Prominent Canadians and international celebrities lend star power to old-growth cause

Brian Mulroney, Margaret Atwood, Jane Fonda and Neil Young are among more than 100 public figures who are adding their voices to the call to protect all old-growth forests in B.C. from logging.

“Some things can’t be replaced,” begins the brief open letter to Premier John Horgan, signed by Indigenous leaders, scientists, foresters, authors, former and current politicians, musicians, actors, business leaders, Olympians and environmental advocates.

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The letter says B.C. used to be “the land of giants, with trees towering 250 feet tall,” with forests that cleaned the air and water, stabilized the climate and housed wildlife.

It ends with a clear message: “Premier Horgan, protect the irreplaceable.”

The letter is a response to what’s seen as government inaction to protect iconic old-growth forests, leading to a months-long series of blockades to prevent Surrey-based forestry company Teal-Jones Group from logging old-growth in southwest Vancouver Island, near Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan.

Horgan committed to implementing all recommendations in an old-growth strategic review during last fall’s election campaign, including the deferral of logging in old forests where ecosystems are at a high and imminent risk of irreversible biodiversity loss, but that work is moving too slowly for those camped out in the forest.

More than 244 people had been arrested as of Thursday for blocking logging roads in an attempt to prevent Teal Jones from cutting old-growth.

The group that signed the open letter was assembled by Canopy, an environmental non-governmental organization, which ran an ad with a similar message in the Globe and Mail a few weeks ago.

Prominent Canadians contacted the organization in response to the ad, expressing their concern about old-growth logging and saying they would be happy to support the cause, executive director Nicole Rycroft said from Canopy’s Vancouver headquarters.

“So it just became clear that, you know, that there are a lot of people, right across British Columbia and across Canada, who felt really passionately,” she said.

Rycroft said the variety and calibre of those who’ve signed on — from environmentalist David Suzuki and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Stewart Phillip to British actor Emma Thompson and former NHL player Georges Laraque — is testament to the widespread support both in Canada and abroad to protect B.C.’s old growth forests from logging.

“I think it’s really indicative that there’s no longer social licence for this kind of logging anymore, that these forests are recognized as being critical in the fight against climate change,” she said.

Carole Tootill, a member of the grassroots group Rainforest Flying Squad, which has created the blockades, said it’s clear people across the country and the world are recognizing the urgency of the situation.

“We need this support. If government won’t listen to the people, maybe they’ll listen to celebrities,” she said.

A two-year deferral on logging in about 2,000 hectares of old-growth forest — requested by the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations and approved by the provincial government last week — has done nothing to end the blockades or the arrests of those defying a court injunction.

Those blockading roads are pushing for a permanent end to old-growth logging.

In a joint statement, the three First Nations have asked people not to block approved logging in other parts of their territory.

Teal Jones said in a statement Friday that most of the work in Tree Farm Licence 46, where blockades are in place, is in second-growth forest.

“We do cut a modest amount of old growth as well, as it has characteristics needed for many value-added products such as musical instruments,” the company said.

The company also noted the province removed several large areas from the tree farm licence in the 1990s to set aside as parks, including what is now the 16,500-hectare Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.

The B.C. Council of Forest Industries has said old-growth logging supports an estimated 38,000 jobs in B.C. and contributes approximately $3.5 billion to the province’s gross domestic product.

Following the deferral notice by the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht First Nations, the Squamish First Nation also asked the province to defer old-growth logging in its territory.

Horgan has said additional deferrals are expected to be announced this summer.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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