Clayoquot – one step forward, two steps back?

Clayoquot is in the news again. Many people view Clayoquot Sound as victory for environmentalists and First Nations. What few realize is that the struggle continues.

As with most land reform struggles, in Clayoquot it is often one step forward, two-steps back. In the last week Clayoquot has been the centre of three decisions that highlight the tension in creating a community-centred, sustainable economy in the face of a provincial forest policy designed to promote low-value, high-volume industrial production.

1. On the one hand, International Forest Products (Interfor) announced that it will not log in two pristine watersheds for the next five years;

2. On the other hand, the Ministry of Forests reduced the annual logging quota (AAC) of Iisaak, the Nuu-chah-nulth joint venture with Weyerhaeuser that is implementing sustainable logging practices certified by the internationally recognized Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); and

3. The provincial Crown’s just approved the privatization of 173,641 acres of forestland previously included in Weyerhaeuser’s tree farm licence 44. This was done without any consultation with the Nuu-cha-nulth. This privatization will impact on the region’s forests as provincial forest laws will cease to apply, raw logs from these lands will ultimately be available for export, and lands may be subdivided and converted to other recreational or residential uses.

First the good news. In response to pressure from the municipality of Tofino, local tourism companies, the local Chamber of Commerce and Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Interfor said it would not log in “Sydney and Pretty Girl pristine valleys to allow time for the provincial government and first nations to provide direction on the future use of those areas” through June 2009.

Diego Garcia, forest campaigner for the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, lauded the announcement, saying, “This is a positive first step Interfor has taken.”

And Last week the Tofino Town Council followed on their earlier appeal that the region be exempt from the province’s ill-conceived Working Forest Initiative with a request that all pristine valleys in Clayoquot Sound be protected from logging. Tofino Councilor Vera Webb summed up the rationale for the town’s requests, saying, “the trees in Clayoquot Sound are simply worth more standing than lying down.”

In contrast, the Forest Ministry has penalized Iisaak, the innovative Nuu-chah-nulth-led joint venture, for not cutting trees down fast enough. After a lengthy administrative process the Ministry of Forests permenantly reduced Iisaak’s by annual logging quota because they didn’t log sufficient quota in calendar years 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Tim Sheldon, the Assistant Deputy Minister who made the decision, considered the “public debate, conflict and civil disobedience” in the area, but he concluded that Iisaak’s reasons for not achieving their quota “do not satisfy the requirements of … regulation by which [the Ministry] may refrain from a reduction.”

Issaak’s penalty was lower than it could have been, because of several factors including, conflicting signals from the Ministry of Forests about how rules on minimum logging levels applied to Clayoquot Sound. As a result, the Ministry only reduced Iisaak’s annual logging quota by 1,100 cubic metres.

In other words, the Ministry confirmed that unlogged quota resulting from implementing a community-based planning process to support sustainable logging falls outside the acceptable reasons defined by law. Regulations define 14 reasons why a failure to meet quota may be acceptable. They include labour strikes, depressed markets and other factors more typically affecting big industrial operators like Interfor, Canfor and Weyerhaeuser.

Iisaak’s challenges in implementing ecosystem management under the Clayoquot Scientific Panel rules, coordinating a community-based planning process, maintaining FSC certification, training and employing local workers, and integrating First Nations into a joint venture are not acceptable grounds under the current laws. SoIisaak had to be penalized.

This 1,000 cubic metre penalty may seem like a token slap, but it is a harbinger of future problems for Iisaak and for other community and First Nation initiatives with innovative plans. (For comments on how the province makes it difficult for community operators to even get started, see the interview with Johnson Ginger.

Why? As a result of the Liberal’s recent changes to forest legislation, companies like Iisaak that do not log their quota at the end of the five-year administrative period may have their undercut volumes sold to other parties.

This decision leaves the door open for the Forests Ministry to reallocate Iisaak’s undercut quota at the end of the five-year quota period that ends on December 31, 2004. Thus the Iisaak decision and penalty – while minimal – sends a strong signal to innovative companies like Iisaak, that they better log their quota or risk losing it to other who will log. This would be devastating to Iisaak’s business plan and attempts to maintain FSC certification.

This is a real threat. Iisaak resulted from commitments made in the historic Interim Measure Extension Agreement (IMA) reached with the Nuu-chah-nulth in 1996. Given its unique mandate and structure, Iisaak will probably have difficulty logging its new quota of 109,280 cubic metres in the future. The fact that the provincial government has set the AAC quota above what Iisaak believes it can sustainable log in the next five years, just exacerbates the problem and makes future cut control arguments inevitable.

Whether the provincial Crown is foolish enough to try to re-allocate Iisaak’s quota is hard to predict, especially given its history as a part of the IMA. However, it is possible that the government may attempt to use any decision not to re-allocate as an accommodation to the Nuu-chah-nulth.

There are numerous potential solutions that will fix this ongoing undercut problem:

  • The best fix, which would have the widest application, would be to change the laws to include grounds related to implementing sustainable logging, FSC, and new partnerships in the acceptable grounds for NOT reallocating AAC;
  • One Clayoquot-specific remedy would be to recalculate the annual quotas of Iisaak and other companies in the Sound to reflect a sustainable logging rate (perhaps designating an annual area, not a volume);
  • Another Clayoquot-specific solution would be to provide binding written assurance to Iisaak and the Nuu-chah-nulth that any undercut quota will not be re-allocated to third parties.

So while the recent news from Clayoquot looks good at first glance, it may be masking structural obstacles that will ultimately unravel ongoing attempts to make the area a model for biodiversity and sustainable industries.

The privatization of Weyerhaeuser’s TFL lands without consulting the Nuu-chah-nulth undermines recent First Nation court victories. It may increase growing tensions between the Crown and the Nuu-chah-nulth in the Sound. Dogwood Initiative will keep you posted as events unfold.

Comments are closed.

Send this to a friend