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Fairy Creek camps wind down for winter, but search for missing activists continues

The Rainforest Flying Squad — the group behind the blockades — recently broke down the last of its publicly accessible camps near Port Renfrew due to winter conditions.
Protesters are seen guarding an area of a logging cut block called 'Heli Camp' in the Fairy Creek logging area near Port Renfrew, B.C. Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The Fairy Creek old-growth blockade near Port Renfrew is heading into winter hibernation mode, but the search for two activists missing in the region is ongoing.

The Rainforest Flying Squad — the grassroots coalition behind the old-growth blockades — recently broke down the last of its publicly accessible camps due to winter conditions.

The Roadside Camp near the intersection of Granite Main logging road and Pacific Marine Road is now closed to the public, the group said in a statement.

“We’re definitely not giving up, we’re just shifting tactics with the winter and the snow that is blocking [logging activity] for us,” said Shawna Knight, a long-time activist who will remain at a smaller remote camp.

The public camp is also being temporarily closed for safety reasons because of the hazardous weather and poor driving conditions, Knight said.

In the meantime, supporters have used the past month to break down camp structures, haul out garbage, and gather up and store supplies and resources in preparation for the start of logging season in the spring, she said.

At the same time, efforts to find missing activists Bear Henry and Gerald (Smiley) Kearney continue, said search volunteer Shelia McFarland.

Henry, a two-spirit person of Cowichan and Penelakut descent, was last heard from after texting loved ones from the Lake Cowichan area on Nov. 27, said McFarland.

Henry’s older two-tone Dodge van was last seen near the Honeymoon Bay Ecological Reserve east of Lake Cowichan and it’s believed the 37-year-old was headed toward Fairy Creek, McFarland said.

A core group of searchers continues to scour roads in the extensive wilderness area as often as weather allows, and two helicopter searches have been done, with a third planned as soon as funds are raised, she said.

A vigil took place to buoy the spirits of Henry’s friends and family on Jan. 8 in Victoria.

It’s possible Henry’s van had some sort of road mishap or got stranded, McFarland said.

“We’re trying to find backwoods cabins that might be on roads an old two-wheel drive van could drive,” she said, adding Henry is accustomed to spending time in the backwoods and likely has supplies and gear.

Kearney, 61, missing since Oct. 13, was last seen in the upper elevations of the Fairy Creek watershed after setting out to walk between two blockade camps, McFarland said.

A check of the area by search-and-rescue and RCMP teams paired with a drone and a police dog failed to find anything.

The terrain is too treacherous to allow searches until the weather improves in the spring, McFarland said.

Hundreds of people have been attempting to prevent the logging of old-growth trees in the Fairy Creek area near Port Renfrew, where Surrey-based forestry company Teal-Jones has the rights to harvest in Tree Farm Licence 46.

An injunction against protesters blocking logging roads was granted in April, and RCMP began making arrests in mid-May. About 1,180 arrests have been made since then, RCMP said in its most recent update Dec. 2. The RCMP spent just over $8.91 million on the old-growth logging protests up to Nov. 30, according to documents obtained through an access to information request.

Teal-Jones has a temporary injunction in place while B.C.’s Court of Appeal makes a decision on the company’s request to extend the injunction.

Protests are likely to surge again come summer regardless of any legal outcome, Knight said.

“People will be there, ready and waiting,” she said.

“Because if the government’s not going to legislate protection on these trees, it’s the job of the citizens of Canada, isn’t it?”

— Canada’s National Observer with a file from the Times Colonist