'Tree sitters' set up camp to block logging

“Tree sitter” protesters have set up camp on platforms suspended from trees in the Caycuse Valley after days of arrests by police to clear the way for logging.

“The goal is to, of course, slow down the clear-cutting, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped them,” said Kathy Code, spokeswoman for the Rainforest Flying Squad, which has been protesting old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse watersheds since last August. The group has several camps in the area.

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Code said one tree sitter had come down from their platform by Friday afternoon, but she couldn’t say how many people were still suspended high above the ground.

Code, who was in contact with activists on the ground, said logging company Teal- Jones was clear-cutting trees close to the tree sitters, within about one or two tree lengths.

The company said it started logging in two areas in the Caycuse Valley on Friday morning after the RCMP cleared access. The logging sites are a safe distance from protest activities and the company has spotters —­ looking for people in the area, Teal-Jones said.

Logging was halted at one location after a spotter saw activists entering the area, but work continued at a second site, the company said.

Teal-Jones said its work sustains hundreds of jobs in the province and produces products British Columbians rely on.

Sgt. Chris Manseau said the RCMP was planning to remove the tree sitters to allow Teal-Jones to continue their work. Officers believed the area was clear except for those suspended from trees, although there could be others, he said.

“We were surprised when these two people walked out of the forest this morning. So there could still be people that are hidden in the trees,” Manseau said.

RCMP officers arrested at least 21 people this week as they enforced a court injunction banning blockades established to prevent old-growth logging. On Monday, Mounties established an exclusion zone in the ­Caycuse area with a checkpoint on McClure Forest Service Road. Officers began making arrests on Tuesday.

Environmental groups have called attention to a threatened owl species that lives in the Caycuse Valley.

The western screech owl, which relies on old-growth forests, has been spotted in the valley recently and little is known about its population in the area, said Mark Worthing, coastal projects lead for the Sierra Club B.C.

Any logging of its habitat should be halted until more is known, or at least until the end of the breeding season in the fall, he said.

Teal-Jones said the company was notified of the species in the area and it changed work plans to avoid disturbing the owl. Logging is taking place several kilometres from the nearest spot where an owl was identified, the company said. Teal-Jones also hired a biologist to create a management plan to protect the habitat.

Worthing said any logging in the valley is removing habitat for the threatened species.

“The only option for them would be to, like, tools down entirely, and wait until breeding season is finished into the early fall, and then come back and do their assessment,” he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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