Time running out on land-use planning forum

  • Wed Nov 24th, 2004 12:00pm
  • News

By Heidi Bevington–The land use planning forum, meeting since late last year, has just three meetings to go, with a lot of ground to cover and no final agreement on any issues thus far.
The agreement-if one is reached-will guide decision makers, like the Ministry of Forests, about what people, especially businesses can do on the islands. For instance, the forum could recommend certain islands be set aside as bird sanctuaries, and if they are then the Ministry of Forests would not approve logging on those islands.
To give focus to the whole process, the forum’s work focuses on the needs of 17 ‘indicators’ like cedar, salmon and sea birds that need to be protected in the agreement. What the committee is negotiating is an agreement that will balance the needs of these indicators and the environment as a whole with the needs of industry. Also, they have to balance the needs of competing industries, for instance tourism and logging.
The province and the Haida nation agreed to the land use planning process in order to bring stability to the islands’ economy for the next ten years. The agreement has nothing to do with the Haida Nation’s land claim and will only describe how the land is to be used, not who owns it.
The forum has been meeting since September 2003, and has three more meetings to complete its work: one beginning today, another in December and a third in February.
The forum thought it might get more time from the province and the Council of the Haida Nation. However, “an extension is probably not going to happen,” said CHN VP Arnie Bellis. “We want to get it done in this time frame, and we’re working very hard to get it done.”
Before the forum began meeting in September 2003, land use had a long history on the islands.
An earlier attempt by the province to get a land management agreement for the islands fell through in the late 1990’s when the Haida Nation did not participate in the process.
Then in 2001, the province signed a protocol agreement with the CHN to negotiate a land use strategy for the islands.
The process began with the appointment of co-chairs, Carol Kulesha representing the province and Gilbert Parnell for the CHN. They selected a forum of 15 people and another 14 alternates to represent different areas of islands life like small business, tourism, community values, Haida culture and forestry tenure holders.
The first meeting in September 2003, began with the members expressing their commitment to the islands, and then asking for some immediate changes to the forum. The biggest change was the inclusion of the alternates at the table, expanding the forum from 15 to 29 overnight. The process team changed as well when Mr. Parnell resigned and Tamara Rullin stepped in as CHN co-chair.
After the first meeting, forum members settled into a pattern of gathering once a month for two days to learn about land management issues that the land use plan would have to take into account. Members heard from people as diverse as forestry experts, fishing lodge owners, bear scientists and tourism developers.
The forum members also heard from each other. Each interest group explained how they used the land, and the kind of protection and access they needed to continue using it. For instance, tourism operators value beautiful views because that’s what their clients want to see. They need timber harvesters to cut down trees in ways that don’t destroy the scenic beauty of the islands. Meanwhile, forest companies value certainty because they need to know what they can cut and where in order to operate efficiently.
Throughout the fall and winter the forum members got to understand the issues and each other better.
In the spring, the forum began to feel the time pressure. The members agreed to give themselves more time by meeting three days a week instead of two. The forum still hadn’t seen crucial documents like the Haida Land Use Vision and the Environmental Conditions report that they were supposed to use to make decisions. The Haida Land Use Vision was read publicly in June. The Environmental Conditions report is still being released chapter by chapter as it is completed.
This September, after a one-month break, the forum re-assembled and began negotiating.
To negotiate, the forum breaks into three groups, and discusses options for key areas called indicators. For instance, in the first agreement in principle for Seabird Colonies, the forum decided to set aside 17 protected areas including parts of Langara Island, Hippa Island and Marble Island. An additional 21 areas are under consideration for protection. As well as setting aside these areas, the agreement outlines management directions like how close to the protected areas fishing boats can go, and speed limits for boats passing near by.
Old growth forest, black bear and goshawks are three more indicators that were discussed at the last meeting.
A total of 10 main indicators, and 14 additional species of concern will be discussed at the upcoming meetings, and the forum members will negotiate management directions for each of them.
But what if they can’t they get this done in three meetings?
The CHN and the province will negotiate any outstanding issues the forum cannot resolve, taking into account any recommendations the forum might make before it adjourns for the last time.