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Taking It All Away - Communities on Haida Gwaii say Enough is Enough

Cover
| Introduction | Goodbye Wood, Goodbye Jobs | Where the Cut Goes
Lower the Cut - Retain the Jobs | Redesigning the Status Quo
Untenable Tenure | Hitting the Wall
Islands Community Stability Initiative
Conclusions

In November 1995, the Ministry of Forests informed local communities that the forest industry is "hitting the wall" - facing a 30 per cent shortfall in timber supply Island-wide in 1996. Prospects for 1997 are "worse." The ministry proposed a fast-track local negotiation process to address the supply crisis, protected area issues, and the communities' economic concerns. It set a February 1 target for completion, causing some locals to wonder why they had to solve a problem in three months that the ministry had let go for years.




Most communities would balk at the prospect of such a hectic schedule. Islanders decided to take the ministry up on its offer. Once again, leaders from every one of the local village, municipal and regional district councils got together, this time to form the Island Community Stability Initiative. ICSI drafted goals and a set of guiding principles, then went to each community for a mandate. Its goals are as follows:

Public support was overwhelming. Dale Lore, a road-builder for MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. and a Councillor for the Village of Port Clements, participated in the process. Like others, he felt he had to.

The forest industry on the Islands is a significant employer and is dominated by four major forest companies. To his dismay, Lore discovered that support for the companies was dangerously low. Something had to be done.

"What really got me going on this was a preservationist viewpoint - but the opposite of what you might think - preserving the industry that I've worked in all my life. Because it looked like it was committing suicide," Lore says. "I couldn't get support from 20 per cent of the guys in the bush to defend the company they worked for. The companies weren't doing anything to support the communities they were operating in."

Elsewhere on the Islands, unease has become endemic. Residents are worried about the future in light of what many view as an unsustainable rate of logging and a lack of long-term, local job prospects in the forest industry.

On February 1, 1996, following more than 2,000 volunteer person-hours of meetings, ICSI released a 20-page "Consensus Document" - a blueprint for a new and radically different environment and forest economy on Haida Gwaii.

In the document ICSI notes that Islanders lack confidence that current logging rates are sustainable, and it calls for immediate changes in how those rates are set. Furthermore, it recommends that logging be ruled out in several areas of significance identified by the Council of the Haida Nation.

(The areas may contain 20 per cent of the remaining mature "operable timber" on the Islands. If the Islands-wide cut was concentrated in these special areas, they could all be logged in 10 years.)

ICSI further notes that of the two million cubic metres of timber logged annually on the Islands, under four per cent is processed in local mills. To end the exodus of valuable, raw logs off the Islands, ICSI calls for tenure reform, including community-managed forests, expanded opportunities for local wood processors, and guaranteed on-Islands access to wood, provided by the establishment of local log markets.
"More economic and employment benefits need to be created out of less wood," ICSI concludes. "Adding value to timber through processing and manufacturing creates jobs."

ICSI is but one initiative underway on Haida Gwaii wherein residents are attempting to reverse present trends and chart a new course for their environment and economy.

"What's happening here is revolutionary," says Lore. "The people of this region have discovered that gurus aren't the answer - outside experts aren't the answer. If people living here can't come to a consensus about solving their problems, the problems won't get solved." 
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