Tag Archives: Langford

Road Kill

Thu, 10 Jan 2008

New highway blocked by protesting “Raccoons”
The barricade at the end of the road is decorated with freshly-planted poinsettias in a mound of earth. Yellow plastic sunflowers, two graffitied TV sets and an oversize truck tire line a meter-wide trench just past the pavement’s end. They mark the boundary between the city and a protest camp occupied by a new generation of Canadian environmental protestors: the Raccoons.

The Raccoons are a ragtag mob of irregulars holding back a major highway interchange project designed to service Bear Mountain, a sprawling golf resort in Langford, just west of Victoria, B.C. A few dozen dumpster-diving, trash-talking, anti-authoritarians with a passion for undisturbed natural places have built a camp in the path of the new highway. The proposed interchange cuts through a pocket of forest packed with natural and cultural rarities: a sacred First Nations cave, a seasonal pond, garry oak meadows, arbutus bluffs, red-legged frogs and chocolate lilies.

Right now the Bear Mountain Tree Sit looks like a gloomy, swampy hobo camp, dotted with tents, tree forts at dizzying heights overhead, and a giant teepee covered with tarps. “A tarpee,” notes one of the campers.

“This is the only example of eco-anarchist action in Canada right now,” says Ingmar Lee, a Victoria environmentalist and camp supporter. “This is the grassroots, and it’s a totally different kind of protest.” Hundreds of people in the community directly support the camp with donations of food, camping gear, and funds for legal defense.

Almost all the Raccoons are under 25, and some are veterans of the Cathedral Grove treesit protest, which lasted two years and ultimately defeated a B.C. Parks plan to cut down giant trees to build a parking lot. Here, the first platform went up in April. Five more followed, and they are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Kicking the protest camp off public property is a sticky legal issue, and so far no one has moved to start a court case. But Stewart Young, the gung-ho pro-development mayor of Langford, is ramping up his criticism. The mayor’s rumblings peaked with Young accusing the campers of poaching deer and rabbits at the site.

Young said bylaw officers found a deer carcass near the camp in the woods. “We’ve respected their right to protest, but killing deer and rabbits is absolutely disgusting,” Young told the Goldstream News Gazette in December. The city directed the RCMP and conservation officers to investigate and lay charges if they find out who is responsible. No one has been charged.

Two neighbors who live adjacent to the forest said it’s not the campers who are killing animals. “There’s been poaching in this area for decades,” said an elderly neighbor on Goldstream Avenue who declined to give his name.

“We’ve called the conservation officers about deer carcasses a couple times a year ever since I’ve lived here,” said Ron Rayner, a long-time resident who lives just north of the camp and the TransCanada Highway. “It’s an ongoing problem.”

Langford resident Bob Partridge is “skeptical” about the mayor’s claims. He writes, “[J]ust now, as construction is supposed to begin on the Spencer Road Interchange, the protesters/activists who have previously been requesting donations of whole grains, have apparently suddenly become carnivores, slaughtering innocent animals in the woods of Langford?”

“Are we certain they are also not sleeping on duvets stuffed with spotted owl feathers?” Partridge asked sarcastically.

Some of the campers admit they eat deer, rabbits and even raccoons – but they insist they are not hunting . The meat is road kill collected from the TransCanada Highway, one tree sitter told A Channel News. Another pointed out the hypocrisy of building a highway that will mangle more animals, while simultaneously trying to cast the environmentalists as bunny killers. A third wondered aloud if Stewart Young was vegan.

RCMP and bylaw enforcement officers tell us the Raccoons are “guests of the city of Langford,” and they even allow them to have a campfire without a permit. Back in April, Young huffed to reporters, “They are on provincial land right now and it’s going to be a year or so before we get to the point of having to go there, so they can sit there as long as they want.” The protestors took him at his word and set up a kitchen, where they cook raccoon stew, venison steaks, and bunny burgers.

