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Extinction Rebellion head goes on hunger strike over log exports; gets support from Peachland

Vancouver Island activist Howard Breen starts 25-day hunger strike protest

An old-growth forest preservation activist launching a 25-day hunger strike and is hoping to find support for his cause in the Central Okanagan.

Howard Breen, joined by fellow protester Brent Eichler, began a hunger strike Friday (April 1) as the start to the ‘Save Old Growth’ Spring Rebellion launches next week which will initiate a month of highway protest shutdowns.

Breen, a Victoria resident, says his strike base will be in Nanaimo, with trips planned over the next four weeks to Langford, Victoria and Fairy Creek.

Co-founder of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island, Breen has a history of being arrested for logging protests he has carried out in the past, in some cases charged and taken to court for his disruptive actions.

Taryn Skalbania, a member of the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance, echoed Breen’s sentiments that “deforestation is at the root of the climate change emergency in British Columbia.”

Skalbania said she hopes the Breen’s hunger strike will draw public attention to the NDP’s 2017 provincial election campaign promise to curb raw log exports.

“Our government and industry have not been able to sell the narrative that B.C. needs to continue to mine its forests for a few jobs or corporate economic gain. We know we need clean water, fresh air, flood protection, wildfire mitigations, biodiversity and more climate change protections,” Skalbania said.

In an email to Black Press Media, Breen said one desired outcome of his protest is to have a meeting with Forests Minister Katrine Conroy, as well as to seek her resignation and further Premier John Horgan’s if the raw log policy continues.

“At my age (68 on April 7), this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing as I’m a very reluctant aging poster child for carbon sink protection,” Breen stated.

“Attempting a long hunger strike in your golden years you have to be more vigilant about your medical status as you weaken and tire. I pray that when Brent Eichler and I cross into a perilously weakened state, it will prompt the minister to do the right thing.

“I feel being a former lifelong NDP member and supporter, I definitely feel remorse and some responsibility for the liquidation of our old-growth forests…I believe it would be politically reckless of Minister Conroy to reject our overtures to meet given our organizational outreach.”

Skalbania said the raw log export policy has long been criticized but has transcended through NDP and Liberal provincial government administrations over more than three decades.

She feels a preferable alternative to sending off logs to Asia is to retain that lumber for value-added benefits provided by B.C. mills, which are seeing a slumping supply of accessible lumber resources.

“The problem when new governments come into power is they see log exports generating three to 10 times the revenue for government compared to having them milled in B.C.,” she said.

And the pressure that places on the environment, she added, is represented by concerns specifically about the water supply in Peachland.

The Peachland watershed is the subject of a UBC Okanagan study, expected to take two to three years to complete, which will provide an in-depth analysis involving all the major stakeholders about the current issues facing the watershed and how to protect the community’s quality of water interests against other conflicting needs in the future.

“Of the 89 watersheds across B.C. they considered for the study, they chose Peachland which says something,” she noted.

READ MORE: Protest staged against clear-cut logging in Peachland

READ MORE: Protester asks B.C.’s top doc to look into jail COVID-19 protocols

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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