Issues aired at open houses

  • Jan. 27, 2010 8:00 a.m.

By Alex Rinfret–Between 180 and 200 people attended open houses held last week in every community to provide more information about the proposed new logging rules for the islands, says Bill Beldessi, the Haida Nation’s manager of the strategic land use agreement. Mr. Beldessi said people came well prepared with questions and concerns about the new rules, which are set out in a draft document called the Haida Gwaii land use objectives order. The order is designed to protect Haida cultural values, fish habitat and wildlife, and will be more restrictive than current logging rules. Some people said the new rules don’t go far enough to protect the environment and culture, while others were worried about the effect on the local economy, Mr. Beldessi said. He said the concerns he heard last week were similar to the concerns voiced in the 1990s when the Forest Practices Code was introduced. Many people thought the new code would have a severe effect on the logging industry in BC but in the end, he said, that didn’t happen. Mr. Beldessi said the Haida Gwaii land use plan is the only one in BC with a minimum harvest level. The province and the Haida Nation have agreed to an annual harvest level of 800,000 cubic metres, he said, although the final number will be set by the chief forester after he reviews all the information. Mr. Beldessi said a Victoria consultant analyzed the new logging rules in December and concluded that it will be possible to harvest at least 800,000 cubic metres under the new rules. To compare, last year a little over 300,000 cubic metres was harvested here, he said, although technically the annual allowable cut still stands at 1.2 million (and has been even higher in the past). “We are, for the very first time, coming up with a sustainable harvest rate,” he said. “We have never had a sustainable cut, ever.” The reason there’s not much logging here right now is weak global wood markets, he said, and nothing to do with the land use plan or new restrictions. How much logging gets done here in the future is also very much tied to the markets, he said. “Not a person has lost a job on Haida Gwaii over these land use orders,” he said. The Council of the Haida Nation and province of BC representatives also met with community leaders, licencees and small business operators last week, in addition to the open houses, Mr. Beldessi said. The community leaders “basically reflected the concern that they’re not necessarily against it but they want to make sure there is an economy coming out of it at the end of the day,” he said. The licencees also had concerns about the new rules, he said. In some cases, the concern stemmed from a misunderstanding of the intention of the rules, Mr. Beldessi said, and discussions resulted in clarification. The public can comment on the land use objectives order until Feb. 12. After that, all comments will be compiled and sent to the joint provincial-Haida technical team for consideration, and changes could be made to the order. Mr. Beldessi said that process will probably take a couple of months, and he expected that the minister would sign the order sometime this spring. Once the order is signed, companies will have six months to make required changes to their logging plans, he said.