No doubt the tree sit gives Young a royal pain in the ass, but the blustery mayor has bigger fish to fry. Langford City Council, in a “special” meeting convened two days after Christmas, made the unusual move of adopting two new bylaws, rather than just giving them first reading. One bylaw authorizes borrowing $25 million to build the interchange, while the second exempts the process from the usual counter-petition process, which normally would give citizens the right to challenge a decision.

The community’s response is a roar of outrage. Many residents of Langford, it seems, are more irate about the apparent abuse of process than about the imminent loss of green space, wetlands, and rare species. Dozens of volunteers are joining forces to canvass the city with a (non-binding) petition to reject the bylaws.

Steven Hurdle of Langford is organizing the petition drive. “While Langford may have found a legal loophole in declaring the interchange a ‘Local Service Area’ to let them avoid the referendum, we can still win the political war,” he writes. “Langford council might find this an albatross that’s unexpectedly hanging around their neck as this issue drags on.”

Back at the camp, tree sitters and visitors are critiquing the City of Langford’s annual levee tour. Every New Year’s, politicos across the region open up their offices to the public, with free booze and food for all.

Well, not quite all. “They only had bag lunches for like 25 people,” one complains. “I got there at the end and there was no more food. So I took all the tea bags that were left.”

Another camper pipes up, “That punch was weak.”

“Yeah, the punch was watered down, so we had to drink more of it to get a buzz.”

“Yeah, that’s why we brought our own cups. We did it up proper with the cups.”

“We asked if we could take their poinsettias with us, but they said no. ”

Laughter. “We kept asking and we wouldn’t leave. Then after a while, they gave us the poinsettias just so we would leave.”

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The Saddest Pagan in the World

Tue, 25 Dec 2007

Singing the blues in Langford. Photo by Pete Rockwell.

Along with all the other shit that went down this past month, I got hit with the stomach flu, and that triggered fresh spasms of health problems. I’m on drugs now, but they’re not fun drugs. At least I don’t have to worry about getting fat.

The local paper has publicly labeled the Bear Mountain tree sit crew as tree-spikers, vandals, welfare bums, poachers, and outside agitators. The RCMP and city enforcement officers stepped up their harassment this week after the forest defenders dug a trench and built a barricade across the access road at the site of the new highway bypass.

The campers are in high spirits. Six platforms are now occupied by brave souls who are risking their freedom to protect the Langford Lake Cave, Spencer’s Pond, the wetlands, the screech owls, great horned owls, red-legged frogs and arbutus trees. Supporters and volunteers bring food, blankets, and cash donations. The legal defense fund is swollen with contributions as we brace for the inevitable court battle.

Physical and emotional distress have been keeping me away from the camp for long periods. But Saturday night, I was hanging out in the forest, watching low clouds fly across the face of the nearly-full moon, when the shout came from the road. Three RCMP cruisers pulled up at high speed, the lead car braking too late to avoid plunging partway into the trench at the end of the road. The headlights came straight at us, and then dipped down sharply. I thought, “Oh shit, they’re gonna be pissed.”

They were. I ducked behind the welcome tent as the officers stormed into the camp. “You’re all under arrest,” the biggest one boomed out, shining a high-powered light at the four young men in front of him. I hit the dirt, face down in the wet leaves and low brush right behind the tent.

Shouts, running feet pounding down the trail, and the rest of the crew booked it into the woods. “Don’t move!” barked the officer at the four standing their ground. “Everyone’s under arrest.” To another officer: “Take that crap down.” The second officer grabbed the makeshift tent and began to tear its tarp roof from the log beams. A few feet away, I cowered down closer to the ground, barely breathing. The lights shone back and forth, up and down.

Then my cell phone rang. I scrambled to shut it off. All the beams turned in my direction. “What’s that?” barked the officer. “Go check it out.” I melded with the mud and wet leaves at the base of a scrawny dogwood. The lights came closer. Then a shout from the woods pulled them away again.

I was plotting my chances of escape, so I could call the lawyers and bail the tree people out of jail. But there was no need. The cops held the men for half an hour, took their names and gave a lecture. No camping on the roadway. Then everyone was released.

