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Fairy Creek: The New War In the Woods with Elizabeth Noble


For close to a year forest activists in the Fairy Creek watershed have been defending the last unprotected stand of coastal old growth on Southern Vancouver Island.  Fairy Creek is the latest salvo in a conflict that goes back decades. In 1993 mass protests in Clayoquot Sound, dubbed ‘the war in the woods’, gave birth to an international movement to protect ancient forests and highlighted the failed forestry policies that pit workers against protesters and disenfranchise and divide indigenous communities.  

History is repeating itself again. This time with the renewed urgency of the climate crisis. In this episode of AIR I speak with Elizabeth Noble, campaign fundraiser at the Sierra Club BC about the the history of old growth logging in British Columbia and the struggle to protect what is left.  We also discuss the innate value of ancient forests for well being and mitigating the effects of climate change, as well as policy solutions that respect First Nations title and rights over the land.

Show notes

  • To find out more about Sierra Club and Elizabeth Noble’s work check out Sierra Club BC
  • To join a coalition of benefactors, artists and activist for climate justice check out Invite To Action
  • To find out more about the Fairy Creek blockades and donate go here
  • To find out more about the movement to protect old growth forests check out the Ancient Forest Alliance 



A New Future for Old Forests –  In September 2020, the BC government released its independent Old Growth Strategic Review panel’s report which provides a blueprint for a complete paradigm shift in forest management in BC

The Narwhal has done a number of excellent long form articles on the Fairy Creek Blockades, including interviews with Pacheedaht Chief Jeff Jones and the lead author of the Old Growth Strategic Review report Garry Merkel

The Guardian article on Fairy creek blockades can be viewed here 

The Times Columnist feature article on Pacheedhat Elder Bill Jones

Letter and signatories calling for the protection of British Columbia’s iconic old-growth forests.


