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Masset to pursue community forest, cautiously

By Alex Rinfret--Protocol agreement communities has decided that Masset should pursue the community forest opportunity which the provincial government is offering the village.
The Council of the Haida Nation and the village of Port Clements voiced concerns about the offer, however, and urged Masset to proceed cautiously.
"Sometimes the best deal you make is the one you don't sign," said Haida Nation vice-president Arnie Bellis at the Tuesday afternoon meeting in Masset (Jan. 11), attended by representatives from Masset, Port, the CHN, and hereditary chiefs.
The CHN has already objected to the offer, saying the Ministry of Forests never consulted the Haida Nation before inviting Masset to apply for 25,000 cubic metres of timber a year. CHN reps said the Ministry has not yet replied to their letter.
Port and the CHN characterized the provincial government's offer as "mischievous" and "cunning", with Port councillor Gerry Johnson calling it an attempt to divide the protocol communities.
"They've made a good move because they don't want this protocol thing to continue," he said. "It scares the crap out of them."
Masset mayor Barry Pages said the offer did come as somewhat of a surprise. Just a few weeks before it was announced, Minister of State for Forestry Operations Roger Harris had given the regional district the impression that he was considering two community forests on the islands, one for the north end and one for the south, he said.
But ever since the announcement, Mr. Pages said, business people have been stopping him in the street to tell him how excited they are about the opportunity and the jobs it could create. The village would like to explore the offer, although the holiday season and the concerns expressed by the CHN have slowed things down.
"The village of Masset, quite frankly, hasn't done anything yet," he said. "It's all new to us, we're not a forestry community and we don't know a lot about it."
Simply preparing the application required by the province will be a huge task and could cost $50,000 or more, Port mayor Dale Lore warned. The now-defunct Islands Community Stability Initiative spent $70,000 preparing its application for an islands-wide community forest years ago, and that application never resulted in anything, he added.
Mr. Pages replied that Masset will take a business-like approach and will not risk taxpayers' money. Masset's goal, he said, is to ensure that at least some wood stays on-island and creates jobs.
"If we don't make any money and 25,000 cubic metres stays here and creates 20 jobs, that's a win," he said, adding "I have a hard time turning something down right now when it could create employment."
CHN reps were sympathetic to the fact that the proposal could create local jobs.
"I think there has to be a healthy skepticism about the timing, for sure," said Vince Collison. "Dividing and conquering is one of the tactics they useÂ… At the same time you have obligations to your constituents to meet their employment needs, we understand that."
After a lengthy discussion, Guujaaw said the consensus around the table appeared to be that Masset should pursue the opportunity and check the offer out more closely, while the protocol communities continue working together on a longer-term plan.
The amount of wood on the table - 25,000 cubic metres a year - is not a lot, Guujaaw said, and is not worth causing problems within the protocol group.
Mr. Pages said that whatever happens, Masset intends to continue cooperating with the other protocol communities, and will keep them posted about the application.
"Whatever we do, if we do try to develop a proposal, it will be consultation with our neighbours," he said. "We want to work with our neighbours and we want to be supported by our neighbours."
The group agreed to create a "task force", made up of Guujaaw, Mr. Bellis, Mr. Pages, Mr. Lore, Mr. Johnson and one rep from each of Old Massett and Skidegate. This smaller group will start working on a sustainable, long-term and comprehensive plan for forestry on the islands.