SpruceRoots - Stories
by John Broadhead
A hundred and fifty days ago in Haida Gwaii, these islands at the edge of the world, it was February the 25th 2005. Outside the Port Clements community hall it was a grey winter Friday, but inside things looked pretty black and white to everyone involved in the land use plan.

The Community Planning Forum — some 30 people representing the Haida, the province, local government, labour, tourism, environment and community interests and the logging industry — had sat through over 40 days of public meetings in 18 months and six different island communities. This was the last meeting, time for closure, for final answers.

The main bone of contention was logging, and the question at hand was straight forward enough: Can everyone around this table agree on a single plan that will meet community needs, restore environmental well-being, sustain Haida culture and maintain logging industry profits? If not, what are the options?

The answer of course was no, as many had predicted would be the outcome. What was not so expected was how the votes stacked up, and the yawning gap between the world views they represented. Instead of the usual grey configuration of sector alliances and land use zoning schemes, this planning process had split into two options — one for the industry and one for everybody else, which is pretty much how the voting went.

“Option 1” was business-as-usual, favoured by a minority of three representatives for the major logging companies and their contractors. It said that the existing laws and regulations (which the industry had just rewritten) were good enough for protecting the environment and would ensure industry profitability, without which, they said, our communities could not survive.

“Option 2” was a recipe for massive change — driven by local imperatives to protect Haida culture, community stability and forest habitat values at risk because of logging. Most of the recipe is presented in the Haida Land Use Vision, the foundation document favoured by a majority of the forum members, all residents of the different island communities. There were six-or-so absentees and abstentions, including the province which declared itself neutral.

And so the “LUP” ended, with a bit of a bang and hardly a whimper, and the feeling you get on a late winter afternoon, watching a crack in the dam with everyone making for higher ground.

The following Monday, February the 28th the province issued Cutting Permit No. 115 to Husby Forest Products Ltd, authorizing logging in 31 cutblocks in Rennel Sound, in direct conflict with the Haida Land Use Vision provisions to protect seabird nesting habitat in Gregory Creek.

It wasn’t the first or last time that the companies and province would seek and issue logging approvals that challenge the HLUV, but given how the vote had gone three days earlier, it landed like a grain of sand in the center of the crack — the dam shudders a bit and then gives way.

Three weeks later the new political landscape of Haida Gwaii emerged in the public media. The map had been redrawn and the home team looked seriously organized. People were up to something extraordinary if not dramatic. Audacious if not spunky. Something almost unprecedented.

It wasn’t the first time that local citizens have stopped traffic on a public road to make a point. What was extraordinary was that the provincial government and one of the largest corporations on the planet were powerless to do anything about it. The BC Ministry of Forests and Weyerhaeuser were denied access to work, and under normal circumstances both of them would have lawyers in court the next day seeking an injunction. But the government was entering a general election and the company was midway through a billion-dollar sale of its interests to Brascan, and neither could afford to risk the media attention that might easily turn public opinion against them.

It was dramatic because a two-by-four was laid across the road, fronted by Haida flags and signs and backed by well-organized camps with many dozens of people from every community and walk of life. They were doing it, they said, because government had abandoned its constitutional duty and was defying a ruling by the highest court in the land.

It was audacious because a few thousand souls on a remote archipelago was actually exercising control over a significant chunk of the landscape, and they seemed to be holding all the angel cards. The Governor General of Canada was asked by the Haida to exercise the moral authority of her office and safeguard the honour of the Crown.

Thousands of logs worth millions of dollars were seized by the Council of the Haida Nation for breach of contract. Weyerhaeuser operations ground to a halt, its log barge tied up 50 miles away in Prince Rupert. Every morning the MoF District Manager came down to the line and asked to go to work, only to be told that his staff could go collect their personal belongings in the office, but the only business allowed would be inspections for safety and compliance.

It was ‘almost’ unprecedented because twenty years ago the Haida did much the same thing on their own — at a place called Lyell Island, where a different provincial Tree Farm License ultimately met its demise. Somewhere out there, Mahatma Gandhi must have been smiling, again.

There’s a lot at stake for everyone concerned, and the closer you look, the higher the stakes seem to go. But put aside the seized logs, the billion dollar deal and legal affairs for a moment and consider the lot of the people who call the islands home.

Through the land use plan, many people learned some new and interesting things about what’s become of the forests of Haida Gwaii. They learned that two-thirds of the best stands of timber have been logged. In the Skidegate Plateau where the most logging has occurred, eighty percent is gone. That’s eighty percent of the best places for trees, salmon, bear, birds, plants, and people, gone.

They also know that’s a huge chunk of their economic future. In the past century, the industry has shipped away over 100 million cubic metres of raw logs — enough to girdle the planet with a six-foot diameter log worth about 20 billion dollars — while the Crown has collected over 800 million dollars in provincial stumpage revenues, compounded by many billions more in capital gains, reinvestment and multiple taxation benefits.

That’s gone too, because where that mighty (and valuable) spruce and cedar grew, today there stands a second growth forest worth a fraction as timber, if not of doubtful marketability, while public revenues from stumpage fees on second growth logs are five percent or less of the old growth they replace.

What about the logging jobs? There were 900 in the 80s, 450 today and steeply declining, while local school enrollments and real estate values plummet. Every new mechanical harvester replaces a nine-person crew with families to feed in Port Clements, and Weyerhaeuser now has three of them. Every log barge loaded in a single shift by a crew of five could keep 15 people working in local mills for a year, and every 48 hours another barge sails up the inlet, usually under cover of darkness.

When you look at the numbers the way islanders do, it’s hard to see anything to build a future on, let alone slow the decay of social infrastructure or the eroding banks of salmon streams. Billions of dollars have been taken, a pittance has returned, and a huge environmental and social cost has been inflicted.

It’s all so colonial and all too clear that the province and industry want to keep it that way. Which is why the signs said Enough is Enough.

One month later (April 22nd), at a community benefit dinner and auction being held in the Queen Charlotte hall, Haida Nation representatives announced that an understanding had been reached with the province, everyone could go back to work, the road checkpoints would be ‘softened’ while the negotiations proceeded. The event had raised twelve thousand dollars, distributed to families in need because of recent events.

The upshot
The agreement worked out by the Haida and province is basically in two parts. The first describes the government-to-government process for implementing a land use plan for the islands. It includes, by Haida insistence over provincial reluctance, the convening of a special public forum to focus on issues of community stability and changes to the islands economy. It includes, by Haida insistence over industry complaints and shenanigans, interim protection for about 230,000 hectares of cultural cedar stands and other habitat values identified in the HLUV.

The second part describes certain economic benefits to the Haida through resource revenue-sharing and granting of a Haida Forestry tenure. And it says the two parties will hold further talks about sharing other revenues and decision-making responsibilities.

While the rest of the story could fill several more pages of Spruceroots magazine, this as you know is the last one. The editor is on the phone, there’s only room for 1,500 words and the layout shop is waiting. Time for final answers.

Well there is no final answer because it’s a never-ending story. It started long ago and there’s no end in sight. The only thing I can tell you for sure is there is reason for hope — because everything the province has agreed to flows from the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. The province you see has turned a new leaf.

Stay tuned … it keeps on growing.