesday morning.

More than 557, 624 hectares of forests have burnt, equal to 1.4 million football fields.

UBCIC says climate change and current logging practices are devastating the forests.

The UBCIC declaration highlights the importance of old-growth trees to Indigenous people, ecosystems and wildlife.

Chiefs are calling for permanent protection of all old-growth in B.C. and meaningful engagement with First Nations.

In a phone interview with APTN News, UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said current provincial policies are not working.

“They have allowed for the decimation of the forest resource through industrial clear-cutting on top of that we wildfires that are destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of timber,” he said.

Phillip said there’s a heritage value in old-growth forests that belongs to all British Columbians.

“The vast majority of British Columbians throughout their lives have been able to enjoy the beauty of British Columbia, they have been camping, fishing and building homes,” he stated.

“All of that is being ravaged by the wildfires at the moment, its incumbent of British Columbians to know and understand we all have a duty and obligation to protect what’s left.”

Phillip said they support the groups that are protesting old-growth logging on Fairy Creek area on Vancouver Island.

“The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is proud to stand with the land defenders at Fairy Creek and commend them for their principled and courageous stand in the face of very  brutal policing techniques,” said a statement released last week.

Environmental groups have been protesting the logging of old-growth at Fairy Creek with blockades for nearly a year.

On April 1, 2020,  the B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction for Teal-Jones to operate in the Fairy Creek area.

More blockades were set up on logging roads on Vancouver Island.

In mid-May, RCMP developed an injunction zone and started making arrests for those blocking the logging companies from operating.

This summer, the province deferred old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek and Carmanah Walbran regions for two years.

The protests continued calling for more protection and action.

According to an Aug. 3 RCMP news release, over 514 arrests have been made in Fairy Creek area.

The top two reasons were 365 for breach of the injunction and 124 for obstruction of justice.

Phillip said changes need to happen now to save the forests.

“Now we are in the midst of climate crisis that is characterized by wildfires and other unprecedented, unforeseen events, I think we need new legislation that is forward-looking,” he said.

The Ministry of Forests said in an email statement to APTN News that the government is committed to do things differently to protect old growth while supporting workers and communities.

“That’s why we commissioned an independent panel report from two respected foresters and the work to implement that report began almost immediately,” the statement said.

“Since September 2020, we’ve designated 11 areas that contain almost 200,000 hectares of old-growth that will be deferred from harvest.”

The Old Growth Strategic Review, a report generated by the panel, has 14 recommendations, with the number one recommendations focused on First Nations and the provincial government working together.

“The first, and most critical, recommendation from the independent panel’s report on old-growth is for government to engage with First Nations rights and title-holders,” the government said. “Those engagements have to take place.”

The government said it has and will continue to enrage with First Nations rights and title holders on proposed logging deferral areas.

In June 2021, the province announced a new technical panel that would take science based approach to management.

August and September are both wildfire seasons in BC.

Wildfire season is only halfway complete, and we are currently in a state of emergency due to burning wildfires.

Phillip said more people in the province will be calling for action.

“In the middle of this wildfire crisis in British Columbia, you’re going to see a greater level of support among the general population to protect what’s left.”

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