Environmental activists blockade Akolkolex FSR south of Revelstoke

Protestors have set up a blockade on the Akolkolex Forest Service Road south of Revelstoke, saying their goal is to stop ongoing logging in the Akolkolex area they say is high-value old growth.

Blockaders on the Akolkolex FSR south of Revelstoke on Nov. 29. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Environment group Old Growth Revylution blockaded the Akolkolex Forest Service Road south of Revelstoke on Nov. 29, 2021, saying its goal is to stop ongoing logging in the area, including on the Holyk and Pulley Forest Service Roads (FSR).

The Akolkolex FSR branches off Revelstoke’s Airport Way where it turns from asphalt to dirt, and leads to the Akolkolex River area, McCrae Lake Recreation Trail, Sproat Mountain Recreation Trail and to a network of logging roads that run south towards the Arrowhead area.

The protestors have set up the blockade about 100 metres up the Akolkolex FSR. They have erected a large tripod and also put logs and rocks on the road at another spot nearby. They had a tarp and a campfire set up when we attended around 8 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 29.

Blockaders on the Akolkolex FSR south of Revelstoke on Nov. 29. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Old Growth Revylution (OGR) is an informal group that first came to notice when they launched the ongoing blockade at the Bigmouth FSR on July 7, about 125 kilometres north of Revelstoke east of Highway 23N, where ongoing forestry road-building was brought to a halt. The blockade remains to this day.

For background on Old Growth Revylution blockades and protests in Revelstoke this summer, see this revelstokemountaineer.com archive page.

In a media release emailed to revelstokemountaineer.com, OGR didn’t indicate the new blockade launched Nov. 29 will be permanent, and protestors at the site indicated it would be a one-day blockade.

The group says it is launching the blockade, “in order to stop logging in the area, notably on Holyk and Pulley FSRs. These two drainages are near the already deferred and ecologically unique Incomappleux drainage and include ecosystem markers that mirror those of the Incomappleux.”

The group criticized Downie Timber specifically, saying the ongoing logging is ‘disappointing.’

In its media release, OGR says that cutblocks being actively logged in the area “overlap” with areas identified as highest value old growth forests by the Ministry of Forests Technical Advisory Panel.

On November 2, the B.C. government announced plans to protect 2.6 million hectares of high value old growth in B.C. and released some mapping of proposed changes. It then asked First Nations to provide feedback on the plans in a month, a tight turnaround that drew heated criticism.

In Revelstoke, the changes are generally referred to as “the deferrals,” and they are a source of discussion, concern and uncertainty for those in the forest industry. ‘Fibre’ supply, or logs, is a perennial core issue for the forest milling industry because maintaining manufacturing operations at scale requires a reliable source of supply. B.C. industry group, Council of Forest Industries, said the planned deferrals would shut mills and put thousands out of work.

More B.C. policy developments are expected in early December after the 30-day First Nations consultation process deadline passes. After that, it should become more clear what the practical impact will be in the Revelstoke area once mapping and numbers are more defined.

Protesters at blockade

Blockaders on the Akolkolex FSR south of Revelstoke on Nov. 29. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

There were just under 10 protesters at the blockade on the morning of Nov. 29. The protesters are using pseudonyms.

They say they set up very early in the morning, and were planning to blockade the road for the day.

They said they’d let grader trucks through for snow removal, but had blocked other trucks. They said one truck had barrelled through the blockade, causing protesters to jump to the side, but they didn’t have documentation of the incident.

They had already set up a tripod structure on the road that does allow for passage, but they said after that incident they put more logs and rocks on the road to block passage.

They did show us a video of another encounter, a man in a pickup pulls very close to protesters, then gets out of his truck, saying he needs to get through.

Downie Timber CEO says leaderless activist group structure makes dialogue challenging

File photo: Workers sort lumber at the Downie Timber sawmill in Revelstoke. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

Nick Arkle is the CEO of the Gorman Group, a forestry and milling company that owns and operates Downie Timber.

He said that they became aware of the planned blockade over the weekend, although it happened sooner than the company anticipated. Arkle said about 20 harvesting contractors were scheduled to work in the area today, but had been sent home.

He said he didn’t believe that Downie or its subcontractors is harvesting in the high value old growth areas identified in the OGR media release, and that the company had tried to get members of the protest group to meet to better understand its concerns, but hasn’t been successful. He said he was told the group doesn’t have a set leader. He said he wanted to meet with protesters to review the maps and find out more about their specific concerns.

“It’s very difficult to communicate with people when you don’t know who they are and what they’re about,” Arkle said. “We need to get the right people sitting in the room,” Arkle said, adding that the forthcoming deferral decisions have long-term consequences for the community and he wanted to work with people who would be accountable for them.

“We need to come up with something that’s balanced and right for Revelstoke,” Arkle said. “Let’s get the right people in the room and look at the maps.”

He said he had issues with some of the numbers used by the protesters, saying it was difficult to reach consensus on the facts without dialogue.

Arkle said Downie Timber staff are waiting to hear more from the provincial government on its planned deferral program and anticipates developments in December.

Provincial response

Update, Nov. 30, 5:15 p.m.: The provincial government provided a response a day after this story was published. In the original story, we said we’d update this section when a government response was available. Here it is:

The B.C. forests ministry’s communications department provided a response. The forests ministry provided a statement not attributable to any person and was provided “on background.”

The ministry said that Downie Timber has two previously approved cutting permits in the Akolkolex area that “include blocks that overlap with the areas identified as priorities for deferral by the Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel.”

The ministry statement added that, “Downie is not cutting in those areas, but is focusing its harvesting in permit areas that do not have old growth and do not overlap with priority areas that do not have old growth and do not overlap with priority areas identified by the TAP, and that the company is working with the community and local First Nations to create winter harvesting plans.”

Aaron Orlando is a Revelstoke-based journalist who serves as creative director of revelstokemountaineer.com and Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. He's been on the news beat in Revelstoke for the past 14 years, serving in senior editorial roles. If you have aaron@revelstokemountaineer.com or call/text him at 250-814-8710.