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Section 6 - 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

For too long, says Robert DuDoward the chair of the Haida Nation's Forestry Branch, forestry on Haida Gwaii has been dominated by big companies with volume-based tenures. The end result, is a dramatically depleted resource and vanishing options for this and future generations.

"Over the years, the Haida Nation has identified areas that are to remain intact, and has called for a 50 percent reduction in cut. We have to have options for our future, and that's what our call for a reduced cut and more protected areas represents: options for future generations," says DuDoward.

By reducing the amount of trees logged annually on Haida Gwaii and by turning forest tenures over to the communities, DuDoward and others believe that greater community stability and economic sustainability will be achieved. Moreover, it will help end the decades-long arrangements that many believe have worked to the advantage of big forest companies and the expense of both the local and the provincial economies.

In exchange for the timber they cut, the forest companies operating on Haida Gwaii make "stumpage" payments to the BC government. The amount of money collected is determined by the government using a complex appraisal system. Under the formula, the government can lower the fees assessed the companies by taking into account a number of costs associated with the logging and transporting of timber. One allowance of great concern to Islanders is the transportation allowance. Forest companies are allowed to claim the cost of hauling their logs to distant mills to reduce the stumpage fees they pay.

In recent months those "haul allowances" have averaged $7.77 per cubic metre. When that allowance or subsidy is applied to the volume annually logged on the Islands, it works out to $15.5 million. This has lead more than one local resident to conclude that government policies actually encourage the export of raw materials off Haida Gwaii. Such an allowance has the added effect of discouraging local processing, because it rewards licensees for not establishing mills on the Islands.

The other issue of great concern to local residents relates to the lack of an open market for timber or logs. Blessed with long-term forest tenures providing them exclusive access to almost all of the best wood, the big forest companies operating on Haida Gwaii are sheltered from the forces of supply and demand. They don't have to compete for what they cut. The end result, says Jim Abbott, owner of the Abfam Enterprises Ltd. sawmill in Port Clements, is that the province doesn't collect anywhere near what it should for the timber that is cut.

"Total stumpage collected from all forest licensees on the Islands in 1993 was $33.6 million. The market value of the timber was $238 million. The province collected only 14% of the actual value of the resource," says Abbott. "It would be interesting to know, when all the expenses and revenues are taken into account, whether the public actually paid the companies to cut the timber."

Abfam Enterprises Ltd. and QCI Sawmills Ltd. (in nearby Masset) are the the two biggest local sawmills on the Islands. Between them, they once employed 62 people. For 10 years, both mills had guaranteed supplies of timber through "non-replaceable" licences awarded by the Ministry of Forests. But the licences have lapsed, making it difficult for either company to operate with any certainty of future
wood supplies.

For obvious reasons, Abbott wants that situation changed. He would like to see "all existing TFLs and major licences in the TSA on Haida Gwaii cancelled and re-offered as Community Tree Farm Licences." Timber rates would be publicly bid on, of short duration, and would be for a wide range of timber volumes.

A new "Islands Forestry Agency" would sell and administer timber tenures, Abbott says. Local mills and remanufacturing plants would need 10-year licences providing them with 75 percent of their fibre needs, and they would rely on local auctions through a local log market for the balance of their needs.

"Primary and secondary manufacturing facilities would be built to meet the capacity of local harvesting levels. They would be owned and operated by residents, with any joint ventures to be limited to 49% outside ownership," Abbott says.
Abbott is the first to admit his proposals may seem self-serving. But the reality is that his mill and QCI Sawmills can do what the big tenure holders on Haida Gwaii have consistently failed to do - provide local people with local employment in locally owned and operated mills and manufacturing plants.

"Companies that have done a good job and have kept their promises to local people are not getting their licences renewed," Abbott says of the loss of the Abfam and QCI Sawmills' licences. Meanwhile, the rapid logging of Haida Gwaii's old-growth forests proceeds with predictable environmental, social and economic consequences.

"Current cut levels are not sustainable. The wrong profile of the timber is being siphoned off (highgrading). Massive clearcuts scar the land, the low value stands are being ignored. Silviculture practices are not creating a healthy new forest. The wealth from the resource is being siphoned off to Victoria, Vancouver and multi-national companies," Abbott says.

Abbott and others believe the wealth is there to sustain a vibrant forest economy on Haida Gwaii. It's a forest economy that will look a lot different than today, because it will be based on a lower, but sustainable rate of cut.
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