The protest revives a debate about protecting ancient forests and questions over whether environmentalists have a right to tell indigenous communities how to manage their resources
By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta, June 9 (Reuters) - Canada's British Columbia province agreed on Wednesday to a request from indigenous groups to defer logging of old-growth trees in the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island, where environmental activists blockading forestry roads are in a standoff with police.
The Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations formally requested a two-year deferral for old-growth harvesting in parts of their territories on Monday.
Activists have been blocking roads to stop private logging company Teal Jones from harvesting old-growth trees since last August, and there have been more than 180 arrests after police moved in to enforce an injunction last month.
The protest reignited a debate about protecting ancient forests in the province but also raised questions over whether environmentalists have a right to tell indigenous communities, many of which benefit economically from forestry, how to manage their resources.
"We have allowed as a province the titleholders to make decisions on their land," British Columbia Premier John Horgan told a news conference on Wednesday, announcing the deferral, which applies to about 2,000 hectares (4,940 acres).
Forestry contributes around 5% to B.C.'s economy and the Pacific Coast province is working on a strategy to modernize the industry and protect shrinking old-growth forests, which are trees aged at least 250 years old in the coastal region.
"These are monumental steps ... these announcements are transformative for an industry that has been foundational to British Columbia's success," Horgan added.
He said the government would consider old-growth logging deferral requests from other indigenous communities but that the process would take time.
Teal Jones said on Monday it would abide by the First Nations' request to defer logging.
Kathy Code, spokesperson for the Rainforest Flying Squad that organized the Fairy Creek protests, said Horgan's announcement was a step in the right direction but more action was needed to protect ancient forests.
"We intend to hold firm until we have old-growth forest defended across B.C. This is the last of our biodiversity," she said.
(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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