Episode Transcripts


intro  0:09
You’re listening to awake in relationship, a podcast about intimacy, community and culture in a time of great change with Silas Rose.
Silas Rose  0:41
Hello and welcome to awake in relationship. My name is Silas Rose. I think it’s fair to say that in the past year COVID really sucked all the oxygen out of the room or at least the news cycle. All the other important issues that we’re facing in our world right now,have been sidelined. I’m thinking specifically about the climate crisis. Here in the northwest, we just went through a really profound so called once in 100 year event. I really believe that this weather events has renewed a sense of urgency to take action, which is why I invited my friend, Elizabeth Noble to come on the show and talk about what’s happening out in Fairy Creek.  For close to a year blockaders on southern Vancouver Island have been putting their bodies on the line to protect a stand of rare and unprotected old growth forests. Fairy Creek really is the latest salvo in a conflict that goes back decades in this province. Many people listening might remember events at Clayoquot Sound back in 1993, dubbed the war in the woods, which is really Canada’s premier event in terms of civil disobedience, resulting in over 900 arrests to protect ancient forests on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This really give birth to an international movement to end on growth, longing, and highlighted the failed forestry policies and dare I say the world view that sees ancient forests and our relationship with the land in terms of endless resource extraction and exploitation. There’s a real sense, for me at least, of history repeating itself at Fairy Creek.  Back in the early 90s.I was really involved in  forestry campaigning, mostly in the Walnbran and Carmanah valleys. Since current current situation definitely brings up a little bit of PTSD, but also a kind of more nuanced internal conflict.   Back in the spring when the conflict was really starting to heat up the three nations that control that territory  Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations requested that all third parties leave the territory, and not interfere in their internal business. So I’ve chosen to honor that request and not go to the blockades. It is also important to note that land defenders are there on the request of Pacheedaht, Elder Bill Jones, and Heredatory Chief Victor Peter. There is so much in this conflict that warrants deeper exploration. In particular, indigenous land rights and title, which is really the molten core of many complex that are happening across Turtle Island. I want to go into this topic in greater depth in future episodes. This conversation really is just kind of an entry overview.,with a personal friend of mine, Elizabeth Noble, who’s a campaign fundraiser at Sierra Club BC. We discussed the inate value of ancient  forests for health and well being but also to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. We also discussed solutions to old growth logging and changing the paradigm of forestry, from resource extraction to ecosystem health and respecting indigenous  rights and title on land. Enjoy.
Good morning Elizabeth and welcome to awake in relationship.
Elizabeth Noble  4:30
Thanks, I’m so glad to be here.
Silas Rose  4:32
Yeah. So I approached you for this conversation. for a couple of reasons. Really. One, this is Fairy Creek isa very complex and emotional topic. I think it warrants a friendly overview. And I can think of no better person than you, because we share a similar spiritual path  and a similar reasonably balanced view of change making. So lets begin with talking about the through line for you, between your personal practice of meditation, mindfulness and the work that you do, what do you see as the connection?
Elizabeth Noble  5:31
Yeah, thank you so much, Silas, that’s a really good question Having grown up in the Buddhist community, it’s really difficult for me to sort what would be the separation, because my whole experience is framed by having grown up with Buddhist parents and mindfulness practice from a very, very young age.  So I think that the thing that drew me to this kind of work is the fact that I did grow up with the Buddhist teachings about interconnectedness and interdependence. And so, you know, my mother, who, you know, is an incredibly sensitive, kind woman, who would frequently feel devastated when she watched the news, you know, she took these things very, very personally, when she would see harm being done to others or to the natural world. And I kind of, you know, internalize that really, really deeply as a young person. And, you know, in many ways, it was actually quite paralyzing for me growing up, because I could see all the ways in which the world as it functions now is incredibly harmful. And, and so I felt a lot of guilt, you know, wanting to be an artist, or actually not even having a choice, I for sure, am an artist. But so many art supplies are incredibly toxic, and damaging to the environment. And I felt incredible guilt about engaging in artistic practice knowing that, you know, for example, in art school, we were dumping leaders of toxic dye into the St. Lawrence River untreated. And so I really, really struggled with knowing that climate change was real, and feeling compelled to do something about it. Because that’s also how I was brought up, you don’t just, you know, passively standby, you really have to engage with the world. And so I’ve managed to find a balance where I’m able to do my artistic practice on the side and have fun and enjoy and connect deeply with that. And then I spend the rest of my time working on climate change, because, for me, it is the defining context in which all other struggles are placed. And so it really feels like if I can find a way to work at this root problem, and disentangle that a little bit, then I won’t carry that same kind of frustration that I felt as a young person around because I get meaning from doing this work.
Silas Rose  8:28
There’s, there’s no enlightenment on a dead planet.
Elizabeth Noble  8:30
Silas Rose  8:33
So how did you find your way into the Sierra Club, I know you’ve worked in a number of other NGOs in different capacities. Tell us a little bit about your work there and what’s the connection to ancient forests?
Elizabeth Noble  8:52
