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Protesters, including nearly 100 seniors who traveled from Victoria, march up a logging road after RCMP left near the Fairy Creek watershed on southern Vancouver Island on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

Hours after a B.C. court ruling lifted the injunction against old-growth logging blockades in Fairy Creek, the RCMP withdrew most of its officers, leaving protesters and loggers to continue their year-long battle alone.

On Wednesday, Teal Cedar Products continued its logging and road-building efforts in Tree Farm Licence 46, a vast coastal rain forest on the west coast of Vancouver Island featuring some of the largest trees in Canada and rare, intact watersheds. But for the first time since May, the company does not have a large contingent of police on the ground to clear the way.

Members of a grassroots group called the Rainforest Flying Squad, who have maintained protest camps here since August, 2020, vowed to remain in place until the B.C. government delivers on commitments to protect ancient forests.

“The forest is not protected, and we will be there until that happens,” said Luke Wallace, a spokesman for the group. “Now there is an incredible opportunity for the provincial government to step up and enact the sweeping reforms that they promised.”

B.C. Supreme Court ends Fairy Creek injunction

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson, in a judgment on Tuesday, ruled that the court injunction granted to Teal Cedar will not be extended, saying that the RCMP’s enforcement tactics “have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties.”

The RCMP has arrested more than 1,100 protesters since the injunction took effect.

Conrad Browne, a spokesman for Teal Cedar, said Wednesday the company will appeal that ruling. Meanwhile, it expects the conflict to continue on the ground. “We have every intention of continuing our forestry activities [even though] there is still some pretty significant tension,” he said.

The company had sought a one-year extension of the injunction and in its absence, Mr. Browne expects logging activities will be disrupted as they were before the injunction was granted. “We would go into an area, be physically stopped by protesters, then we would call the RCMP and hopefully they would attend. But that wasn’t happening, and that’s why the injunction was put in place.”

RCMP officials declined to comment.

The court’s ruling has left the B.C. government under renewed pressure to manage the old-growth logging dispute. In the last provincial election, Premier John Horgan promised a “paradigm shift” around old-growth logging to recognize the value of leaving forests intact.

But that change remains mostly in limbo as the province consults with individual First Nations about how to proceed.

An old-growth review panel, commissioned by the province two years ago, found that the province is at high risk of losing biodiversity because of poor management of its forests. It calls on the province to ensure that conservation of ecosystem health and biodiversity of British Columbia’s forests is prioritized.

There are roughly 13 million hectares of old-growth forests in B.C., but the majority of that consists of bogs or sparsely treed high elevations. The ancient, temperate rain forests – the most productive and valuable – total just 415,000 hectares. That is less than 1 per cent of the province’s remaining forests.

Those forests are disappearing to logging at an unsustainable rate, noted ecologist Rachel Holt, one of experts retained by the province to help map out endangered old-growth stands. She said the province’s forest industry needs to transition now to logging second-growth stands, because at the present rate of harvest, old-growth timber will begin to run out in as little as five years.

“Anyone who is reliant on old growth as their form of lumber is a dinosaur in waiting, because it’s running out,” Dr. Holt said.

In August, Forests Minister Katrine Conroy received the expert panel’s technical report that maps out which old-growth forests are in most urgent need of protection. But Ms. Conroy said she is not ready to make that report public until her government can work out the implications.

“It’s quite a complex report,” she said in an interview. “The panel’s recommendations were purely from a conservation perspective. And so we need to take that information, and then we need to look at the socio-economic factors.”

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