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Inside the battle to save Canada’s ancient, old-growth forests | Environment News



Vancouver Island, Canada – A colossal battle to save the last temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island, Canada is under way, as police and forest protectors are engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase through hundreds of kilometres of thick woods.

The Rainforest Flying Squad, a volunteer-driven activists’ group, is behind efforts to stop logging companies from extracting old-growth trees in and around the Fairy Creek forest, an area with some of the little remaining old-growth in the province of British Columbia (BC).

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have arrested more than 150 activists during the past three weeks while enforcing an injunction obtained in March by Teal-Jones Group, one of the main logging companies, to remove the forest defenders.

But that has not deterred hundreds of activists, who have flocked to Canada’s west coast to try to save the forest of gigantic, rare strands of western red cedar and yellow cedar trees, some of which are estimated to be between 800 and 2,000 years old.

“I can tell you that as of Monday all the camps are intact,” said Saul Arbess, a cultural anthropologist from Victoria, BC, who has been involved with the blockades since they began last August. The activists are camped out in various strategic locations that the Rainforest Flying Squad has chosen to block loggers from felling the trees.

A woman, who is among activists trying to stop the logging of old-growth trees, sits in a tripod perch at Waterfall camp in the Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island on May 27 [Jen Osborne/Reuters]

Deemed ancient by the BC government if they are older than 250 years, they can tower as high as 25 metres (82 feet) and measure 3.5 metres (12 feet) in diameter. The trees form a cathedral of stunning forest in the coastal, mountainous region that is home to threatened species such as the Western screech owl and a blend of centuries-old firs and hemlocks.

“These trees anchor the entire ecosystem and they’re some of the oldest living things on the planet. And when you cut them down, you are not just destabilising the ecosystem, you’re on the road to ruin,” Arbess told Al Jazeera. “That’s what this struggle is all about.”

Company defends plan

Teal-Jones Group owns Tree Farm License 46, which encompasses the area of the Fairy Creek blockades. The licence spans 3,828 hectares (9459 acres) of old-growth forest; it is one of the last large unlogged watersheds on southern Vancouver Island.

The company, which bought the logging and milling rights from the Province of BC in 2004, stands to profit an estimated $20m from logging 200 hectares (494 acres) of old-growth trees here. Old-growth trees are coveted by industry for their “tight clear wood” – smooth and ideal for products such as shingles and decking.

In an email to Al Jazeera, a representative for Teal-Jones said it holds the right to harvest in the disputed area. “We are a value-added manufacturer. We do not export logs or jobs but mill all timber we cut right here in the province, utilizing 100 per cent of every log,” the statement reads.

Protesters embrace after conducting a blockade against old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island, on May 24 [Jen Osborne/Reuters]

“Teal Jones has a decades-long history of engagement with First Nations, responsible forest management, and value-added manufacture in BC. The company plants well in excess of one million new trees every year.”

In a statement to The Canadian Press news agency, Gerrie Kotze, vice president of Teal Cedar’s, a subsidiary of Teal-Jones Group, also said the company’s plans for the area have been “mischaracterised”. Kotze said the company is only planning to harvest “a small area up at the head of the watershed” – about 200 hectares (494 acres) – and that most of the Fairy Creek watershed is unavailable for logging.

But forest defenders as young as 15 are chaining and cementing themselves into the ground and perched high in the trees to block the loggers’ entrance, while other supporters are eager to get arrested for what they believe is a revolutionary cause. “Intact old growth ecosystems make up less than 1 percent (860,000 hectares) of B.C.’s remaining forests,” Greenpeace says.

‘Spiritual holy places’

The area in question sits in the traditional territories of the Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations, who are caught between a colonial, elected governance leadership that has expressed support for the logging – and traditional hereditary leadership that has denounced it.

“My grandfather implored to us that the Ferry Lake area, and the two creeks there, were our spiritual holy places,” Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones, 81, told Al Jazeera. “If the trees are cut down, I think that will be the end of our own hopes of resurrecting our past culture, which in fact, is dead on this reserve – that we will not have any means to address our original, spiritual relationship.”

