Port council worried about land use agreement

  • Wed Jul 11th, 2007 11:00am
  • News

Port Clements council is worried that the draft strategic land use agreement initialled in late May between the province and the Haida Nation could result in less jobs and less economic opportunities on the islands. After thoroughly discussing the 24-page document at their July 3 meeting, council members voted to write a letter to Forests Minister Rich Coleman and Lands Minister Pat Bell voicing their concerns. The agreement establishes thousands of hectares of new protected areas and special value areas, including the entire west coast of Graham Island and the west coast of Moresby Island not already protected in Gwaii Haanas. It also reduces the annual timber harvest on the islands to 800,000 cubic metres. (The parties are currently analyzing the impacts of this reduction and may take another look at the harvest level, according to the agreement.) The agreement has not yet been ratified and section 9 states that the parties “will conduct further discussions and consideration with their respective communities, stakeholders and leadership” before ratifying it. Mayor Cory Delves said it’s not clear how the islands will be affected by some aspects of the agreement, especially ecosystem-based management, or EBM. “EBM is so vague, I don’t know where this is going to take us,” agreed councillor Wally Cheer. Councillor Urs Thomas wondered who is looking out for the interests of the non-Haida communities, and said he would like to see the agreement include a description of how the Haida and non-Haida communities will work together in the future. Mr. Delves raised a few specific concerns about the ecosystem-based management objectives, saying some of them didn’t seem fully thought out. For example, one of the objectives is to retain all yew trees within cut blocks, but he said yew trees need shade to survive, which means all the trees around them would have to be retained, or the measure would be useless. “Are you saying you aren’t having any harvesting?” where there are yew trees, he asked. “These kind of things might look good on paper but putting them into practical reality is an issue.” Another objective is to identify and protect culturally modified trees, which the document defines as trees which have been modified by Haida people as part of their cultural use of the forests. Mr. Delves wondered how anyone can be sure that a tree was modified by a Haida person and not a non-Haida person who settled here and use the same type of tools and trees. “How do you say, 100 percent sure, that is a tree that was modified by a Haida?” he asked. Mr. Delves suggested that the annual timber harvest will fall even lower than the target of 800,000 cubic metres once all the new restrictions are taken into account. Western Forest Products, where he works, already harvests far less than the amount it is allowed to, he pointed out. Council members were also puzzled by how the community viability strategy, now circulating in draft form, will fit in with the land use agreement. The strategy appears to urge more economic activity but the land use agreement will dampen the business climate, they said. Mr. Delves said it was very important for Port to have an open, public discussion of the agreement and how it will affect the village, and to make its opinions known. Council members voted to have Mr. Delves write up a letter to Minister Bell and Minister Coleman outlining the concerns raised during the discussion. Council members will review the letter before it is sent to Victoria. “I support the concept of the land use plan, I think we all do, but I’ve got some real concerns about this initialled agreement,” Mr. Delves said. “We need to take a stand on it and make our opinions heard.” Before discussing the agreement, council members heard from a local sawmill owner who urged Port to lobby for more local manufacturing of the timber harvested here. Jim Abbott of Abfam Enterprises said he is in the frustrating position of having to close down his sawmill within the next few months because he has been unable to secure a continuous timber supply since his timber licence expired in 1994. Mr. Abbott told council he is no longer concerned about the future of his own business, but was speaking out of general concern for employment and business opportunities for islanders. The key to creating local jobs is for companies harvesting wood here to be required to have at least a portion of it manufactured in local mills, he said. Port Clements representatives should lobby to Haida Nation and the provincial government to agree to this provision for future logging, he said. “It’s going to take some negotiating with the Haida to do it,” he said. “If there is ever a time to negotiate it’s now. Six months down the road could be too late.”