Now I’m back home in the old farmhouse that I share with three other people and assorted visitors camping out on the living room couches. But there is only one bathroom. I keep a bucket with a tight-fitting lid in the bedroom, since my gut rot won’t let me wait around for a vacancy. The room is lovely, with a high ceiling and bay windows, and right now it stinks of shit and incense.

Thanks to the gastritis, the stomach flu, the stress and everything else, my immune system is shot to hell. My sinuses are oozing bright yellow snot and I’m woozy from fever. I’m broke and in debt.

It was obvious that there would be no Christmas for me this year.

But late last night, I heard a commotion on the porch. My friend Rose Henry was knocking on the door. “Merry Christmas,” she said. The man behind her was lugging a hamper filled with mandarin oranges, cranberry sauce, canned veggies, pasta, stuffing mix, candy, and even toilet paper. I almost cried.

One of the roommates got a turkey, and he’s invited a couple friends over for an orphans’ Christmas tonight. I’m making the stuffing.

It makes me think — even the saddest pagan in the world might find happiness at Christmas.

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Tree Sit Braces for a Showdown

Sun, 16 Dec 2007

From Infoshop.org and our December 15 press release.

Rally against the interchange, December 8, 2007. (Photos by Pete)

Bear Mountain Tree Sitters Bracing for a Showdown

Since April 2007, people have been occupying a large piece of land in Langford, British Columbia, Canada in order to stop the construction of a four-lane cloverleaf interchange. The interchange is being built to service the recent Bear Mountain developments (golf course, luxury homes, etc.). The land that is to be used for the road construction includes many culturally and ecologically sensitive sites including a large garry oak ecosystem, a sacred cave, a pond, and culturally modified trees. People have been resisting the Bear Mountain developments for some time, but the city of Langford and the developers have been plowing forward with their plans.

A series of visits from RCMP and Langford bylaw enforcement officers in the past few days has put the campers on high alert. On Friday, December 14, police walked into the camp and took photographs of everyone they saw. Bylaw enforcement officers also photographed people and the camp. Work crews removed two banners on Highway 1 Friday afternoon, and police threatened to arrest the campers if they interfered. A new banner was raised Friday evening.

The city is expected to demand a court order to remove the campers so interchange construction can begin. As of Friday, volunteers had raised five platforms to the tops of the trees, up to 120 feet (40 meters) off the ground, in an effort to stop the project so that environmental and cultural values can be protected. Another platform is set to be raised on Saturday, December 15.

In April, a loosely-organized group established a camp in the woods to protect the wetlands, forest, cave, and wildlife from the development. The area around Spencer’s Pond and the Langford Lake Cave at the north end of Leigh Road is valued by local residents as a park and green space. The new interchange is likely to decimate the cave, the pond, the underground geology and the diverse wildlife in the area.

Volunteers have conducted their own survey of the flora and fauna in the path of the new highway project. Some of the results are online at the Treesit Blog, along with maps, photos, background and links for more information.

Rose Henry (centre) speaks to the crowd about indigenous rights.

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Tree Sit Diary, Part 2

Tue, 4 Sep 2007

It’s the first weekend in September and I’m back at the tree sit near Victoria, BC. With the cold wind and light rain, it still feels like April. Almost five months after I first climbed up to the platform, the camp at the end of the road now boasts a motley assortment of tarps, tents, bikes, tables, stoves, coolers, and gear bags stretching across the hill above the tree house.

Langford cave. Photo: Kevin Slagboom

The legendary Langford Cave is guarded by a thirty-foot tripod over the entrance. In June, an elder from the Songhees Nation informed the campers and the city that the cave – a 40-meter-long karst cavity – is a place of cultural significance for indigenous people. He said the cave has a name in the Songhees language, but the Songhees keep their spiritual practices secret and he is not permitted to reveal the name of the cave.

This was a few weeks after city contractors showed up with a bulldozer, rock drills and welding equipment, intending to bulldoze a path to the cave and close it off with a concrete and metal grate. A dozen campers met the crew at the end of the road and politely refused to move aside and let them go to work. The tripod went up soon after, and the crew has not returned. Members of the Songhees and Tsartlip nations thanked us for defending the cave

Tripod over the cave. Photo: Clare A.

