SpruceRoots Magazine - March 2000

 

We will draw the curtain and

show you the picture.

 

by Ian Lordon

 

Five years ago another strange thing happened on Haida Gwaii. It was around the time when the Ministry of Forests was getting close to the end of a 'process' (Okay, nothing strange about that. But wait a minute, the strange part is coming).


The process was called the Timber Supply Review. Essentially this meant the Ministry was busily gathering information and data, along with public input and opinion, about the woods here. The Ministry has a lot of experience doing this sort of thing. The Ministry planned to subject the information, data, public input and opinion to 'analysis' and then plug it all into a complicated equation. The equation would chew on the data and spit out an answer telling everyone how much wood we can cut on a big part of Haida Gwaii. The part the Ministry calls the Timber Supply Area (TSA).

 

Two truths are told
As happy prologues to the swelling act
Of the imperial theme
MacBeth, William Shakespeare

The idea is the equation produces a number. That number is a volume of wood. That volume is supposed to be the amount of wood the forests in the TSA can grow forever. How much we can cut each year. Once he had the number, BC's Chief Forester would issue a determination and we'd all start cutting the TSA according to what the equation told him.


But there was a problem with the equation (no, this isn't the strange part, it's actually kinda funny if you don't live here). The number the equation came up with, the amount of wood we kept cutting in the TSA, was way too high. It was, to be exact, 2.2 times higher than the forests could handle. And the funny thing was, the Ministry not only knew this, they were the ones who were saying it! They had tried a different equation and came up with another number they said was the real amount of wood we should cut each year. They figured out that number almost twenty years ago but nobody, not even the people who worked for the Ministry and knew it, listened. Everybody just kept listening to that screwed-up equation.

This is where the strange part comes in. It turned out there were a whole bunch of people who were listening to that other stuff the Ministry was saying- and not just nutty environmentalists, hippies, and drug addicts. No! There were real people paying attention. People with jobs! Mayors, loggers, artists, shop-owners and churchgoers. People who lived right here on Haida Gwaii. Many of these people were not the sort who usually paid attention to, or much less cared about, stuff like Ministry equations.


And you know what? They were mad. You might even say they were pissed off.


For once, these people didn't do the things people ordinarily do when they're pissed off. They didn't yell at the television, or put a fist through the wall, sulk, go for a long walk, or tidy the house in a frenzy (remember, strange things were happening on Haida Gwaii). Instead, these people actually tried to do something about it.

It began in Port Clements of all places, the logging capital of the islands.

 

You take my house when you do take the prop
That do sustain my house; you take my life
When you take the means whereby I live.
Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

On March 3, 1995 the mayor and council in Port sent a pretty pointed letter to the Minister of Forests telling him what the village wanted and didn't want to see when the latest Timber Supply Review was finished. They wanted the Ministry to quit using the screwed-up equation right away. They wanted the Annual Allowable Cut, the number produced by the equation, to be cut in half. They wanted the Chief Forester to tell everyone to use the new lower number from now on. They wanted to stop logging the Timber Supply Area faster than it could grow back. They said if we keep cutting our forests this fast we're gonna kill our communities because nobody will be able to work here anymore.


Port also sent copies of the letter to every council and elected official on the islands. The mail must have moved faster five years ago because the very next day, on March 4, 1995, a big crowd of people showed up in Port for a workshop called Toward a Community Vision of the Queen Charlotte Timber Supply Area.


Different people see things differently, and the people of Haida Gwaii are no different. A lot of the time folks here have trouble even hearing what someone else has to say, let alone understanding it. But on this day it seemed like everybody at the workshop had pretty much the same vision. People from Old Massett to Sandspit were nodding and clapping when they heard what their neighbours had to say. People from the School Board, and the Hospital Board, and the Cavil Committee - who might have had problems talking to each other in the past, maybe even hated each other's guts- recognized that for once they all wanted the same thing.


"Everybody had a common view of what was going on, everybody wanted something done about it right now, and they were ready to demand action," recalls Jack Miller, an old logger from Port who was there that day. "ICSI was born of the general dissatisfaction on-island with how things were going in our forests."


An you had any eye behind you, you might
see more detraction at your heels than
fortunes before you.
Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare

Wait a minute- what's this ICSI thing that Miller guy is talking about? Just hang on.
A couple of weeks after the workshop, another strange thing happened on Haida Gwaii. All of the elected people on the islands started thinking like the people at the workshop. They all got together and put their names on a letter dated March 21, 1995. The letter was for the Chief Forester, and it said many of the things people at the workshop were saying:


"Our community requires a sustainable natural resource base. It is clear from our observations and from the documents your Ministry has prepared that our local TSA is not being managed in this way, as indicated by the current AAC, which is 2.2 times the Long Term Harvest Level. From the standpoint of the well being of our island community, we need major changes to this state of affairs."


