A B.C. Supreme Court judge has rejected the Haida Nation’s call to stop Husby Forest Products from logging four cedar-leading cutblocks at Collison Point/St’alaa Kun.
The Council of the Haida Nation had asked the court to stop the logging until the end of August, when another court hearing will look at whether Husby should have received cutting permits to log the areas in the first place.
In a decision issued July 5, Justice Gordon Weatherill agreed with a key argument raised by Husby — that the elected provincial government, not the courts, must be the one to enact a new policy capping the annual cedar harvest on Haida Gwaii.
“The courts have a supervisory role to play, and should be wary of usurping legislative and executive roles and effectively governing by interlocutory order,” Weatherill wrote, quoting an earlier B.C. Supreme Court decision involving the Snuneymuxw First Nation.
Weatherill also noted that the CHN knew for years about Husby’s Collison Point plans and knew since November that the province would approve them over the CHN’s objections, but only sought a court order to stop the cedar-heavy logging at Collison on May 28, having failed to negotiate a deal with either Husby or the province.
That counted against the CHN when Weatherill weighed what he found to be real and likely harms to Husby and to the Haida Nation should the logging stop or go ahead.
On balance, Weatherill found Husby would suffer the greater harm if the logging were stopped.
For five weeks, Husby had to lay off 21 mostly on-island workers while waiting for the court’s decision. It already lost two staff and one contractor who moved away from Haida Gwaii during a seven-week blockade at Collison Point in March and April.
Husby has also spent $1.1 million to prepare the contested cutblocks at Collison Point, and says it will lose customers if it does not follow through.
On the other hand, Weatherill said there is no evidence that logging the four particular cutblocks at Collison Point will have any meaningful impact on the Haida Nation’s rights or title.
With about 36,000 m3 of timber, the four cutblocks and one more already logged at Collison make up just a quarter of one per cent of the timber-harvesting area on Haida Gwaii. Although it may not be popular, the district forestry manager has also noted that the Haida can harvest cedar for cultural use in any of the protected areas on Haida Gwaii, including Gwaii Haanas and cedar stewardship areas.
However, Weatherill did find convincing evidence that overall, cedar is being logged at an unsustainable rate on the islands.
In October, B.C.’s Chief Forester said cedar logging on Haida Gwaii has exceeded a 2012 guideline that in the timber-supply area, no more than 38 per cent of the annual harvest should be cedar — a portion that currently works out to a cedar cap of 195,000 m3 a year. According to evidence presented by the CHN, at current rates there will be no commercially available mature and old-growth cedar left on Haida Gwaii in about 20 years, or around 2038.
Finally, in his decision Weatherill found that allowing Husby to go ahead and harvest the cedar at Collison Point when there is no B.C./CHN consensus and strong opposition from the Haida Nation “cannot help but harm the reconciliation process.”
Husby Forest Products could not be reached for comment about the decision, but judging by a statement posted on the Haida Nation website, that last harm has already started.
“This ruling seriously undermines the Kunst’aa Guu — Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol Agreement and again brings into question the Province of B.C.’s commitment to it,” said Haida Nation President kil tlaats ‘gaa/Peter Lantin.
“We are seriously reconsidering our participation in these processes. This is another case of the off-island economic interests running over sustainability and it’s unacceptable.”
The CHN said it will discuss next steps regarding the logging at Collison Point with Haida citizens at a special session in Old Massett this week.
Meanwhile, provincial officials are investigating separate allegations by the CHN that Husby illegally logged monumental cedar trees at Collison Point, in violation of the Haida Gwaii land-use order.
A new timber-supply review for the whole of Haida Gwaii is also expected later this summer. Fast-tracked out of concern about the over-harvesting of cedar, it is meant to provide planners with better data for setting a sustainable limit on timber harvesting.
Husby expects to complete its Collison Point operation in 2019, and then move on to the Sewell area.
Correction: The CHN expects that if current rates of cedar harvest continue, there will be no commercially available mature and old-growth cedar left on Haida Gwaii in about 20 years, or around 2038. An earlier version mistook the year as 2023, and did not explain that it was a two-decade timeline. We regret the error.