by Heather Ramsay--The pen was almost to paper on the island's Land Use Plan, but at the last minute, the Ministry of Forests dropped the ax on the deal. Details were vague at a Skidegate luncheon meeting attended by Haida leaders, Guujaaw and Arnie Bellis along with Lands Minister Pat Bell and his staff who flew up from Victoria on the morning of Friday Dec. 8. Several residents of the islands were invited to the community hall to attend the lunch as well, but the expected announcement about the Land Use Plan, in the works for over three years, was never made. Guujaaw said the group had come to a basic agreement on the protected areas, but at the last minute the Ministry of Forests scuttled the signing with a surprise issue. Guujaaw didn't mention any specific reasion, but he referred to changes to provincial forestry legislation that now allows industry to manage the forest on its own and said it is hard to compell industry to use Ecosystem Based Management. "It did clarify where our difference is," he said. Other details of the Land Use Plan need fine tuning as well, said Minister Bell. He says the levels of protection for protected areas need to be discussed further. This depends on what plans for future use of areas are envisioned. Class A park status may not be the most appropriate choice for all areas. There are also specifics around management objectives for forestry areas that need further work. He mentioned ideas around riparian zones for high value salmon rivers, and whether a two tree length leave zone is the way to go. Other discussion about the need for economic development strategies was very general, although the minister did suggest an all-islands economic development office might be the way to go. He said there is quite a bit of money available right now with the Coast Sustainibility Trust, Gwaii Trust, Northern Development Initiative and more. When asked for the meat of the reason he was on islands, Minister Bell replied, "There are a lot of vegetables." But he did give a lot of the credit to Guujaaw and Mr. Bellis for their hard work on the Land Use Plan. "There has been tremendous headway over the past 32 days," said Minister Bell. Mr. Bellis, who reminded everyone that the CHN has already been through two years of talking, also commended Mr. Bell for his work over the last month. "Mr. Bell put himself out on a limb politically in his world and that takes courage," he said. Mr. Bell, who says he is very optimistic about their forthcoming signing, promised to return soon and said he will bring his wife the next time. "I will continue to drive the agreement forward," he said.