Land use agreement signing Wednesday in Vancouver

  • Dec. 10, 2007 4:00 p.m.

By Jeff King–A blockade, years of negotiations, lots of talk, a couple of false starts-the land use plan for the islands has seen everything but a signing ceremony. And now, it looks like it’s going to see that as well. The landmark agreement between the Council of the Haida Nation and the Province of BC is set to be signed Wednesday in Vancouver, with Premier Gordon Campbell signing for the province and Guujaaw for the CHN. “I’m happy. It basically provides us with a pretty good footing to work on some real reconciliation,” said CHN President Guujaaw, “I think over the last little while, we have seen signs and believe that it could be done.” If it works out, the agreement may play a big part in changing the relationship between the Haida and the two other governments, as Guujaaw also hinted the Haida Title case heading for high court may not go forward. “If we don’t need it, we won’t do it. If we can resolve these things without it, all the better.We will be actively trying to resolve these things in the meantime,” Guujaaw said.The agreement, which tries to reconcile industrial use of the land with environmental and cultural values, is much the same as the memorandum agreed to in 2005, Guujaaw said. The initial target for the annual allowable cut remains 800,000 cubic metres. While that’s a far cry from the over 2-million cubic metres allowed ten years or more ago, it’s close to what has actually been cut here in recent years, meaning there will be few surprises for islanders on the logging side. On the protection side, about half the islands are protected, including virtually the entire west coast, from Gwaii Haanas in the south to Duu Guusd in the north. But it was determining what to do with small areas of special value that made the negotiations complex and lengthy, said Guujaaw. The special values include bird nesting habitat, cedar, bear dens, Goshawks and Murrelet habitat. “Those will be looked at over the next couple of years in more detail and finalized through a deeper process,” Guujaaw said, “Essentially, all of the protected areas remain intact as have been described.”The road to agreement has been lengthy. It took the Islands Spirit Rising blockade of March 2005 to get the government-to-government talks going, after the Land Use Planning Process, which involved many islanders, was ended. Then there was a slowdown during the 2005 provincial election, which Guujaaw described as ‘stalling’ by the province. The on-again, off-again nature of the talks continued until last fall, and resulted with an agreement initialled in May. Even in July, Lands Minister Pat Bell toured the islands and said he was sure the agreement would be signed “within months”.”When we signed that memorandum of understanding two years ago, it seemed as if it were going to be done then,” Guujaaw told the Observer, “As we got into the detail, it got a little stickier. We went through some twists and turns to get here. We finally seem to be at that point,” he said. The agreement addresses the importance of the islands’ economy, according to Guujaaw. “We are thinking of ways of keeping the economy going, but not be so reliant on booming the trees out,” he said. He said he expected to see more slowdowns on the islands because of the economy (in general), and not just because loggers are now limited to 800,000 cubic metres a year. “Basically, we wound up with about half the land under protection and where there will be logging, it will be done under eco-based management, giving consideration to other values,” Guujaaw said. “Between ourselves and the communities, we are trying to figure out ways to make things work for the economy of the islands,” he said.Guujaaw said the signing ceremony in Vancouver is taking place to fit Premier Gordon Campbell’s timetable, and that there will be a big feast on the islands, likely in January, “for all the people who worked on this and supported it and were affected by it, which is pretty much all of us.”Attending the signing ceremony will be hereditary chiefs from Skidegate and Old Massett as well as representatives from the band councils and the CHN. The Observer will have a report of the signing ceremony and more details on the agreement in the paper next week.