RCMP accuse protesters of cutting healthy trees to block road access

The RCMP is accusing protesters opposed to old-growth logging at Fairy Creek of cutting down 18 healthy trees and placing them across the road to block access for forestry company Teal-Jones.

RCMP Chief Superintendent John Brewer said in a statement that he visited the injunction area ­Saturday and noted “18 living trees had been cut with chainsaws and felled across the road, blocking ­vehicle access.”

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One person on a tripod structure was noted “to be smoking a cigarette surrounded by dry and tinder forest.”

Since August 2020, members of the Rainforest Flying Squad and other environmental activists have set up moving blockades in their bid to prevent logging and road-building in old-growth forests.

In April, B.C. Supreme Court granted Teal-Jones an injunction intended to stop protesters from blocking roads in Tree Farm Licence 46, north of Port Renfrew.

The RCMP began enforcing the injunction on May 18. To date, 494 people have been arrested and may face criminal contempt of court charges.

Brewer said he is “gravely concerned” by this new tactic of felling trees, which breaches the court-ordered injunction.

“On top of their escalating violence, they are now committing these egregious safety violations by falling healthy living trees and digging trenches on the road. It’s only a matter of time before someone, whether a fellow protester, supporter or police officer, is seriously injured,” he said in the statement.

The Pacheedaht First Nation issued a statement saying no trees on public land in its territory can be cut without prior consent of the nation, and it did not provide consent for recent tree-cutting by protesters.

The statement from ­Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones and Chief Councillor Jeff Jones said cedar is an iconic species deeply connected to coastal First Nations culture. “The unlawful cutting of the ­immature trees disrespects Pacheedaht ­planning and destroys decades of ­investment involved in getting trees established and growing strongly, and reduces the value of our growing timber crop.”

The First Nation has previously asked the protesters to leave its ­territory. Its statement also cited vandalism by protesters and unsanitary protest-camp conditions.

A spokesperson for the protesters could not be reached for comment.

Also on Saturday, a group of ­seniors called Elders for Ancient Trees travelled to the area from ­Victoria in a bus to test a recent ­decision by a judge that large exclusion zones established by police blocking access to the public are not justified.

The group arrived at a police checkpoint where several police ­vehicles blocked the road Saturday morning and stated their intention to visit a blockade site. Officers initially said they couldn’t continue, but they could walk the several-kilometre route, said Saul Arbess, a spokesman for the group. Later, they were told they could not pass on foot, either, he said.

A separate group arrived about an hour later and attempted to physically break through the police checkpoint, but were stopped by officers, Arbess said.

After Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones, a vocal supporter of the blockades, arrived and requested access to his territory for himself and the group, they were eventually escorted by police to Avatar Grove. Afterwards, the group was escorted out.

Arbess said he considered the trip a “great triumph for legal process.”

In a news release, RCMP said some people escorted to Avatar Grove became confrontational and 16 people were arrested, and processed and released in Port Renfrew.

No one in the seniors group of about 30 people was arrested, Arbess said. He was unsure if anyone in another group that tried to break through the police checkpoint was arrested.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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