What's more, the letter had a couple of concrete recommendations for the Chief Forester to think about before he set the cut for the TSA on Haida Gwaii:
1) Areas under consideration for exclusion from harvesting must be removed from contributing to the AAC.
2) Within three years or less, reduce the AAC to the long-term harvest level, as qualified by 1) above.


That's really all the letter said. Pretty simple, simple enough for even a Chief Forester to understand. The areas in the first point were what people around here call the Haida Protected Areas. Places like Duu Guusd, the Tlell River watershed, Kumdis Slough, and Government Creek. Places Haida people don't want logging companies messing with.


"That shook them to the core, they hadn't seen a concerted effort from the communities before," Gerry Johnson, who helped write the original letter for Port council, remembers. "They'd always been able to find some little button to push to make the islands fractious - and we've been compliant."


The letter was signed by Dave Monture from Old Massett, Terry Carty from Masset, Dave Wilson from Port Clements, Bill Mackay from Area 'D', Robert Dudoward from Skidegate, Greg Martin from Queen Charlotte, Duane Gould from Sandspit, Bill Beldessi from the Moresby Island advisory planning commission, Gerry Johnson from the Graham Island advisory planning commission, and Kim Davidson from Haida Forestry.
Every single island community standing side by side and opposed to the status quo. It was a thing of beauty.


It was so good nobody wanted to quit after just one letter. So they put together a new board, one where all the communities would be represented, one that would speak with one voice for everyone on Haida Gwaii. They called this new board ICSI - the Islands Community Stability Initiative.
And the letter?

"The letter was sent and never responded to," Jack Miller says. "It was never officially recognized."

 

 

The weakest goes to the wall.
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Not long after the letter was sent, an emissary from the Ministry showed up in the guise of Bob Brash, Haida Gwaii's latest district manager, and he called a number of public meetings in September of 1995 to deal with our disgruntled people and their leaders.


Back then Brash said the islands were 'hitting the wall,' a phrase that caught the imagination of local people. Today, Brash no longer works for the Ministry, he works for Husby Forest Products. Ironically, Husby holds licences to cut the bulk of the AAC for the TSA. As a matter of fact, Husby alone cuts more wood than the Ministry says the TSA is capable of growing. Now Brash is crashing into the wall he was so fond of talking about. But that's another story


"The issue was that there's a lot of timber around, but with the requirements of the Forest Practices Code we were hitting the wall in terms of short term available timber because of the protected areas," Brash says.


At the second Brash meeting he issued a challenge to ICSI and the communities.

"He delivered an ultimatum," Miller says. "He told ICSI they would have to come up with a proposal to government by February 1, 1996."
The communities and ICSI responded. In the following months, ICSI board members set out on a marathon of meetings where they toiled together towards a complete position paper outlining the communities' vision for the future of their forests. And on January 31, 1996, they unveiled a forestry manifesto for Haida Gwaii - The ICSI Consensus.


The Consensus wasn't limited to demanding a lower logging rate, it also laid out ICSI's goals for all forestry activity on the islands. ICSI wanted more local access to wood, more local manufacturing and processing, a voice in management, and a long-term plan to help sort out the stickier issues in the forests.


After they showed the Consensus to the Ministry, the two sides opened negotiations.

 

 

Here are a few of the unpleasant'st words
That ever blotted paper.

Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

Before talks really had a chance to get anywhere, the Chief Forester pulled the rug out from under the communities. He set the Annual Allowable Cut for the TSA on Haida Gwaii.


You might think the ruckus raised by island people, the letter from united communities, and the Consensus might have caught the Chief Forester's attention, that he might have lowered the cut as a gesture of goodwill, but you would be wrong.


The AAC stayed almost right where it was. It actually went up a bit. That screwed-up equation was simply too persuasive.
Brash admitted it didn't look very good. He explained the reason the AAC was the same was because the review and analysis had gone too far for the Ministry to change on such short notice. He promised the communities' demands would be considered during the next review in five years' time.

