The privatization of much of the land over which Weyerhaeuser holds tree farm licenses (TFLs) has dropped out of the news, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.

In fact, a lot has happened since the story first broke that Campbell’s government had approved (see approval letter) the removal of 70,300 hectares of private lands from TFL 44 near Port Alberni and 17,400 from TFL 39 in Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). Opposition is building, and both Weyerhaeuser and the Liberals may regret their arrogance in concluding this secret deal without consulting the communities and First Nations the deal affects.

This story just confirms once again that money buys influence. Mike de Jong’s letter approving the privatization shows once again that Campbell’s government has done little to protect the larger public interest. Except for a few token conditions attached to the transfer, Weyerhaeuser gets a windfall and the public gets nothing.

AIt’s amazing what you can buy with $420,753 in donations to the Liberal Party (since 1996). The removal of public oversight, reduced environmental standards for streams and wildlife, removal of raw log export restrictions (after Feb. 2006), and ability to subdivide and sell the lands could be worth tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of dollars to Weyerhaeuser. Not a bad return on investment.

But ripples are beginning to appear that could ultimately scuttle the sweetheart deal:

  • Last week on Haida Gwaii loggers (IWA members working for Weyerhaeuser) walked off the job and joined with local politicians, members of the Haida Nation and community representatives to protest outside the local Forests Ministry office. They were protesting changes to provincial legislation that take private woodlands out of TFLs and allow wood to be processed off island. The unusual coalition is concerned that the Liberals’ forestry scheme promotes intense, unsustainable logging that is destroying the Queen Charlottes.
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  • The Hupac`^asath First Nation whose territory overlaps with TFL 44, received no advance notice of the privatization of what amounts to two-thirds of their territory. A lawsuit is expected, since the Chief has notified the Premier and Forest Minister that “[we] already have our lawyers working on this issue and we are looking at other forms of creating uncertainty over the land base in particular over forestry.” Dogwood Initiative is working to support their efforts.

These efforts could deal another blow to the Liberals’ corporate forestry agenda. Following on the heels of the defeat of the “Working Forest Initiative,” the upcoming Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Haida and Taku cases, and the subsequent challenges of recent mergers that are being prepared now, the coming months could prove very interesting.

Dogwood Initiative will keep you posted.