Jones is a survivor of Canada’s infamous residential schools system, an assimilative tactic the government put in place from the late 1800s until 1996. Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to live in the schools, where they often experienced abuses of every kind.

Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones says the Ferry Lake area and the two creeks there are his community’s spiritual, holy places [Jen Osborne/Reuters]

Last week, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced it had found mass unmarked graves containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children at Kamloops Indian Residential School, also in BC, sparking global outrage about the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.

Jones equated his community’s disconnection from their culture and spirituality to residential schools and other colonial violence. He said he is tired of mourning everything that has been lost, and does not want the last of his peoples’ lands to be pillaged.

“I call this entrapment, you know, where they set up a trap, the government. We have no money, we owe money. Even the elected Chief Jeff Jones is locked into contracts with the government and Teal Jones, but we get very little of the profit and don’t have any influence on forest management,” Jones said.

Calls to stop

BC’s forestry industry is a cornerstone of its economy. It provides 100,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributes nearly $13bn to the provincial GDP, according to a 2019 report by the BC Council of Forest Industries.

Premier John Horgan promised to protect old-growth forests during his election campaign last fall, but his government has continued to issue licenses to harvest the trees. It also said its management plans will protect old-growth, but activists have rejected that as insufficient.

Arbess said activists are “asking the government to stop, to make deferrals”.

“And also, we are not opposed as such to logging. We are not opposed to the loggers, to the logging families. There’s a tradition that exists in those families. We want that to continue, but we want that to be in work that is sustainable in terms of the forest,” Arbess said.

A logger working in the area who asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job told Al Jazeera that he identifies as an environmentalist, but is sick of the blockades holding him up from doing his work. He said all the trees should be cut down because they will simply grow back.

“A 2,000-year-old tree is just a tree,” he said.

The forestry industry contributes approximately $13bn to British Columbia’s GDP [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

‘Planet needs forests’

As the struggle continues, three First Nations formally notified the province on June 5 of a request “to defer old-growth logging for two years in the Fairy Creek and the Central Walbran areas”. The Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Pacheedaht said that would give them time to “prepare their plans” for the areas and comes “in addition to the decision of Huu-ay-aht First Nations to defer logging of its treaty lands”.

In an email, Horgan’s office told Al Jazeera that “these nations are the holders of constitutionally protected Indigenous interests within their traditional territories. It is from this position that the Chiefs have approached us”.

“We further recognize the three Nations will continue to exercise their constitutionally protected Indigenous interests over the protected areas. And we are pleased to enter into respectful discussions with the Nations regarding their request.”

Teal-Jones Group also said it acknowledges that it is operating in the traditional territories of the First Peoples and is working with those Indigenous nations. “We will abide by the declaration issued today, and look forward to engaging with the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations as they develop Integrated Resource Forest Stewardship Plans,” the company’s statement read.

Protesters stand on debris of a cutblock as Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers arrest those manning the Waterfall camp blockade against old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek area [Jen Osborne/Reuters]

In a June 4 opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun, BC’s minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development wrote that the province is halting old-growth harvesting licensing. “Pacheedaht, industry tenure holders, and the province have agreed that no harvesting will happen in Fairy Creek while the Pacheedaht develop their own stewardship plan,” Katrine Conroy wrote, adding that the government anticipates more deferrals of old-growth logging to be announced during the summer.

Meanwhile, activists are still flocking to the forest in hopes of saving the ancient trees.

For months, a 69-year-old retired environmental epidemiologist who goes by the code name Bluebird has been making the trek from his home in Victoria with his wife to support the Rainforest Flying Squad.

“The planet needs forests. When you feel the power of an old forest here, the air, it gives you energy walking in there,” Bluebird told Al Jazeera from the main camp run by the activist group. With tears forming in his eyes, he added that the forest is “the best carbon system we’ve ever had”.

“We don’t need to build a fancy carbon storage system, we need to keep forests intact; they suck carbon out and keep it there for thousands of years. We’re clear-cutting them and turning them into carbon emitters. Absolutely, there’s no doubt I’m willing to get arrested.”