So I’ve been working as a fundraiser for about 20 years, and that’s my primary responsibility. It’s your club BC is raising money as well. We are one of the oldest provincially scaled organizations, environmental organizations in the province. There’s some other smaller groups in Vancouver that have been around for longer, but, you know, we really were kind of a pioneering group in the movement to protect land here in the province. And the story is actually quite funny where somebody stole some letterhead from the American Sierra Club and just typed Western Canada below. and made a bunch of photocopies and by the time you know, the American Sierra Club heard, the first campaign had already been won in their name and so they made an exception and we’re one of the few Sierra Club bc encircled Canada are the only outside of the United States chapters. So we’re we’re technically a separate organization, but we share that name. This particular issue of forestry is the oldest and most complex environmental issue in the province. Here we are in 2021. It’s still happening, it hasn’t been solved yet. And, you know, today, it has the added weight of understanding climate change and how climate impacts are affecting communities directly now. So that’s a more nuanced understanding that we have today. And then the legal landscape is quite different today, as well. The Sierra Club BC, has come to understand that some of the approaches that our work took in the past, were actually replicating the same types of colonial harm that were causing the extraction to take place in the first place. So yeah, we’re still learning how to be a good ally, and how to do this work in a good way. And we’re understanding more today that you can’t separate humans from nature, like, that’s really a colonial concept that is quite problematic. Iin the past, for example, once Sierra Club advocated for the creation of parks, parks are a colonial concept. And for many indigenous communities, they were synonymous with the systematic and violent removal from their territory to create this safe space for white people basically, to come and enjoy nature and, and recreate , it caused a lot of harm to those communities. And it caused a lot of harm to the land, because it was suddenly cut off from these really sophisticated engineering practices that were designed to increase biodiversity. And as a result, both the people in the land were harmed when we created parks in the past. And so, it’s an interesting and complex time to be working on this on this issue, for sure.
Silas Rose  12:06
There definitely seems like there’s an evolution in terms of how to approach preserving ancient forests that goes way back. When I was cutting my teeth in the 90 I spent a lot of time in the Wlbran and Carmanah Valleys. At that time,Clayoquot Sound was really blowing up. We actually kind of resented the blockaders there, because they were stealing all our limelight. They’ve got the cool title of ‘War in the Woods’ And so that might be interesting to explore just a bit of that history. And some of the parallels to the current struggle at fairy Creek.
Elizabeth Noble  12:47
Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t in BC at that time. So you actually probably have a more intimate knowledge of what was occurring. But, you know, it was the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. I think 900 people were arrested. It was a much more peaceful time. Compared to what’s going down at Fairy Creek which involves a lot of aggression. There wasn’t the same kind of really intense tension, like obviously, people were upset on both sides during the war in the woods, but it feels different now.  What’s similar is that these movements aren’t successful unless they generate a lot of media coverage. And so what happened with the war in the woods is that international organizations were drawing attention. You had news crews from around the world. We’ve seen with fairy creek that celebrities have started to tweet about it. We saw Bryan Adams mention it and Mark Ruffalo. And you know, when that’s when that starts to happen, it really, it changes things in a way. The real real big difference, though, is the fact that there was almost complete consensus among the indigenous people that they wanted to protect the forest during the war in the woods. Clayoquot Sound wouldn’t be what it is today if they hadn’t stood up and wanted to protect their territory. And it’s it’s very different. Today at Fairy Creek where you have an elected band council that is in favor of old growth logging, or at least they’re in favor of exercising their own sovereignty as it exists under a colonial Indian act band council system. You know, for many years, the party that did not get any compensation for the old growth logging that took place in their territory and it’s almost all gone right. So this is like the last dregs and I think in the industry, they call it the guts and the feathers. So, you know, while there’s similarities in the sense that there’s mass civil disobedience, the difference is that today it’s an it is it’s a much more complex legal landscape, you have a provincial government that last year, maybe it was the year before, but relatively recently signed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples act. And so they’ve stated their intention to respect indigenous rights and title and the band Council is very close, it’s in its final stage of treaty negotiation with the Crown. Yet outside of that exists indigenous law, which is a completely separate system of governance. And, you know, each community has their own legal orders, which are just as complex in many ways as Canadian law. So there’s an inherent conflict between the way that an traditional governance structure exists and indigenous law, you know, as a general rule, one of the top priorities is respecting the land. And the Indian act, band councils are a tool of colonial law. And most Canadian laws, in fact, especially when they pertain to the environment in Canada was a colony of Great Britain until 1982. And so all of our environmental laws are really designed for resource extraction, they are designed to get the resources out of Canada as quickly as possible, often in a raw form, so that they can be processed elsewhere, with cheap labor. So there’s, you know, an inherent conflict between the ways in which the pochi govern themselves,
Silas Rose  16:56
That for me really gets to the core of this issue, it’s really been a sort of a soul searching, because I haven’t gone out into the blockcades. For the reason that the three nations that control on territory and have invested interest in that territory actually requested that third parties, including land defenders, protesters to  leave the territory. So I haven’t gone out and mostly chosen to stick to in town actions. What is your perspective on that request?
Elizabeth Noble  17:45
