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Old-growth forest activists suspend 18-metre banner near Highway 1

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It was hung to grab the attention of morning commuters.

The 18-metre banner – reading "Walbran forever" – was put up by activists between two trees along Highway 1, near Thetis Lake.

The message is meant to raise awareness for the protection of Vancouver Island’s old-growth forests, particularly in the Walbran Valley near Lake Cowichan.

“It’s a forest with 1,000-year-old trees and it needs to be protected forever,” said Will O’Connell, one of the activists involved.

O'Connell worked through the night with his friend Hugo Lefrancois to raise the banner. The pair say they are not associated with any organized group, they are just concerned citizens with a message.

In November of 2021, the province temporarily deferred logging in priority old-growth forests in B.C., including the Walbran Valley.

O’Connell said that deferral has now expired, once again threatening the old-growth forests.

“Currently there are proposed cut-blocks that could soon become active in old growth in the Walbran Valley,” said the activist.

The tree farm licence is held by Teal Jones, which did not respond on Thursday when CTV News reached out for comment.

But Bruce Ralston, the minister of forests, said the activists have it wrong.

“I can state categorically that none of the deferrals we have put in place in the Walbran have expired, including those that cover the Fairy Creek area,” Ralston said in a statement.

“Our government continues to take unprecedented action alongside First Nations, communities, environmental groups and industry to conserve more old growth forests for our kids and grandkids while supporting sustainable forest jobs.”

An 18-metre banner reading "Walbran forever" hangs between two trees along Highway 1 on Vancouver Island.

The banner and the pair in the tree drew that attention of more than just commuters. RCMP and park staff were on-hand. Their concerns were for the safety of the pair in the tree, as well as for vehicle traffic in the case the banner was to come loose, landing on the highway traffic below.

In June of 2022, old-growth activists blocked the Pat Bay Highway near Swartz Bay, delaying ferry sailings and angering commuters.

O'Connell and his friend were not part of that group, and say they chose this form of activism to avoid public backlash.

“This is exactly why we came up with this action, it’s something beautiful that people see by the side of highway but it’s not stopping people who need to go about their lives,” said O’Connell.

Around 2 p.m. on Thursday the pair came down from the tree. They also removed the banner. They say their point was made that old-growth forests in the Walbran Valley needs to be protected. 

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