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Nic Dlamini is set to be first black South African at Tour de France




South African cyclist Nic Dlamini
Nic Dlamini is set to become the first black South African to ride the Tour de France

Nic Dlamini will make history at this year’s Tour de France by being the first black South African to compete in cycling’s most famous race.

The 25-year-old will be one of the eight riders for Africa’s only top-flight professional cycling team Qhubeka-Assos at the Tour, which runs from 26 June until 18 July.

He will be the only African on the team that will be jointly led by Australia’s Simon Clarke and Austrian Michael Gogl as well as including the Italian 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru.

“Being selected to ride in my first Tour de France is an absolute dream come true for me,” Dlimani said.external-link

“It’s always been an childhood dream and now that I’m about to live it makes it feel surreal.

“I think it speaks to what the team is about, the Ubuntu spirit [I am because we are], and how we change people’s lives because it is honestly a very special moment: to come from a small township and then to go to the Tour de France.”

He becomes the latest rider to progress from the South African-registered team’s development squad and onto the UCI WorldTour.

Humble beginnings

South African cyclist Nic Dlamini

The 25-year-old, who grew up in an informal settlement in Cape Town, first caught the eye as a runner before moving into cycling where his talents saw him move to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“Considering where I come from it would simply have been impossible for me to have the opportunity to ride at the Tour de France if it wasn’t for Team Qhubeka-Assos,” he explained.

“The platform that they’ve provided me, and other riders from Africa, to compete at the highest level in cycling has been critical.

“I really hope that this will serve as a reference of hope and inspiration to many young South Africans, and people around the world, who have been working really hard to reach their dreams. My hope is that they take from this that anything is possible.

“I want to race the Tour to inspire more kids on Qhubeka bikes to follow in my footsteps and to experience the world like I have, for more kids in communities to put their hands up for bikes to work hard like I did, to dream big.”

According to the team “Dlamini’s style of racing will likely see his talents deployed in the offensive strategy the team will look to pursue during the race, while also playing a key supporting role in the flatter stages.”

The team is completed by Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid of Germany, debutant Sean Bennett of the USA and Colombian Sergio Henao.

Qhubeka-Assos’ team principal Douglas Ryder also hopes that Dlamini’s inclusion is a special moment.

“For Nic, what a moment though; his story is simply an incredible one and for him to have earned this opportunity shows that dreams really do come true, and for the team to have provided that opportunity makes me incredibly proud,” he said.

“He’s always been an individual that has stepped up and taken the opportunities that he’s fought for; and he does so again as he lines up at the startline in Brest on the sport’s biggest stage in front of the world.

“This will culminate in an incredible moment for him, South Africa and especially for our team.

“His selection speaks to everything about what we’ve created and built with this team through providing hope, an opportunity and then ultimately the platform to be on the biggest stage of all, the Tour de France.”

The only African rider to have worn the Tour de France leader’s famous ‘yellow jersey’ is Dlamini’s compatriot Darryl Impey, who wore it for two stages in 2013.

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In COVID hit Asia, mixed messages on refugee vaccinations | Coronavirus pandemic News




Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a deserted island off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

The refugees had been at sea for more than 100 days, having left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety wooden fishing boat, and were spotted huddling on uninhabited Idaman Island by local fishermen who used the island as a rest stop between fishing trips.

By June 5, just a day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, including children, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The refugees were vaccinated in conjunction with the local government,” Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of Geutanyoe Foundation, an NGO which provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.

“When we found them, they were in a crisis situation on the island with no food, water or electricity, so local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 tanks of water,” he added. “The feeling on the ground was that we needed to share our vaccines with the refugees in order to protect them as well. No one complained that the vaccines were being given to refugees.”

Aceh Province has been widely praised by humanitarian groups, NGOs and the general public for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers have not been so lucky.

Hard line

When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they told him that they had wanted to go to Malaysia. Some had family members who were already living there, while others were under the impression that the country had a more liberal policy towards refugees than its neighbours.

