Local loggers who rely on BC Timber Sales say they are running out of wood and already losing staff.
With a single timber sale near Skidegate Lake that is proving tough to build roads for, Gloria O’Brien of Port Clements-based O’Brien & Fuerst Logging says the company is in distress.
“We’re just doing what we can, but we can’t keep it up,” she said, speaking to Port Clements council last Monday.
“When are we going to be allowed to go back to work? At what point do we all leave?”
In November, leaders from all Haida Gwaii villages, except Port Clements, signed a letter to the provincial government saying they objected to two BCTS timber sales near Nadu Road and Lawn Hill.
While the sale plans met the requirements of the Haida Gwaii Land Use Objectives Order, they went non-consensus at the B.C./CHN Solutions Table, mainly because the areas are expected to be part of a future Haida Gwaii Community Forest. Port Clements did not sign the letter, fearing the local layoffs that might result for O’Brien & Fuerst and Infinity West, which both bid on the sales.
Just before Christmas, Old Massett Village Council led a blockade of another BCTS sale west of New Town / Tlaga Gawtlaas, concerned that it was too close to the neighbourhood and may exacerbate flooding. O’Brien & Fuerst, which had won the bid for that timber sale, agreed not to log it.
Regarding the concern about logging in what may become the community forest, Gloria O’Brien said the company was told BCTS sales would continue as usual on Haida Gwaii until a community forest is up and running — a process that could take up to two years.
“That doesn’t appear to be happening,” she said.
“Are we going to get any timber sales in the next two years? It’s all pretty spooky.”
Port Clements Mayor Urs Thomas said councillors recognize the seriousness of the problem. The council voted unanimously for a joint meeting on the issue with all the other direct beneficiaries of the proposed community forest: Masset, Queen Charlotte, and local areas of the North Coast Regional District.
“I see people leaving, and it hurts,” said Mayor Thomas.
So far, plans for the community forest include five areas in the Haida Gwaii Timber Supply Area that, based on inventory data from 2010 to 2012, may support a total annual cut of about 80,000 m3 a year.
However, according to the invitation letter from the province, the Haida Gwaii Community Forest would have to sell 55,000 m3 of the cut through BCTS, and receive just 50 per cent of the revenue on that portion.
If the areas are found to support the less than forecast 80,000 m3 in the next timber supply review due later this year, the reduction will come from the remaining 25,000 m3 that the community forest could harvest entirely on its own.
Janine North is the executive director of the Misty Isles Economic Development Society (MIEDS), which is hoping to get the long-sought community forest off the ground.
After speaking with many islands residents at nearly two dozen informal meetings this month, North said she has found little support for the current proposal.
“At this point in time, there’s quite a strong consensus across all of Haida Gwaii that this invitation does raise a lot of concerns,” North said.
Among the concerns, North said many islanders worry the areas will not support 80,000 m3 a year, and that local jobs may not be prioritized given the open-market bidding process that BCTS is mandated to use. Given the feedback so far, North said MIEDS will likely ask to push back the date by which it has to accept or reject the province’s invitation to apply for a community forest, currently set for mid-April.
Port Clements Councillor Doug Daugert said another key concern shared by several people who have worked in Haida Gwaii forestry is that the community forest areas all come from the Timber Supply Area, rather than having equal shares come from the long-term tenures held by Taan, Husby and A&A Trading.
“The first problem I have is that every change in forest tenures over more than 20 years has resulted in a decrease in the amount of timber available to independent, market-based logging,” Daugert said.
“That’s one of the mainstays of our community.”
Daugert also raised a red flag about the likely draw-down of the 80,000 m3 cut once new inventory data is out for the next timber supply review.
“We really can’t take risk,” he said, adding that BCTS has not always received top dollar for its sales in the past.
“If we’re stuck with hiring a forester, keeping an office and various other expenses for running a community forest while it’s shrunk and shrunk, and we have 10,000 meetings to attend, why, we could end up in a position that really gives us a lot of responsibility for very, very little income.”