 

 

Oh what authority and show of truth can
cunning sin cover itself withal

Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

In the fall of 1996 the Minister of Forests himself took the trouble to come to Haida Gwaii and sign an agreement with ICSI. Old Massett never showed up, and people were miffed about that at the time, but eventually they returned to the table and have played a key role ever since. There was a big feast in Skidegate, and everybody felt pretty good about the whole thing. The agreement was called the Memorandum of Understanding.
There were close to two dozen commitments, promises, and acknowledgements made in the Memorandum. It was signed nearly four years ago. The biggest promises the Ministry made to ICSI were to begin a plan guiding all resource use and development on Haida Gwaii, to establish an Islands Forest Council run by island people, and to give the communities over 50,000 cubic metres of wood every year.


In exchange the communities agreed to help design an ecosystem plan for the Tlell and Government Creek watersheds, and to talk about logging in Duu Guusd, the Yakoun Corridor, Security Inlet, Cumshewa Head, and Kootenay Inlet.


The Ministry did not agree to lower the cut in the Timber Supply Area, but it did commit to 'reanalyzing' the AAC. It promised to do this sooner than required by law. In other words, in less than four years.


The Ministry never kept this promise. The new AAC will be declared right on schedule, five years after the last one. There was talk for a while about a plan for Haida Gwaii, but it never amounted to anything even though the Memorandum says it should be finished by now. And the wood for the communities? Well, we still have a promise.


On ICSI's side, the communities already delivered an interim logging plan for the Tlell and started an ecosystem plan for the whole watershed. Logging continues in Kootenay Inlet where the Ministry plans to lay road over five major fish streams and wipe out some of largest remaining spruce trees on Haida Gwaii.


There are cut blocks in Cumshewa and Security Inlet on Weyerhaeuser's forest development plan. The logging plan for Government Creek was squashed by the Haida. Duu Guusd gets more play in the papers than Joe Clark, but most of the trees are still standing. And the fate of Yakoun is still open to debate.


But more important than listing off which of its commitments have and haven't been fulfilled is the fact that the Memorandum marked the moment when the movement that began in Port Clements during the spring of 1995 started to jump the tracks.

 

 

And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

The problem was the Memorandum didn't really address the AAC. It only set the stage for the Ministry to deal with it faster. The Islands Forest Council sounded good, and ICSI spent time and energy developing the idea and figuring out how it would work. But it was the community forest, the over 50,000 cubic metres of wood each year, that caused the most distraction, consternation, and soul searching among ICSI's directors.


The community forest made ICSI part of the problem in the Timber Supply Area. Sure it was an opportunity for ICSI to help out local loggers, to foster island manufacturing, and to log in a more responsible way. But the bottom line was the volume the Ministry was offering ICSI would be contributing to the overcutting of the forests.


"Accepting a community forest licence is clearly a perpetuation of the old order," Bill Mackay, a former ICSI director acknowledges. "But at the time the thinking was that the only way to have influence was to have status. The point was we would manage it the way we wanted and dare them to take it away. We were at a loss for alternatives."


To it's credit, ICSI involved the public in the project. ICSI hosted a symposium with community forestry experts to help people understand the different options and the experiences of others. There were plenty of public meetings where the details of the issue were argued into the ground. The public eventually persuaded ICSI to reject the volume offer and pursue an area licence where the communities could log sustainably. Meanwhile, logging in the TSA continued unchecked.


Finally, last year the Ministry sort of made good on its promise in the Memorandum by announcing ICSI would get a shot at a community forest pilot project. Sort of because even though the Ministry says ICSI can have a community forest, it won't let ICSI access the money it needs to put together a forest and business plan. ICSI director John Broadhead sums up the problem this way:


"The Ministry says: 'here's your ladder, climb out of the hole,' but the bottom five rungs are missing."

 

 

I understand a fury in your words,
But not the words.

Othello, William Shakespeare

Another thing ICSI did to pass the time while Haida Gwaii waited for the next Timber Supply Review was examine and criticize the logging plans of all the major operators on the islands.


ICSI submitted comments and recommendations for every five-year forest development plan handed in to the Ministry last year. ICSI was thorough. The board hired a competent technical staff who knew what our communities wanted. The staff would carefully comb through the plans, find the flaws, and then ICSI would write the companies and the Ministry and tell them how the plans could be better.


The Ministry and the companies would write back, thanking and praising ICSI for the effort, but never doing a damn thing.

They say, best men are moulded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad.
Measure For Measure, William Shakespeare

Lately, things haven't gone so good for ICSI.
For the last three years the board was getting funding from the Ministry through the South Moresby Forest Replacement Account. The account is scheduled to dry up this year, and there isn't much chance the Ministry is going to dip into general funds to help our communities oppose the status quo.


