The Council of the Haida Nation is negotiating with Western Forest Products to buy its Juskatla-based Tree Farm Licence, CHN president Guujaaw told community leaders at a public meeting last week in Port Clements, Alex Rinfret writes.
In response to a question from small business logger Randy O’Brien, Guujaaw confirmed rumours that the CHN is talking to Western Forest Products about a possible purchase. Guujaaw said he had to be careful what comments he made on the subject, but did say the CHN has been talking to local communities and the loggers union about ways they could participate in the deal.
“We’re taking these steps, we’re putting our hands out to the communities,” Guujaaw said at the Aug. 1 meeting. “And certainly, we’ve talked to the camp committee, the union guys.”
The camp committee’s initial response, he added, was that they would like to be part of the deal, but “they’re all broke”.
Guujaaw also said the CHN will be exploring the possibility of using the Gwaii Trust as a source of funds for the TFL deal.
He said he has written a letter to Gwaii Trust chair Miles Richardson asking him under what circumstances the trust fund’s principal could be used.
(The Gwaii Trust controls a multi-million dollar fund and distributes a portion of the interest generated by the principal to projects that benefit the islands. At the end of its most recent financial year, the Gwaii Trust’s principal stood at $48-million, although the total value of the fund is much higher. The $48-million represents the initial investment of $38.2-million made in 1994, plus amounts added every year to protect this core fund from inflation.)
The Gwaii Trust is not the only avenue available to the CHN, Guujaaw said, but it is an attractive one because banks charge interest on loans, which ends up in the banks’ pockets, while interest paid on money borrowed from the Gwaii Trust would end up benefiting the islands.
“We’re not interested in logging for the bank,” he said. “If the communities were involved, the Gwaii Trust is a communal pot of money, there are no federal or provincial strings attachedÂ… It is our money, the collective.”
Another possible source of funds for the deal may be the South Moresby Forest Replacement Account, which is worth around $24-million. This fund is currently controlled by the federal and provincial governments as well as islands representatives, although the Gwaii Trust has been trying for many years to get it under local control.
The Western Forest Products TFL (formerly owned by Weyerhaeuser) is the largest tenure on the islands, covering 25-percent of Graham Island. It was the subject of an action which went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004, known as the “TFL 39” case, initiated by the Haida Nation after the provincial government failed to consult and accommodate it when approving the transfer of the tenure to Weyerhaeuser from original owner MacMillan Bloedel.
The Western Forest Products TFL may not be the only one for sale, Guujaaw said.
“We anticipate there will be a couple of major licences sold here,” he told the community leaders.
The leaders also discussed community forest tenures. The provincial government has offered 120,000 cubic metres a year to the CHN and 25,000 cubic metres a year (on a five-year licence) to the village of Masset. Queen Charlotte is also seeking a community tenure.
“The 25,000 cubic metres doesn’t do much on its own for Masset, but if amalgamated with other communities, you could do something,” Guujaaw said. “Potential amalgamation with ours makes it so much better.”
The CHN is talking to BC Timber Sales – an arm of the Ministry of Forests which manages the former small business program – about putting the Haida Nation tenure with the timber sales program, he added.
Masset mayor Barry Pages suggested that the communities should cooperate on a proposal for an all-islands tenure.
“I think it would probably fly with government, we just need to get our act together and submit something,” he said.
Other leaders were cautious, with Port mayor Cory Delves warning that the timber market is not a cash cow, and Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha saying the idea is good but she would like to see a business plan.
Guujaaw told the mayors that the CHN intends to hire managers to run whatever forest tenures it ends up with, and the same would happen with a jointly-controlled tenure.
“The forest industry is complex and needs good managers,” he said. “Certainly we don’t expect to be managing it from council tables.”
The leaders voted to form a committee to look more closely at the community forest issue. The committee is being headed up by Mr. Pages, and will include representatives from each community.
The next protocol meeting is scheduled for Oct. 3 in Queen Charlotte.
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