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Police end tree-sit protest near Trans-Canada Highway; banner removed

Two protesters made their way about 15 metres up a Douglas fir near Thetis Lake, unfurling a banner saying “Walbran Forever”

Police moved in to end an anti-logging protest near the Trans-Canada Highway Thursday afternoon, saying two men sitting on a platform high up in a tree were affecting highway traffic.

The two activists had unfurled an 18-metre long banner saying “Walbran Forever” near Thetis Lake, and said they were raising awareness about what they call “an imminent threat” of clearcut logging in the Walbran area, northwest of Port Renfrew.

“[West Shore RCMP] said they got two calls about near collisions because people were too distracted from it,” said 32-year-old Will O’Connell, one of the tree-sitters.

“They clearly wanted the tree-sit down faster than we wanted to take it down, and they didn’t want to put us at risk from derigging the banner and so they called the View Royal Fire Department.

“It is disappointing not to be able to be out there longer to make more of a splash, but on the other hand, the point of the mega-banner was to draw attention.”

View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst said the banner had come loose, so firefighters removed one side and a Capital Regional District arborist was set to deal with the other side.

Hurst said he had a conversation with the tree-sitters once they were on the ground about the fact that, despite the right to protest, they had inconvenienced people with the traffic snarls and necessitated an expensive fire department response.

“They used steel cable for the sign,” he said. “It was an expensive climb of a tree.”

The tree-sitters were able to rappel down from the platform on their own, Hurst said.

O’Connell said that he and fellow tree-sitter Hugo Lefrancois, 27, plan to go to the Walbran this weekend to work on a trail network.

The men made their way about 15 metres up the tree late Wednesday afternoon following a few weeks spent preparing the platform and making the banner, O’Connell said.

He said he and Lefrancois came down after a brief hold-out and it appears there will be no charges against them.

O’Connell said that instead of preserving places like the Walbran for future generations, the province is “gifting these irreplaceable forests to industry,” and he and Lefrancois will continue their activism until the government permanently protects old growth.

“It’s not just us — it’s a community of people who care about the Walbran,” he said.

Lefrancois said the protest was held at Thetis Lake because concern about old-growth forests like the Walbran “is a direct result of decisions made here in Victoria.”

O’Connell said he thought a temporary logging deferral by the province affecting the Walbran ecosystem had run out, but Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said in a statement that it is still in place.

It covers 1,150 hectares in the central Walbran and about 884 hectares in the Fairy Creek watershed, and was enacted in 2021 after a call for action from the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations.

Ralston said the Central Walbran deferral has been extended through September 2026 and the Fairy Creek measures have been extended until Feb. 1, 2025.

“Our government continues to take unprecedented actions alongside First Nations, communities, environmental groups and industry to conserve more old-growth forests for our kids and grandkids, while supporting sustainable forestry jobs,” the statement said.

The ministry said that the Teal-Jones Group is the licensee for Tree Farm Licence 46, in which most of the Walbran is located, and has told the ministry that no harvesting has occurred there since 2022.

There has also been no harvesting in the small portion of the upper Walbran Valley within Tree Farm Licence 44, the ministry said.

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