In many ways, it’s a very legitimate request, you know, for these people to exercise their own rights and authority. And yet, Indian act, created band councils are technically only responsible for what happens on the reserve, they’re not actually responsible for what happens on the broader territory. And that was quite intentional when colonial law set up these reserves. And so, of course, they have a vested interest in what happens on their territory. And I believe all three of them hold revenue sharing agreements with forestry companies. If you look at it from an equity perspective, though, they’re getting a pittance compared to what the province and compared to what the forestry companies are able to extract from their territories. And so it’s not really what I would consider a fair situation. And if they’re talking about having the choice to be able to determine their own future, I would regard the current situation that they’re in as one in which they are not able to truly exercise their rights and title and make a choice, because the momentum and the legacy of the way in which resources have been extracted on their territories is such that it feels like that has to happen. And so until there is a genuine option available, which would not impoverish their community, and would not rely on taking those resources out. I don’t feel like it is a real choice that they’re being given,
Silas Rose  19:30
We should mention for the audience sake that land defenders are there on request. Pacheedhat Elder Bill Jones…
Elizabeth Noble  19:40
That’s right. So I would consider bill a friend of mine. I met him at an event here in Victoria at round on forestry in BC.  Almost every time I’ve been out to the Walbran Bill has been there to welcome me and I visited Fairy Creek at his invitation on behalf of a group of people from Greater Victoria Acting Together, which Sierra Club and the Shambala center are members of.  Bill is a former logger who, you know, grew up in, in some ways quite disconnected from the land, which I think you have to be to cut old growth, there has to be a kind of desensitization to do that work. And at a certain point, he was laid off expecting to be able to come back but he was told, he would not be called back for another 300 years. Because they had harvested too much at that point. And, you know, he went through some of his own struggles, and you could probably find some clips where he shares his own personal story better than I can retell it on his behalf. But he is now acting as a story holder, for his community, and he’s sharing the traditional laws that he learned from elders in his community. And he’s shared that Fairy Creek, in particular is a sacred place where one would go to pray and meditate. And he firmly believes in the spiritual values of an old growth forest. And I think that if anyone does take the time to go out to an old growth forest that’s intact like that, at Fairy Creek, and simply be quiet for a little bit, you will have that same experience. I certainly did.
Silas Rose  21:53
I hear that from a lot of people that have gone out there, there is this kind of conversion moment you know, very emotional connection to those old trees. That is really motivating people. And  I certainly remember that from my time working in the Walbran…
Elizabeth Noble  22:12
it’s hard to put a finger on that experience, because Western society, you know, prizes, objectivity, and spiritual experiences as subjective as you can get, yet it’s quite replicable almost anyone who goes out there and does spend time amongst these beings that are literally over 1000 year old, you really feel it. It’s kind of a transformative experience where you have Bill inviting people to come visit, they come, they have this transformative moment and then they really do want to answer that call to protect these places. The struggle for people like you who also want to be a good ally, and who want to respect rights and title is that tension between wanting to respect that community to be able to determine its own future. And also recognizing that these forests have inherent value, personally, I believe should be protected at all costs.
Silas Rose  23:13
I think you’ve done a really good job in terms of articulating the complexity, it might be stating the obvious, but why is it so important to save these big trees?
Elizabeth Noble  23:23
right now, current policy values, forests for timber, that’s timber and fiber, that’s the one value that it’s actually governed on. But apart from the spiritual experience that we spoke about, there are so many values that an old growth forest holds from being critical habitat for endangered species like the marbled murrelet, to holding water and soil on the land base, which, you know, mitigates the potential impacts of both droughts and floods. They sequester and store incredible amounts of carbon, you’ll often hear loggers say ‘oh, second growth, forests sequester more carbon’. And it’s true that there is a younger age of trees in which the trees themselves are pulling in more carbon than some of the biggest oldest trees. However, the majority of the carbon that’s actually stored in an old growth forest is in the soil. And so when you disrupt that, the mycelium network decomposes, and you just release a carbon bomb. And of course, second growth forests rely on having removed an old growth forest in the first place. So it’s always a net negative. And then there’s all of the other, you know, somewhat obvious things. There’s traditional medicines, there’s berries, there’s mushrooms that could be foraged, there’s recreational opportunities. There’s tourism opportunities, you know, Europeans love to come to British Columbia to see old growth trees because They have long since failed their old growth forests. There’s unknown medicines that could come from trees. And in fact, I think almost every antiviral and antidepressant that is synthesized today comes from a compound that’s found in forests. So we don’t even know the next cure for cancer could exist in these forests. And I feel like you could make 1000 different layers on a map and add all of the different values that exist. Traditional totem poles and cedar canoes require old growth forests, yeah, woodpeckers that nest in the dying trees that require those little holes to crawl into, you won’t find that in the younger forest. And when you’re managing forests for like an 80 to 100 year rotation, you’ll never ever find that kind of decomposition, which is a critical component of any healthy ecosystem, you wouldn’t think that a human population were healthy, if it everyone was the same age you need others of you need babies. And, you know, so that the diversity that exists in an old growth forest is is not replicable by human hands
Silas Rose  26:16
