Two local and one off-island company will pay up to $2.2 million for logging that destroyed fish-bearing streams and a wetland near Kumdis Bay.
Two of the firms, Howe Sound Forest Products Ltd. and I. Crosby Contracting Ltd., are also banned from logging for five years and six months, respectively.
The landowner that hired them to do the work in 2010, Gwaii Wood Products Ltd., can reduce its penalty by $400,000 if it donates most of the 62.5-hectare property to a nature conservancy.
In a sentencing delivered Monday, Jan. 9, Judge Michael Brecknell wrote that the damage the three firms did to fish habitat was “cataclysmic.”
Brecknell also quoted Al Cowan, a 30-year biologist who has studied hundreds of fish-bearing streams on Haida Gwaii, and who testified at the trial that found the firms guilty of 20 Fisheries Act charges in 2015.
“I was just overwhelmed with the productivity of that area,” said Cowan.
“That would have been a phenomenal area prior to logging. It kind of breaks my heart.”
At trial, experts said that with seven streams, tidal flats, plenty of shaded water and varieties of stream flow, the area was once “ideal for spawning, rearing, and growing fish.”
It is also unlikely to recover quickly— unaided, it could take a century or longer.
Before they decided to log it and sell it for farmland, the directors of Gwaii Wood Products Ltd., Arnie Bellis and Frank Collison, had been in talks with the Nature Conservancy, which wanted to buy and protect the land because of its ecological significance.
Of the three firms, Judge Brecknell gave the heaviest penalty to Howe Sound.
Based in Campbell River, the log sales company was ordered to pay a $300,000 fine and $800,000 towards habitat conservation on Haida Gwaii, and received the five-year ban.
“Howe Sound clearly stands out as the main player and the most responsible for the destruction,” wrote the judge, noting that Howe Sound provided no forestry plan or proper supervision to I. Crosby, misled Gwaii Wood and fisheries officers, and has since shown “absolutely no remorse or acceptance of any responsibility.”
While people might see the penalty for Howe Sound as useless because it went bankrupt in 2014, Judge Brecknell said it may send a message to other companies.
The next strongest penalty went to I. Crosby.
A small company based on Haida Gwaii, I. Crosby will pay a $180,000 fine, $400,000 towards local fish habitat conservation, and faces a six-month ban on logging and related road construction starting March 1.
When it logged the land near Kumdis Bay, I. Crosby ruined streams and a wetland with downed trees, haphazard roads, and poorly built stream crossings.
The Crown prosecutor said the company’s principal director, Rob Pineault, was regularly on site at the time.
Given its 20-year history on Haida Gwaii, the judge said people at I. Crosby were well aware of the extensive damage they were doing, and they continued doing it even after an inspector alerted by a public complaint told them to stop.
Gwaii Wood Products had sought a fine of between $15,000 and $20,000, and an order for a biology study to clean up the land.
The judge fined Gwaii Wood $120,000, with an order to either pay a further $400,000 towards islands conservation, or to donate all but an easement on the property by Kumdis Bay to a non-governmental nature conservancy.
Judge Brecknell noted that despite the fact the entire contract was for over $2 million before costs, Gwaii Wood got no legal advice, but instead updated a boilerplate contract with Howe Sound, then argued unsuccessfully that the contract placed responsibility on Howe Sound for complying with fish and forestry laws.
The judge also noted that Bellis and Collison attended the trial and sentencing hearings, have held positions of responsibility — both are former vice-presidents of the Council of the Haida Nation — and have expressed great remorse for the devastation of the land.
“They maintain that they were misled by Howe Sound, and that may well be true,” he wrote.
“But they minimized Gwaii [Wood]’s ultimate responsibility at law throughout the trial and sentencing process.”