A group of demonstrators gathered peacefully in downtown Peachland last Friday afternoon as part of a larger Forest March BC event taking place across the province to rally for better provincial forest management.
The event was co-organized by Grand Forks flooding victim Jennifer Houghton and Taryn Skalbania, a member of the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance (PWPA), who was absent from the event in Peachland in order to attend the main Forest March BC gathering at the legislature in Victoria.
The PWPA attribute undrinkable water and flood conditions caused by soil erosion to the impacts of industrial activity on Peachland’s watershed. The Peachland group co-organized the Forest March BC event as a province-wide, grass-roots campaign aimed at creating a unified voice to ask the government for forestry reform.
PWPA demonstrators met at noon on Beach Avenue where Alex Morrison, their communications chair, kicked off the rally by speaking to reporters outside the visitor centre.
Morrison said they are asking the province for forest legislation reform, formal involvement of frontline communities in the management of public land and the prohibition of private corporations from having any level of authority over public land.
Demonstrators waved signs as they marched to Heritage Park, where they were joined by others, including Mayor Cindy Fortin, who spoke at the event.
Fortin told demonstrators that earlier that morning, as part of this year’s virtual Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) conference, they had a very productive meeting with a ministry representative about the District of Peachland’s desire to have more authority about what happens in its watershed.
“Also, we want to have a full watershed assessment. We’ve had one in the past but we need to have it done again and that includes cumulative effects of all the logging and the agriculture and the mining and the recreation,” Fortin said to applause.
She said the district is hoping for a wider meeting with representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Environment, First Nations, and the District of Summerland.
“I’m all for looking at better forestry management. If I had my way there’d be no forestry in there for now, until we have a proper assessment,” Fortin said. “I’ve seen the clear cutting, I’ve seen the video we have and it’s devastating.”
Several demonstrators also spoke at the event, including Peachland resident Rochelle McFarlane.
“I think what we need to focus on is saving Mother Earth and giving back. We have come into a culture of take, take, take,” McFarlane said. “No matter what you feel you need to do next to take action, just do it. Stop procrastinating because it is tick tock time.”
Cori Derickson of Westbank First Nation joined the group in Heritage Park to say a prayer and light a smudge to the four directions.
Derickson said traditionally their elders used controlled burns as a means of land management in the region and lamented that recently things haven’t been taken care of properly.
“We put the economy first, we put dollars first, before our environment and before ourselves and so we’ve done this to ourselves,” Derickson said. “If we don’t turn things around then we will see more devastation.”