Path to community forest may be long, winding

After over a decade of stumbling blocks, a path may be opening for a Haida Gwaii community forest.

After over a decade of stumbling blocks, a path may be opening for a Haida Gwaii community forest.

If it goes ahead as planned, a community forest could bring between $200,000 and $500,000 a year in logging revenue to communities in the Misty Isles Economic Development Society (MIEDS), plus access to land for new recreation and habitat restoration projects.

The big question is how much community control a Haida Gwaii community forest would actually have.

While MIEDS and the Haida Nation both want to keep the related forestry jobs and timber supply on island, it’s not yet clear how that might work.

That’s because unlike existing community forests in B.C., the province is insisting that the Haida Gwaii community forest be managed in a partnership with BC Timber Sales.

“We’ve never been promised a true community forest,” said Masset Mayor Andrew Merilees, speaking at a July council meeting with forestry consultant Keith Moore.

“We get a cheque, but no say in what happens.”

While the partnership with BC Timber Sales does seem unlikely to change, Moore said there may still be room for MIEDS to negotiate contract awards for islands companies, such as Taan Forest.

It may also be possible for MIEDS to negotiate some control over when and where harvesting occurs, and to pick an environmental certification program of its choosing.

“It’s really complicated, and really, it’s only going to move if there’s a common voice on the islands as to what we want,” he said.

Over the summer, Moore was hired by Masset and the other MIEDS communities to assess the current plans for a community forest, and suggest a way forward.

MIEDS includes all the islands communities except Old Massett and Skidegate, but working together with the Haida communities is key to its mandate, and the Council of the Haida Nation said last year that it supports the community forest idea in principle.

Moore recently presented his findings and, despite the challenges, he recommended that MIEDS continue negotiating with the aim of applying for a community forest under a partnership with BC Timber Sales.

“I know this has been a really long road for everybody, but I think there is at this point a window of opportunity,” Moore said in July.

On the government’s side, Moore said the main stumbling block had been that its proposed BC Timber Sales partnership was so different that it had no legislation to support it.

That legislation was drafted last spring, and Moore pointed out that it calls for flexibility.

Next spring there will also be a B.C. election a good time for ministers to check off things that have been waiting a long time on their to-do lists.

“The third reason is that the revenue stream to the communities has stopped,” said Moore.

For the last three years, the province has allowed MIEDS to receive revenue from BC Timber Sales under an interim contract revenue that added up to nearly $1 million.

But the province can no longer directly award such revenue without a full community forest agreement.

No legal offer has been made yet, but in draft plans the province has set aside 80,000 cubic metres for a Haida Gwaii community forest.

In his report for MIEDS, Moore said that would be about 10 cut blocks per year, and about 8.5 per cent of the total annual allowable cut on Haida Gwaii.

To support that level of annual harvest, which would be the second largest on the coast, the community forest would need an area tenure about the size of the Tlell River watershed.

Details are being worked out now by B.C.’s forestry ministry, but the area would be parcelled in separate blocks, including a large one near the highway between Masset and Port Clements, a smaller one near Tlell, and others north of Queen Charlotte, near Skidegate Lake, and south of Cumshewa Inlet.

Once a final proposed area is ready, Moore said MIEDS will need to negotiate with BC Timber Sales, seek Council of the Haida Nation support, and better understand all the likely costs and benefits, financial and otherwise.

Even then, MIEDS will have to wait for the province to make a formal invite to apply for a community forest, and then it will have to make a detailed application, including a solid business case for boosting on-island forestry and manufacturing.

“This will take time,” wrote Moore.

Created in 2003, BC Timber Sales is a provincial agency that auctions about 20 per cent of all Crown timber in B.C.

It was set up so that the province can established a market-based timber price something that was required by the U.S.-Canada softwood lumber agreement.

The nine-year-old agreement expired last year, and if a new one is not reached next month, U.S. firms may start putting new tariffs on Canada’s $6 billion in lumber exports.

While it has never been proven, the U.S. forestry industry alleges that the B.C. government charges too low a price for logging Crown land and unfairly restricts raw-log exports.