 So let’s turn our minds towards solutions. We talked a little bit about the failed policies that really go back decades in this province that essentially, you know, pits workers against protesters and puts First Nations in the impossible choice between preserving their culture and territory and a path economic prosperity. The bc government has recently implemented legislation around the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which is pretty radical on a policy level. How do you feel this  policy shift will change  land use decision making going forward?
Elizabeth Noble  27:08
Yeah, I mean, I’m cautiously optimistic that we will see some better decisions made if indigenous people are genuinely given a better seat at the table, so to speak. But I think that unless we shift the paradigm, and we actually start to manage our forests provincially, as recommended by the old growth, strategic review, to legislate ecosystem health as an overarching all sector priority, with timber being a value of one of many values that come from having a healthy, well managed ecosystem. It’s just shuffling the deck. And so maybe the indigenous communities will get a bit more revenue from resources that are extracted on their territory. But if they’re still forced to operate under the same paradigm, which requires an annual allowable cut of XML that is higher than the forest can actually legitimately regenerate, then it’s not really going to change anything. And so when the government did announce recently, and intentions paper around how they would potentially break up tenure, from some of the larger forestry companies and give more opportunity for indigenous communities to manage their forests, which would be great. But if they’re still operating under that same paradigm, where we are only managing for for a forest for timber and fiber, it doesn’t matter who is doing the lugging, if it’s all gonna have to be done in a bad way. It’s still gonna be bad. So we have significant concerns about the order in which the government is going to choose to enact its own recommendations. And right now, what we are seeing is that the government is somewhat willing to engage with indigenous communities when they make declarations, but they’re more willing. When those nations want to extract resources. It’s like they they’ll prioritize resource extraction at all costs, minimize protection at all costs. And they’re really only behind the decisions of indigenous communities that are supportive of the existing rate of resource extraction. So we’re not seeing the kind of shifts that we would like yet from an ecological perspective.
Silas Rose  29:31
The province also recently released a report on the future of old growth forests,
Elizabeth Noble  29:38
It was actually the best thing that I’ve read from the government in a really long time. So last September, they released this report with a suite of recommendations to men algolia and Gary Merkel went around the province and listened to people from all sides, forestry workers, forest Industry environmental groups like us scientists. Yeah, got feedback from a number of stakeholders. And the report is excellent. It’s called new future for old forests. What stood out for me was that it did talk about this paradigm shift were acknowledged, attitudes around forests are changing in the contemporary society, and within the context of climate change, we can no longer treat forests as just a crop, basically, you know, when we give out licenses, they’re called tree farm licenses. And so they really are treated like agriculture and forests are so much more than that. And so to acknowledge that a forest is in fact, an entire community of diversity, things that are completely interdependent with one another is a pretty radical thing to hear from a government report. I think the other thing that stood out for me was that it did call for exactly what Sierra Club BC and the other environmental movements have other environmental groups had been calling for, which was an immediate moratorium on all at risk forests. So that we would have time to develop a plan so that it would give communities like patchy.dt dot and Hawaii at the time to actually make a plan. Unfortunately, that’s not what the government did in their response. And six months after the report was released. The three groups that we work really closely with issued a report card where we gave them a D and four F, we were actually really devastated because the current minister Katrina Conroy, actually stated that there were no deadlines in the report, which made me wonder if she’d even read it, because that’s so not true. There are milestones, there’s a six months timeframe and one year of timeframe, they laid everything out for how long it should take to implement the report. But it’s not it’s not currently happening.
Silas Rose  32:13
Talk and log
Elizabeth Noble  32:16
talk and log, exactly, yeah. You’ve heard the expression justice delayed is justice denied. And that is definitely the case. Right now, the high price of lumber has really put pressure to log as quickly as possible. And you know, forestry companies aren’t stupid. They see the undrip legislation here as a potential flag that things may happen differently. They see protesters again, it’s an incentive for them to get in and extract as much as possible as quickly as possible. And that will continue to happen. If there are no changes made, the ground has been laid for this work to just continue
Silas Rose  32:58
 This has been a great conversation. I thank you so much for this overview. How can people find out more about the Sierra Club’s campaigns and what you do?
Elizabeth Noble  33:10
Thanks, I was always nice to connect with you as well. And there are two really great ways to connect with Sierra Club bc our general website is Sierraclub.bc.ca. And we also have a new engagement portal that is designed to reflect our new relational organizing strategy. And that’s invitetoaction.ca. And that’s to invite to action.ca. And there you can join one of our different communities. So we’ve devised a community for artists, for nurturers for benefactors for innovators. So we really do hope that individuals will bring their passion and their gifts to this challenge. We firmly believe that the way that we actually can build the kind of power that’s necessary to change a very entrenched system is by bringing a different approach by bringing joy by bringing trixter thinking creativity, and by elevating things that are already happening, because there really is so much already going on. That’s quite tremendous. And being able to share that as widely as possible, I think is a key ingredient to being able to get the kind of change that we seek. Yeah, that’s a movement. Exactly. Yeah. And we don’t know what will be the one thing that kind of creates the sudden space for a shift to take place.

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