Some of the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh earlier this month. They told NGOs that they had wanted to go to Malaysia because they had family there or thought it would be more welcoming to refugees than other countries in Southeast Asia [Cek Mad/AFP]

But like most countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and while the government has said it will vaccinate everyone living in the country, it has also taken a hard line on undocumented migrants and refugees, including Rohingya.

“In February, the cabinet decided that in the interest of pandemic recovery all foreigners would receive vaccination free of charge, including refugees and undocumented migrants,” Lilianne Fan, the co-founder and international director of Geutanyoe Foundation who is based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.

“The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force and Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as coordinator of the vaccination programme, have been vocal advocates of this approach.

“However, the recent statement of the minister of home affairs that those without valid documents should not be vaccinated, combined with renewed crackdown on undocumented migrants, contradicts the government’s earlier position and will simply drive more people into hiding and slow down Malaysia’s pandemic recovery.”

Malaysia went into its second strict lockdown at the beginning of June after cases of coronavirus surged – stretching hospitals and intensive care units to the limit. The health ministry announced 6,440 new cases on Friday.

The government has indicated that it will ease the lockdown as more people are vaccinated, and Khairy has consistently stressed that the programme will include everyone living in the country.

But as it did during last year’s first lockdown, Malaysia has once again stepped up operations against undocumented migrants.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has declared that PATI – the acronym for undocumented people in the Malay language – will be detained and sent to immigration detention centres.

This month, he stressed that undocumented migrants had to “surrender” before they would be vaccinated.

In early June, a video from state news agency Bernama showed 156 undocumented migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar being sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya, near Malaysia’s international airport, after they had been detained.

Last week the immigration department shared a post on its Facebook page – styled like a poster for an action movie – with the headline “Ethnic Rohingya migrants are not welcome”. After an outcry, but not before it had been widely shared among refugee communities, it was deleted.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia on Monday expressed concern at “recent statements portraying migrants, undocumented or irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to the safety and security of the country and a risk to the health of Malaysians” and urged the government to rethink its approach.

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive in light of ongoing efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity,” it said, stressing the clear differences in the situations of migrant workers, and refugees and asylum seekers.

Malaysia closed its borders during the first strict lockdown last year when immigration officers carried out a number of raids on areas under ‘enhanced’ lockdown. Rights groups fear more raids will deter people from coming forward for the vaccine that is crucial to Malaysia ending the COVID pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Rohingya made up about 57 percent of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia at the end of May.

Unofficial estimates suggest the country may have as many as three million undocumented migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread problem

The mixed messaging on vaccinations for refugees is not exclusive to Malaysia.

In a statement released in early June, the UN refugee agency warned that a shortage of vaccines in the Asia Pacific region was putting the lives of refugees and asylum seekers at risk.

“Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contribute to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in the statement.

There are almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the single largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps in the world. According to Mahecic, the number of COVID-19 cases in the camps has increased dramatically in the last two months.

As of 31 May, there had been more than 1,188 confirmed cases among the refugee population, with more than half of these cases recorded in May alone.

None of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar has yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mahecic added that, in many countries in the Asia Pacific region, there were not enough vaccines to go around, leading to groups such as migrant workers and asylum seekers being sidelined.

The UNHCR had observed a “worrying increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

Indonesia, at least, appears to be starting to do more to address the problem.

The UNHCR says COVID-19 has begun to accelerate in the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, but no Rohingya living there have been vaccinated [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Other parts of the country have started to follow Aceh’s lead, according to the IOM, which vaccinated more than 900 refugees in the Indonesian city of Pekanbaru in Riau Province in early June in collaboration with the local government.

“IOM applauds the response of the City Government of Pekanbaru for making vaccines available to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasanah Soejoeti, the national media and communications officer of IOM Indonesia told Al Jazeera, adding that all refugees in the city over the age of 18 have now received vaccines.

“Vaccines are one of our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep individuals and therefore entire communities safe and healthy,” she said.

“The virus knows no borders or nationality; and neither should our solidarity.”

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy




PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.

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