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April 2, 2021 | South Vancouver Island’s Abundant Intact Watersheds

Stewart Muir is founder and executive director of the Resource Works Society, a Vancouver-based group open to participation by British Columbians from all walks of life who are concerned about their future economic opportunities. He is an author, journalist and historian with experience on three continents including a financial editor of The Vancouver Sun responsible for mining and markets coverage. Since Resource Works was established in 2014, the group has gained international recognition for its practical approach to the public challenges of responsible natural resource development and use.

Examining recent claims about the status of pristine watersheds on south Vancouver Island.

For months now, a pressure campaign has been underway in the woods west of Victoria. Logging roads that exist to allow forest companies to carry out permitted harvesting work have been blockaded by interest groups. Their argument is that this is the only means available to prevent logging in what they say is southern Vancouver Island’s last intact old-growth forest, the Fairy Creek watershed. Much has been made of this claim, for example in the British Columbia Legislature on March 25, 2021. That’s when Sonia Furstenau, BC Green Party leader, stated:

“Today the B.C. Supreme Court is hearing forest company Teal-Jones’s application for an injunction against the protesters at Fairy Creek. If the injunction is granted, we could see people arrested for attempting to stop preparations for logging in the last intact ancient forest valley on southern Vancouver Island.”

Here is Fursteneau underscoring that point on the same day:

The claim comes at a time when British Columbia seems headed for a turbulent time in forestry as the state of forest management is being held up to scrutiny following a review process that resulted in recommendations to the government that were accepted. However, further work will be required for these recommendations – representing a “paradigm shift” in forest management – to be implemented. At such a moment, it is expected that having accurate information and an agreed set of facts is a necessary condition for constructive dialogue.

With the Green leader’s official statement in the Legislature now on the permanent record, Resource Works wanted to understand exactly what she meant. Her words have been accepted as a simple statement of fact by many in the news media, and are a staple talking point for various organizations seeking publicity by seeking to thwart approved harvesting in the area surrounding the Fairy Creek watershed.

It turns out that the statement could not be further from the truth. Fairy Creek is not in any way the “last intact ancient forest valley on southern Vancouver Island”. In fact, we identified 10 intact watersheds south of Clayoquot Sound on southern Vancouver Island, in addition to Fairy Creek (which, incidentally, is not itself intact). The first one on the list is located only 10 kilometres from Fairy Creek.


Based on examination of mapping records, here’s the actual list of intact old-growth watersheds south of Clayoquot Sound:

  1. Cullite Creek – 1,618 hectares. Watershed was part of a tree forest license (TFL46) prior to Carmanah Walbran Park being established and added to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
  2. Logan Creek – 1,505 hectares. This watershed borders a tree forest license at the head of the watershed. It was part of the TFL prior to Carmanah Walbran Park being established and the area being added to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
  3. Adrenaline Creek – 609 hectares. Another watershed removed from a TFL and added to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
  4. Information unavailable
  5. Kulaht Creek – 15,030 hectares.
  6. August Creek – 1,098 hectares – a tributary to Carmanah Creek.
  7. Carmanah Creek – 5,626 hectares. About 4% of this watershed was harvested before being made a park
  8. Tsuquadra – 1,009 hectares. A portion of this area was once part of a tree forest license prior to the addition of the “Nitinat Triangle” to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
  9. Tsusiat – 3,312 hectares. As with the Tsuquadra watershed, this area was added to the Nitinat Triangle.
  10. Information unavailable.

The term “intact” here might be controversial for some. It’s worth noting that even the Fairy Creek watershed, which Furstenau is on the record calling intact, has been subject to extensive harvesting in its lower reaches. Some would even argue that “two-thirds” intact is hardly the same as “the last intact watershed”. The list of 10 intact, protected watersheds here generally applies a higher standard of the term. In some cases one might argue for use of the term “mostly intact”. Certainly, in the top 10 list there is no watershed that is less intact than Fairy Creek.

Nevertheless, others in the environmental movement continue to repeat the Fursteneau phrase. The Tyee, for example, is happy to call Fairy Creek “the last intact valley on southern Vancouver Island” despite the facts, and the usage frequently shows up in media reports.

The minister responsible for forestry, Katrine Conroy (Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development), has in recent Question Periods offered over and over again to provide technical briefings to the BC Green Party leader – not just on the wobbly watershed claim but also numerous other inaccurate statements about the mature forest management issue that Fursteneau raised over multiple days. On the same day as Furstenau’s sweeping but untrue statement cited above, Conroy said: “The member is inaccurate in her numbers. She likes to put out numbers. I don’t know … I would love to meet with her to talk to her and have a briefing on where she’s getting her numbers from, because they are inaccurate.”

It’s impossible to say why the BC Green leader was willing to make such a sweeping and untrue statement in the House. After all, there is no need to make factually incorrect statements when the Legislature has extensive research facilities available to members.

READ: Here’s the real story on Fairy Creek and the future of responsible forestry

Whether a ministerial briefing occurs remains to be seen. In the meantime, the episode is a reminder that without reliable information, it’s difficult or impossible to develop policies that respect the need for government-to-government discussions with Indigenous Nations while also talking to workers, industry, and local communities who are dependent – directly or indirectly – on the forest industry that employs 24,000 residents on the coast alone.

Supposing the Green Party leader doesn’t trust anyone in government, she could have consulted with Victoria councillor Ben Isitt, a prominent environmental activist, whose own motion opposing old growth forestry is somewhat closer to the truth in its description of Fairy Creek, calling it “the last unlogged watershed in the San Juan River system in the Capital Regional District”.

On April 1, forest product company Teal-Jones won the injunction it sought to get back to work on its permitted operation. Supreme Court of B.C. Justice Verhoeven, in issuing his decision, noted that protesters are a “very militant group” who have “expressly threatened a ‘protracted civil disobedience struggle’”. Verhoeven observed that these protesters refer to a “war” and “battles” and that company actions in seeking an injunction “will be met with resistance”.

Wrote Verhoeven: “These are words that may incite violence.”

Here’s a striking truth about the Fairy Creek situation: the fact is that old-growth trees and wildlife in the Fairy Creek watershed are already substantially protected. In fact, the very protections that environmental groups seek are already in place. The existence of 10 other protected and intact watersheds south of Clayoquot Sound is further reinforcement of this. One might ask: what are blockaders really fighting for, since it’s clearly not the last intact watershed on southern Vancouver Island that’s at risk.

Is Fairy Creek the site of ongoing blockades and protests simply because it is easy to get to from Victoria, and is it merely serving as a picturesque stage set for some greater environmental question or other concern? Are some in positions of public trust so careless of the facts that they are willing to incite violence to forward their agenda? Will the boundaries of this expression exceed social norms resulting in the violence that Verhoeven suggests is possible?

Moving forward requires getting down to serious work that will ultimately be to the benefit of everyone. One thing that’s desperately needed is a way to separate fact from fiction. Those who contribute to the factual understanding of the issues will be able to set an example of fair play, integrity and intelligence.


Scene in Fairy Creek watershed. Photo by Fairy Creek Blockade.

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April 2nd, 2021

Posted In: Resource Works

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