By Alex Rinfret–A Forest Practices Board investigation into Weyerhaeuser’s construction last year of a road and bridge over Datlamen Creek has concluded that neither the company nor the Forest Service did anything wrong.
However, the full report of the Forest Practices Board’s investigation-just released on the board’s web site-tells a fascinating story.
The investigation was sparked by a complaint by the Haida Gwaii Marine Resource Group, which had voiced several concerns about the road and bridge before they were built in August 2004.
Datlamen Creek is located south and west of Juskatla, and the board’s report calls it “the most valuable intact fish habitat on Masset Inlet”. The road and bridge across it connected the Awun Valley and several other watersheds to the logging road network, making them accessible to the public by road for the first time and potentially opening up a huge area to hunting for black bear and deer. Previously, these areas could only be reached by water or air.
According to the report, Weyerhaeuser decided in early 2004 to build the road connecting the Datlamen and Awun watersheds. The road would make it easier for contractors to move equipment, and would allow crews working in the Awun area to return home rather than stay in camps.
Weyerhaeuser wanted the road built by the end of summer 2004, but had to amend its forest development plan before going ahead, a process which it did not start until May 2004. The amendment required a 60-day public review and comment period, but the company convinced the Ministry of Forests to shorten that to just 14 days, so that work could be completed before the end of a fisheries window in mid-August.
According to the report, the acting district manager initially refused the shortened review period due to the significance of the road, which could potentially – if linked with other roads – make most of northwestern Graham Island accessible to the public. The ministry suggested a 30-day period but that was rejected by Weyerhaeuser, and the ministry eventually agreed to the 14-day period with one condition: that the company notify potentially affected parties directly as well as through the standard newspaper advertisement. It was Weyerhaeuser’s responsibility to decide who to contact.
At this point, the report says, the Haida Gwaii Marine Resource Group got involved. Although it was not one of the select groups which Weyerhaeuser sent information to, it heard about it from the North Graham Island Streamkeepers, which asked the group for help after it was unable to open the e-mail attachment sent by Weyerhaeuser.
The HGMRG first e-mailed Weyerhaeuser and then telephoned the office at least 11 times in an attempt to get the information. According to the report, Weyerhaeuser “decided it did not have to provide the information to the complainant and refused to provide the FDP amendment documents”. The comment period closed on June 24, and an acting district manager approved the amendment on July 30.
The board said it would have been “reasonable and prudent” for Weyerhaeuser to have responded to the HGMRG, and said it should have provided the group with the amendment information. However, it found that technically the company did nothing wrong, because the information was available for the public to view at the Weyerhaeuser office and at the Ministry of Forests office, as specified in the Forest Practices Code.
The board also concluded that the very short public review and comment period was “generally adequate in the circumstances” due to the small size of the community here.
The board also ruled on two other complaints by the HGMRG, concluding that goshawk detection by Weyerhaeuser had been adequate to indicate there was no active nest in the area, and concluding that the acting district manager had acted reasonably in approving the amendment despite the potential impact of increased public access.
Haida Gwaii Marine Resource Group director Rolf Bettner, who instigated the complaint, said he had no comment on the board’s decision.
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