Opinion: The Emperor’s New Cutblocks

Today, in spite of the land-use plan, islanders have become ever increasingly concerned.

Forestry on Haida Gwaii has always involved some degree of controversy and today, in spite of the land-use plan, islanders have become ever increasingly concerned. While there are considerable improvements resulting from the land-use plan, forestry harvesting operations are increasingly appearing in our backyards, our cultural, our recreational, and our non-timber harvest areas.

We are told that we have ecosystem management and that we should effectively be happy while these areas are threatened by indifferent logging practices. Extensive harvesting along the highway corridors displeases both locals and visitors alike. Clearcutting is negatively effecting viewscapes, and tenure holders appear indifferent to protecting the visual quality of the landscape. The fact of the matter is that tourism employs far more people on Haida Gwaii than logging, and the former is growing, whereas the latter through the past decade has collapsed in half. As tourism is the main non-government employer on Haida Gwaii, the reliance on clearcutting is no longer in the public interest. When confronted by public concerns regarding forestry, the message from the timber industry has been dismissive, suggesting that the public’s concerns are the result of ignorance and a fanatical opposition to logging.

When one compares what is happening on Haida Gwaii versus the ecosystem-based management standards that the provincial government’s own Coast Information Team recommends, we fall far short. Yet we are told that we have “the best standards on the coast.” The current logging practices also appear unlikely to create the necessary area of old forest to meet the biodiversity targets. There simply is not enough forest being retained or managed to have old-growth like forests on some parts of Haida Gwaii. The south/east facing slopes and valley bottoms, the heart and soul of the Haida Gwaii ecosystems, areas where logging is allowed, will be cut frequently, rarely less than every 100 years. Also, with the volume of trees, particularly cedar, that we are shipping, we will have a forest with no real value, forcing us to wait for trees to grow for different markets.

The logging industries’ unbreakable connection to the use of clearcutting as a dominant way of extracting timber has gone on for far too long. A child will have his or her safety blanket, but the timber industry and the forestry professionals need to be firmly told that it is time to grow up. Many excuses have been made for why alternative logging systems will not work including windthrow, safety, economics, and surely there are others. However, these excuses do not pass muster. The Irish and the British manage a fair number of their Sitka spruce plantations using selective logging, and other countries have outright banned all forms of clearcut logging. While Sitka spruce is shallow-rooted, successful partial cutting has occurred near Mayer Lake, both in recent times and in the early 20th century. Even on the most challenging conditions on a steep slope in Rennell Sound, partial cutting was completed with windthrow kept to minimum. All conifer species on Haida Gwaii successfully regenerate under tree canopies and therefore produce a fine-grain wood, with specialty market potential. Finally, as large-scale natural disturbances to the landscape here are vary rare, the unnatural act of clearcutting goes far beyond even small natural disturbance events.

While clearcutting is an elephant in the room, another question that is less commonly discussed is how long we let trees grow before we cut them down. On Haida Gwaii, the plan appears to be to work towards managing most stands on a cutting cycle of 80-140 years, with more productive areas being logged at 100 years or less (where logging is allowed).

This creates several problems. One is that the wood produced is fairly small, often around 50 cm in diameter, and secondly, there is very little clear wood being produced by these second-growth stands. These kind of lower-quality logs make the goal of local wood processing difficult, as sawmills capable of efficiently processing the second growth timber require 600,000 to 800,000 m3 — a volume that might not be available on island. Such sawmills only employ a small fraction of the workers compared to sawmills of tradition. For processing to work on-island, there is a need to have a log supply suitable for producing specialty wood products. Value-added production typically benefits from the availability of clear, tight-grain wood. The short rotation management currently proposed, when combined with the lack of pruning means that developing a local value-added wood sector, let alone on-island milling, will become increasingly difficult. If a large second-growth mill was made on island, perhaps 120 sawmill jobs would be created. By contrast, if this wood was milled at a specialty lumber sawmill, roughly 400 jobs would be created. Value-added manufacturing of that lumber could easily double or triple the figure.

At the current time, our community forests are being denied to us, while cedar is being harvested at a rate which will lead to a major deficit in the future. The second-growth wood being produced is not particularly suitable for labour intensive value added processing, or local milling. The current intensive plantation/clearcut-based forestry threatens the well-being of the islands’ economy and its ecology. The Haida did not block the roads and get arrested on Lyell Island, and the people did not feel the Island Spirits Rising, for this. Just as the Kasta River sockeye are unique so is the saw-whet owl sub-species, the size of trees you seldom still see, the goshawks and the people. On island, these words are often heard “this ain’t Canada, this is Haida Gwaii.”

It is time for the community to organize and ensure that the forests are managed in a way that provides for a prosperous, sustainable future that we all want for our children. We are reminded of Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes. It was not the experts who said the emperor was naked, but rather a small child. Community concerns regarding forestry management are valid, and need to be addressed much more thoroughly by the timber companies on Haida Gwaii land. We need to hear the future’s child call out the Emperor’s New Cutblocks for what they truly are: a seriously flawed approach to forest management that is not in the best interest of our Haida Gwaii communities.

Mario Veldhuis, Sandspit

Thomas Cheney, Chilliwack

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