A couple hundred people have visited over the summer, including cavers, neighbours, botanists and birders. The bluffs above the camp are home to a rare and flourishing Garry Oak meadow. The oaks survive in a few undisturbed pockets on southern Vancouver Island, co-existing with wild camas and other wildflowers on rocky park-like knolls.

Garry Oaks covered with moss and lichen on the bluff above Langford Cave.

The sun has gone down and it’s dark under the tree canopy. I’ve strapped on the harness and clipped it to the rope that’s anchored sixty feet above, and I’m ready to climb the cedar again. Physically I’m in worse shape than last time, thanks to a flare-up of the chronic pain and weakness all down my left side. But so what? Paraplegics are climbing mountains these days. I could always sit at home and feel sorry for myself, but what good would that do?

I shimmy up the rope with no problems (hooray!) and clamber onto the platform. The tent and tarps look just the same. A couple dozen people have stayed up here since then, and everything is stowed away neatly, but I can sense their presence. There is new graffiti on the plywood.

Just because you fell and died

Doesn’t mean you didn’t fly.

— Lurch

Under the tarp below, the lamp is lit and a couple visitors are telling the campers about the roadkill deer they’re eating. This is the third or fourth deer they’ve found on the highway in the last couple months. Dozens of young people in Victoria survive without jobs or welfare by dumpster-diving and scavenging, and a few come out to the camp whenever they need a place to sleep or hang out.

Cars and trucks whir past on the highway. I turn on the flashlight and write. The small circle illuminates the white tarps and the red cedar tree that forms the centrepiece of the platform. The blackness beyond presses in. Eventually I switch off the light, crawl into the sleeping bag and sleep, deeply and completely.

Labour Day is cool and rainy – no surprise. Two new volunteers have arrived, full of enthusiasm for the camp and the tree sit. I rappel down to the ground and join them for breakfast – corn flour pancakes and tea made from vanilla leaf and nettles growing on the hill.

The proposed interchange route (in black) would blast right through the cave, the wetlands, and part of the Garry Oak bluff. Composite image courtesy of Rob Bowen.

Langford city staff told us last week that the interchange is going ahead as planned in spite of the outcry over protecting the cave, the bluffs, the wetlands, and endangered species in the area. The staff said they see no reason to consult with the public about the interchange project. We don’t agree, so we’re launching an unofficial Community Environmental Consultation this month.

The police are leaving the camp alone, but it seems clear that civil disobedience by itself won’t stop this misguided interchange project. The city could order us out at any time. That’s why I’ve been working my ass off consulting with lawyers, experts, activists and community groups. That’s why we’re bringing all their concerns forward in public – to put the government on notice that it’s no longer acceptable to disregard rare species, First Nations’ rights, and the will of the community when fast-tracking massive highway development projects. I’ll keep you posted as the battle grinds on.

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Tree Huggers Gone Wild!

Tue, 12 Jun 2007

A fast photo rewind of the Wild Earth Rendezvous and the latest Bear Mountain actions.

First up is Cristina, Wild Earth’s volunteer coordinator, with an awesome display of dexterity and teamwork in defense of Bear Mountain at the World Naked Bike Ride in Victoria on June 9.

Photos: Clare A. (Click for the full-size image.)

The banner crew hijacked the parade and led the crowd to the BC Legislature.

Another volunteer climbed a tree and hung a billboard-sized banner next to the Trans Canada Highway on June 8.

Back at the Wild Earth rendezvous and action training last week, the wildflowers were blooming.

Photos: Red Cedar.

Hala’qwit, the Ditidaht First Nation song keeper, welcomed the campers with his daughter.

GNN’s Frank The Stimulator Lopez shared some laughs with Qwatsinas, a Nuxalk hereditary chief, at the Guerrilla Lounge.

Niki admired the giant Sitka Spruces.

“My name is Matthew but they call me John.” Hala’qwit’s nephew.

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