Calling for a shake-up of Haida Gwaii forestry, including a local solution to the recent dispute over BC Timber Sales and the future Haida Gwaii Community Forest, dozens of people rallied at Spirit Square and marched to the Ministry of Forests in Queen Charlotte on Saturday. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

BCTS receives vote of non-confidence

Council of the Haida Nation issues no-logging orders to two Port Clements companies

About 70 people marched to Haida Gwaii’s provincial forestry office on Saturday, days after the Council of the Haida Nation issued no-logging orders in a dispute with BC Timber Sales.

On the sidelines are two Port Clements logging companies who rely on BCTS for work.

But the future of BCTS on Haida Gwaii is itself an open question.

Early last week, the Council of the Haida Nation wrote the two companies — O’Brien & Fuerst Logging and Infinity West — telling them not to log timber sales that BCTS recently sold them near Lawn Hill and Nadu Road.

In May and July, the CHN rejected plans for those sales, making them among the first from BCTS to go “non-consensus” at the Solutions Table.

The main problem, said the CHN, is that both are easy-access, high-value cedar stands that were expected to be part of a future Haida Gwaii Community Forest.

“I think we all recognize that there is still not enough benefit coming back to the communities and to our people,” said Jason Alsop, Gaagwiis, speaking for the CHN about Haida Gwaii forestry in general at a rally held in Queen Charlotte before the march on Saturday.

Almost nine years after B.C. and the Haida Nation signed the Kunst’aa Guu – Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol, Alsop said some logging on Haida Gwaii has improved, and Haidas are more involved.

But more local decision-making needs to be brought back to Haida Gwaii, he said.

Janine North, executive director of the Misty Isle Economic Development Society (MIEDS), who also spoke at the rally, said the community forest is a case in point.

“It may only be one small opportunity to do things differently, but sometimes even a small opportunity can shine a light,” North said.

While the B.C. government has yet to make a formal offer for a Haida Gwaii Community Forest, the idea is that it would be area-based, have an annual cut up to 80,000 m3, and benefit the five MIEDS communities (Masset, Port Clements, Queen Charlotte, Sandspit, and rural Graham Island).

But so far, the province has always suggested that while islanders would manage it, all bidding and sales for the community forest would have to be done in partnership with BCTS, which would also split the revenue.

READ MORE: Islanders asked for feedback on community forest shared with BCTS

It’s a new model, established last spring under the BC Liberal government, and unlike all but one of the 56 other community forests in B.C.

“We believe the offer that should be coming — and we’ve been waiting a long time — will not be like the opportunity that other communities have,” said North.

If it does require a partnership with BCTS, the community forest might not fly.

That’s because after the province approved the BCTS timber bids at Lawn Hill, Nadu, and other areas over the CHN’s objections, Haida citizens at the November House of Assembly passed a resolution to expel BCTS from the islands.

Contract loggers caught in the middle

The House of Assembly resolution was news to Dave Froese, co-owner of Infinity West, which successfully bid on the timber sale at Nadu.

Infinity West and O’Brien & Fuerst, small companies based in Port Clements, were the only ones who bid on the controversial sales.

Without tenure licences, Froese said both companies rely on winning BCTS bids for wood supply, and the Nadu and Lawn Hill sales were the only ones to come up in the last 11 months.

“Nobody else wanted to be involved in this, obviously — they saw the signs and probably ran,” said Froese.

“But for us, we’re in the community and we want to work things out,” he said.

“I mean, where are we supposed to go, right? There’s nowhere for us to go. Either we work, or we’re out of business — it’s pretty simple.”

Froese said Infinity West is finishing a timber sale in Rennell Sound and has some private land to log. But by March or April, the sale at Nadu is the only thing in the window.

Of 40 staff at Infinity West, Froese said nearly all are local. They sell wood to the Haida Gwaii Forest Products sawmill — a joint venture by Abfam Enterprises and Old Massett — and recently started a dry-land sort across the road where local people can get yellow cedar.

“We’re doing what we can, and we’d like to see value-added,” he said.

“There’s a lot of different issues that need to be dealt with. Somehow we all have to live together and figure it out.”

“We’re edging ever closer to reality, I believe,” said Christian White, Kilthguulans. “You could call me an optimistic pessimist.” (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Solutions beyond the Solutions Table

Most of the people who spoke at the rally in Queen Charlotte on Saturday said little about B.C. Timber Sales or the community forest, but about problems with Haida Gwaii forestry in general.

Ken Edgars, Thasi, is a Haida hereditary leader who spoke about the many other chiefs before him who wanted logging on Haida Gwaii to stop.

“They wanted to stop it, and then start all over again, to benefit the island,” Edgars said.

“There’s nothing wrong with that — we’re just trying to save jobs for our local people.”

Lisa White, Kuuyang, who emceed the rally, said Haida Gwaii should look to the selective logging done today in Europe and in the past by Haida ancestors.

A biosphere reserve may be another option, she said, noting that Canada has yet to reach its 2020 goal for protected areas.

“We’ve followed provincial laws for 100 years,” she said. “It’s time for us to go back to Haida traditional laws of respect and consent.”

Haida carver Christian White, Kilthguulans, spoke about seeing bargeload after bargeload of cedar pass by Old Massett in his 55 years here, and also what happened when his grandfather and great-uncles tried to run their own mill on island.

“They couldn’t get wood anymore — it was made illegal,” he said. “They went to the courts, who said they were stealing Crown-land wood.”

White also mentioned a front-page story in the first Haida Laas newsletter in April 1975, which called for a Haida Nation tree-farm licence.

It took until 2012, but Taan Forest, a Haida-owned company, now has the largest tenure on Haida Gwaii.

“We do have control, in part,” White said.

“But where is that money going? Sure, there’s a lot of revenue, but there’s no profit. Very little of that money is staying here on Haida Gwaii.”

Some of the loudest applause at the rally came for Randy Friesen of Haida Gwaii Forest Products.

“It’s hard being where we are, because we’re kind of in the middle,” said Friesen, adding that the sawmill and other parts of the local forestry industry have struggled at times because of north/south and family politics, government politics, and the politics of Haida and non-Haida communities.

“The sooner they all get over that and realize we’re all in this, and we’re one voice, the better off this island will be,” he said.

Randy Friesen of Haida Gwaii Forest Products gets support while giving an emotional speech in favour of the struggling sawmill.
“We’ve had the same struggle, trying to employ local people,” Friesen said. “You can cut wood here, you can employ 30-40 people in the sawmill, and do value-added. It’s been done in the past, it can be done in the future.”

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