17 arrested in decades-long fight to protect inland Kootenay rainforest

·3 min read
Protester Zan Mautner, second from right, was arrested by RCMP officers at the proposed logging site in Argenta, B.C., on May 17, 2022. (Louis Bockner - image credit)
Protester Zan Mautner, second from right, was arrested by RCMP officers at the proposed logging site in Argenta, B.C., on May 17, 2022. (Louis Bockner - image credit)

Seventeen people were arrested this week after allegedly violating a court injunction granted to forestry company Cooper Creek Cedar by blocking access to a logging road in the Kootenay region of British Columbia.

Environmental activists from the small B.C. communities of Argenta and Johnsons Landing have fought for decades to protect what's known as the Argenta Johnsons Landing Face, a 10-kilometre stretch of forest along Kootenay Lake.

The area borders the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Park, which was established in 1974. Activists would like to see the park expanded to include it.

Meghan Beatty, 42, was one of the 17 people arrested this week after she chained herself to a pipe cemented into the ground.

She is a member of Last Stand West Kootenay, an environmental group advocating for protection of the area, and says she is continuing to fight on behalf of all those who have come before her.

"We went in to stand on the shoulders of giants," Beatty said, referring to past conservationists.

Mt. Willet Wilderness Forever
Mt. Willet Wilderness Forever

Local groups, including the Argenta-based Mt. Willet Wilderness Forever, have advocated for the protection of the area for decades.

They describe the mountainside forest as a "key wilderness area," providing important habitat for threatened mountain caribou and other wildlife.

Old-growth western and alpine larches add to the area's ecological significance, the group says.

In an email, the B.C. Ministry of Forests noted the Argenta face is not being considered for addition to the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy because of the number of protections already in place for the area.

The province says a significant amount of the Argenta face is already protected, although some logging will still occur. The email says about 80 per cent of B.C. old-growth forest that a technical advisory panel has identified as "priority at-risk" is not threatened by logging.

The ministry also noted Cooper Creek Cedar has worked with a biologist to develop a partial harvesting plan to maintain caribou habitat, even though it wasn't required to do so.

Cooper Creek Cedar did not respond to an interview request before deadline, but the company did defer 1.4 hectares of forest in the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face from logging after it was identified as at-risk old-growth by the B.C. government, according to the ministry.

Protesters argue that's not enough, and are calling for a 6,200-hectare increase of the protected area.

Mt. Willet Wilderness Forever
Mt. Willet Wilderness Forever

'Not just a bunch of tree-huggers'

Environmentalism is significant to the history and culture of Argenta-Johnsons Landing, according to former Central Kootenay Regional District director Andy Shadrack.

"I can think of many people who've actually been involved in … trying to ensure the ecology in the area is maintained," he said.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, locals rebuilt an Indigenous trail that ran through the Purcell Mountains to boost tourism and promote recreation as an alternative to logging in the region and sent hundreds of letters to the province asking them to establish a protected area in the Purcells.

Farnham Glacier Adventures
Farnham Glacier Adventures

Their lobbying efforts eventually led to the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Park being established in 1974, according to B.C. Parks.

"People are very [politically] conscious up here," said Shadrack, noting that locals voted to impose a conservation tax on themselves in 2014.

"It's not just a bunch of tree-huggers," he said.

Argenta-Johnsons Landing locals were also actively involved in the campaign to protect the Jumbo Valley from a proposed ski resort, according to Shadrack.

The provincial government and Ktunaxa First Nation established protection for Jumbo Valley under Indigenous guidance and oversight in 2020.

Meghan Beatty said many of the protesters arrested this week plan to fight their charges.

She said Last Stand West Kootenay is regrouping, but they will continue advocating for the protection of the Argenta Johnsons Landing Face.

"We're not done fighting," she said.

CBC British Columbia has launched a Cranbrook bureau to help tell the stories of the Kootenays with reporter Brendan Coulter. Story ideas and tips can be sent to brendan.coulter@cbc.ca.

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