A Haida Gwaii Community Forest has no need for a provincial partner

Editor:

The current community forest proposal for Haida Gwaii is a very bad deal for all permanent islands residents. Unlike the more than 80 community forests throughout BC where each community has complete control over managing their forests themselves (and reaping 100 per cent of the profit from their labour), this scheme will have the provincial government controlling all sales, then taking 50 per cent of whatever is left after expenses. And there is nothing in this proposal to ensure that local logging contractors and sawmills will benefit at all. Anyone from anywhere can bid on any given timber sale, outbid the locals, bring in their own logging crew, barge the logs somewhere else, then add considerable value to the wood by specialty milling. And contribute almost nothing to our local economy.

This community forest proposal for Haida Gwaii was cooked up Christy Clark’s Liberal Government a few years ago, and is based on the “divide then conquer” principle of colonial exploitation. Most notably, why are Skidegate and Old Massett not included at all in this deal? Certainly these two Haida villages have existed for millennia while the oldest of the other four villages is barely a century. So, by the terms set out in this proposal, Skidegate and Old Massett are not part of the Haida Gwaii community, but the B.C. government in Victoria is?

The idea for a community forest here has been tossed around for at least 40 years. Now, when most of the most valuable timber has been logged off, a close examination of the map showing what will be included in this latest scheme reveals that most of it is low-value second-growth spruce and hemlock, and mostly in more remote locations where operating expenses are greater. There are a few little patches of old growth that the big companies didn’t want because any profit would be marginal. Also included are small stands of young cedars on central Graham Island that have been quickly disappearing ahead of any formal CFA. There are also a few very contentious areas under the axe with this dubious deal. Of most concern to many permanent Haida Gwaii residents is the forested, 300-metre high, steep-sloped escarpment directly behind the villages of Queen Charlotte and Skidegate. Nowhere in this flawed proposal is there any provision for any use of any Haida Gwaii forest other than to log it from end to end, and send the maximum revenue from stumpage fees to Victoria. So how is this scheme going to be any improvement over the status quo for the last 60 years? Looks like the “same old same old.”

There is absolutely no reason on Earth why we, all of the residents of Haida Gwaii, should be denied a community forest agreement (CFA) on exactly the same terms as every other CFA in B.C. We have ample local human resources to handle all aspects of managing our own forests to our best advantage. The Misty Isles Economic Development Society (MIEDS) staff are all permanent Haida Gwaii residents, and are led by an executive director who has extensive experience at an upper management level with both the B.C. government and the logging industry.

With 100 per cent local control over our Community Forests, MIEDS could ensure the majority of financial benefits stay in the local economy. Haida Gwaii sawmills would be guaranteed first choice of logs at a price they can afford. Timber sales would be restricted to local logging outfits. Limits could be set for the export of raw logs, thus encouraging more value-added industries like specialty milling or furniture-making to set up shop here. Truly sustainable means for getting the greatest value from our community forest over the long term (such as selective harvesting by skidder or helicopter) could be our approach to logging the old-growth forest in our CFA (in contrast to the clear-cut-everything model that’s been status quo on Haida Gwaii since the 1950s). And we would have the power to decide to not log at all those few remaining forests that are so rich in other human values that we wish to preserve for everyone’s benefit far into the future.

To the representatives of New Masset, Port Clements, Queen Charlotte, and Sandspit who will decide on our behalf whether or not to accept this bogus CFA scheme: please scrutinize all of the terms of this proposal very carefully! It may seem like easy money for little effort. Just let the B.C. government manage our forests as they always have, and then, if there is any profit left over from stumpage revenue after various B.C. government administrative expenses have been deducted, half will go to the four communities to fight among themselves as to who gets how much. And don’t forget, 50 per cent of very little will be a whole lot less.

In this situation, a very bad deal such as that being offered is a whole lot worse than no deal at all. Better to reject this scam completely, and demand a 100 per cent, locally owned and controlled CFA that is managed for the long term benefit of all six Haida Gwaii communities. We now have an organization like MIEDS to oversee operations, organize sales, collect stumpage, and the like. We really have no need for the B.C. government to be a partner in our community forests. In every way imaginable we will be better off for generations to come if the people of Haida Gwaii manage their community forests themselves.

Mark Walsh

Village of Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii

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