Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


International Body Asked To End Overcutting of Canadian Cedar

March 23, 2003

Canada Not Meeting Obligations to Protect Biodiversity Culture

(Montreal, QC ) – The Heiltsuk First Nation and Greenpeace, representing several First Nations and environmental groups, today petitioned the implementation body of the Convention for Biological Diversity to help end the over-harvesting of Western Red Cedar in British Columbia, Canada. Canada signed the Convention in 1992 and is obliged through its provisions to protect biodiversity and cultural traditions. “We are in Montreal today to tell the international community that the rapid loss of old- growth western red cedar is the same as the loss of our culture,” said Kelly Brown, an elected Councillor with the Heiltsuk First Nation of coastal British Columbia. Canada has pledged to the world to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and the lands of this country, and Canada is not living up to its promises.

“Cedar has played a central role in First Nations’ life for uses like clothing, dugout canoes, totem poles and beams for longhouses. ‘Culturally modified’ cedars are a living history for First Nations and an important part of the legal record needed to resolve land disputes. Cedar is also highly prized by the forest industry for products such as decks, fencing, and shakes that fetch a high price due to its rot-resistance and appearance.

Despite concerns expressed by First Nations in Canada and by conservation organisations, cedar continues to be harvested at a rate that far exceeds sustainable levels. In Heiltsuk territory alone, the level of logging of cedar has increased three-fold over the course of the last 17 years and it is estimated that at current rates, all old-growth cedar within their territories will be depleted within 25 years.

“We will make a stand now or lose our culture,” said Guujaaw, President of the Council of the Haida Nation. “There is no substitute for a 500-year-old cedar for a totem pole or an 800-year-old tree for a canoe. Having said that, a living tree is of more value than any cultural object. The North Pacific Cultures and their relationship to the earth is not only worthy of survival but essential to understanding humanity’s place on this earth in this century.

“The Heiltsuk Nation, speaking with the support of the Haida Nation, and Greenpeace, speaking on behalf of Greenpeace, ForestEthics, and the Sierra Club of Canada, BC Chapter, petitioned for an international investigation into the over-cutting of cedar to determine compliance with the Convention for Biological Diversity.