Taking money from the Ministry was tricky business - it raised the old 'bite the hand that feeds you' question. On the one hand, ICSI had the means to accomplish more with the Ministry's cash, but on the other, they couldn't be too critical. It was supposed to be a partnership, but it was hard working together when the goals of both parties were so incompatible. There are some issues neither side is ready to compromise on.

This spring is ICSI's five-year anniversary and no-one feels like a party.


ICSI is broke. The AAC in the TSA hasn't changed. There is no community forest, no comprehensive forestry plan for Haida Gwaii, no major changes in the way the forests are logged. Our manufacturing and small business sectors haven't improved much. The barges still carry away the forests and take the jobs with them.


In five years ICSI launched plenty of initiatives but has yet to create much stability.


The new Timber Supply Review and analysis will be released in a month or two. Next fall the Chief Forester will likely declare the latest recklessly excessive AAC for the TSA on Haida Gwaii.


This is the moment of truth, the moment we've waited for since that day in Port Clements, and it comes when ICSI is least capable of confronting it. The public has little interest in ICSI's affairs of late. Few ordinary people show up for the board's meetings. And it's quite a coincidence ICSI ran out of government money at this particular moment in time.


Can ICSI do anything about the cut? Does it still have the support of the communities? Do the people living here even care anymore? Where is the energy and anger, the sense of solidarity and possibility, that started all this in the first place?
And what will the Chief Forester do about the AAC next fall?


"I don't think they'll attack it as aggressively as they should," speculates ICSI's former chair Dale Lore. "I would expect them to drop it by ten to fifteen percent and pretend they've done something."

 

 

To be or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 't is nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To sleep: To die:

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Lore may be right. He may even be too generous. For as long as ICSI's been around, the Ministry has never once given the communities what they really wanted. The provincial government, through the Ministry of Forests, has proven time and time again that it does not care to be accountable to the communities on Haida Gwaii. The people delivered a clear message, in a clear manner, only to be ignored. So, what's the point? Why even bother?


Why should good people with better things to do, with families, with lives, devote their time to a cause which seems so frustratingly futile? Why not accept the way things are and end it all? Why shouldn't we kill ICSI? A good person to put that question to is ICSI's longest-serving member, the board's current chair, Kim Davidson.


"Because we care," he says. "If we don't it'll be the end of the opportunities. It'll be all over and there will be nothing but a wasteland. It'll be another Newfoundland. I think ICSI is a great body to share common concerns among the communities, we are a group of First Nations and non First Nations working together. ICSI forced us to look at one another, it probably put a lot of our fears aside, and it brought us together."
That alone is rare enough on Haida Gwaii to make it worth saving.


And there are a host of other reasons. The job won't end with the AAC, even if ICSI succeeds in lowering it to a sustainable level. Broadhead figures the communities on-island will always need a way to help maintain the forests for future generations.


"As long as people in communities here hope to go on being here, and hope to provide a decent life for our kids," he says, "then there'll be a need for ICSI."


ICSI is much more than the improvised board charged with a single task it was five years ago. It's an established forum for local forestry issues. It's an example of community cooperation. And it's the only political organization on Haida Gwaii that can claim to speak for everyone when it comes to our forests.


But in becoming these things, ICSI has lost its sense of purpose. The issue of the AAC was obscured in a cloud of pressing administrative issues, of funding and forest proposals, of political rhetoric, meaningless negotiations, and empty promises.


Most of those islanders gathered in Port Clements in March of 1995 had never heard of a community forest. An LRMP might have been a medical procedure, and the idea of an islands forest council was as unfamiliar as two straight weeks of sunshine. They wanted one thing and they wanted it badly - a lower AAC. Bad enough to get this whole thing started.


Has that desire changed? After five more years of overcutting, are the people of Haida Gwaii more likely to shrug and say 'who cares?' Are they less anxious about the future stability of their communities? The Ministry seems to think so. It cut off ICSI's funding. The Ministry might want to demoralize the communities before declaring an unchanged AAC, or they might need the cash for the provincial deficit.


It doesn't matter, ICSI never had any money to begin with. It wasn't built on money or by money, it was built on principle by volunteers. The money only seemed to distract ICSI. Instead of focussing exclusively on the AAC, ICSI got caught up in dozens of causes and projects. Now that the money is gone, maybe ICSI won't have time for the other issues. Maybe ICSI will return to its roots. And maybe the people of Haida Gwaii will rally behind ICSI once again.


With the new Timber Supply Review and a new AAC looming around the corner, it may be in the nick of time.

 

That we would do,
We should do when we would.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

 

SpruceRoots Magazine - February 2000