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Section 4 - 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

Every year, logging companies on Haida Gwaii cut down more than two million cubic metres of trees from the Islands' depleted old-growth temperate rain forests. That equates to 57,400 highway truckloads of logs, or a double line of loaded logging trucks lined bumper-to-bumper from Vancouver to Quesnel. Ninety-six percent of this wood is barged off the Islands for processing in distant manufacturing centres including Campbell River, Powell River, Nanaimo and Vancouver. Because so little of the wood is processed locally, few social and economic benefits remain for Islands residents.

Many Islanders believe that the region's forests have been overcut. Their fears are confirmed by the fact that Haida Gwaii's logging companies are finding it harder and harder to access the timber to support their traditionally high rates of cut.

Bill Beldessi is a member of the Moresby Island Advisory Planning Commission, past president of Share BC, and a truck driver for TimberWest, one of the four big logging companies on the Islands. In his six years of driving a truck for TimberWest, Beldessi has watched a lot of old-growth trees logged. Along with Western Forest Products and MacMillan Bloedel, TimberWest has a TFL on Haida Gwaii. And the volume of timber coming off the TFL is decreasing dramatically.

"I can't speak for any other TFL except TimberWest, which is on my Island," Beldessi says. "But we're seeing a downsizing. When I came here six years ago the cut was in excess of 300,000 cubic metres a year. Now it's below 150,000 cubic metres and dropping."

While much has been made by forest companies of declining opportunities due to the protection of old-growth forests, it is important to note that the drop in TimberWest's cut is not attributable to parks. The nearest protected area to TimberWest's operations on Haida Gwaii is Gwaii Haanas on southern Moresby Island. The area was dually declared a Haida Heritage Site and National Park Reserve eight years ago. TimberWest had no timber-cutting rights in the area.

Like others, Beldessi is concerned about today's declining logging rates. The forest industry is still the major source of employment on Haida Gwaii but it is not diversified to any meaningful extent. There are only two small sawmills, both of which operate sporadically and consume a tiny amount of the timber logged annually.

Unless the industry lowers the rate of cut and diversifies so that more of the remaining timber is made available to smaller and more labour-intensive logging and milling operations, Beldessi and others believe the local economy is in deep trouble.

"We want to start to process more wood on-Island," says Beldessi. "We think that will more than cover the loss of jobs [that could result from a lower AAC]. We have young people leaving the Islands in droves. There's no opportunity here. There used to be jobs in the woods and jobs in the fishing industry. But not so much anymore."
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