Eight politicians from the islands have a meeting meet on Friday (Nov. 29) with Forests Minister Mike de Jong to discuss a multi-million-dollar forest fund.
If it turns out the way the local politicians are hoping, islanders may gain control of the $23-million South Moresby Forest Replacement Fund, which is currently sitting in limbo.
For Area D director Ian Hetman, the meeting is the culmination of 18 months of lobbying.
“We don’t know until we meet,” Mr. Hetman said, “but I’m hopeful something positive will come of it.”
Masset mayor Barry Pages is also optimistic.
“We’ve been working on this for a couple of years, so it’s a good sign to get everybody together in the same room,” he said.
Mr. de Jong’s office invited the two chief councillors, the five regional district directors and a representative from the Council of the Haida Nation to the meeting.
The Gwaii Trust agreed to pay for the eight islanders’ airfares, hotel costs and food after the province refused to cover the expenses, Mr. Hetman said.
“But we’re still going to try and get a refund from the South Moresby Forest Replacement Account, because they invited us,” he added.
Mr. Hetman said he’s been told there will be six people at the meeting representing the federal and provincial governments, as well as the eight islanders.
Ottawa and Victoria control the $23-million forest fund, which they created in 1988 as part of the South Moresby Agreement. For many years, the interest generated by the account was spent on forestry-related activities on the islands, like spacing, pruning, and research. But two years ago, the two governments agreed to completely spend the fund by 2007.
At that point, the Gwaii Trust became involved. The Gwaii Trust proposal, supported by all the elected governments on the islands, calls for the fund to be turned over to a board of islanders, and invested on the Gwaii Trust model, with the interest used to fund forestry-related activities.
“There’s a long history to the efforts of the Gwaii Trust to have this happen,” said Mr. Hetman, who sits on the Gwaii Trust board as well as being the Area D regional director. “It’s two years since we started.”
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