Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Natives seek probe of cedar overcutting

March 14, 2003

Wood Required for First Nations Cultural Survival

Leaders from two coastal First Nations have joined forces with environmental groups for an international investigation into their claims that cedar has been overcut on the central B.C. coast.

In a petition to the international Convention for Biological Diversity, the flagship body from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Heiltsuk Councillor Kelly Brown and Haida president Guujaaw say First Nations need cedar for their own cultural survival but fear too much old-growth is being logged. Brown said a new study shows if the current rate of harvest in Heiltsuk territory around Bella Bella on B.C.‘s central coast continues, most of the old growth in operable logging areas will be gone within 25 years. He called for an international investigation to see if Canada is in compliance with the convention on the issue of cedar protection.

“The rapid loss of old-growth western red cedar is the same as the loss of our culture,” Brown said. “Canada has pledged to the world to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and the lands of this country and Canada has not lived up to its promises.”

He said cedar harvesting is temporarily down in Heiltsuk territory because of a moratorium on logging while land-use issues there are resolved. However, he expects the cedar harvest will climb again once the land-use issue is settled. “The majority of harvesting that is going to take place will be cedar. Seventy per cent of the cutblocks [in development plans] we have looked at are cedar,” Brown said. “That’s the only way they can survive economically and that is a big concern for us as Heiltsuk people. “We cannot let that happen.”

Council executive director Wilfred Humchitt said statistics the Heiltsuk have gathered clearly show forest companies were overcutting cedar before the softwood lumber crisis affected harvest levels and before the logging moratorium. The push to bring international pressure on Canada over cedar logging is a tactic that fits into a new drive by First Nations to gain a greater say in resource decisions. It also dovetails with the agenda of eco-groups like Greenpeace that are pushing for reduced logging in the region despite signing a peace accord with forest companies two years ago. Greenpeace, ForestEthics and the Sierra Club were co-sponsors of the petition.

Cedar harvesting is a contentious issue. Ken Collingwood, the top forestry official on the coast, said forest companies are likely focusing on cedar because that is where the market is strongest now. But if they overharvest, then they risk having the ministry lower their future harvests to sustainable levels. The ministry takes into account second-growth stands in its calculations on sustainable harvest levels, while the Heiltsuk are focusing on old growth alone. Also, the Heiltsuk study showing most old growth will be gone within 25 years does not take into account protected areas, which contain old growth stands they have access to for traditional purposes.

Weyerhaeuser vice-president Tom Holmes said he recognizes cedar is a lightning rod for First Nations and on Haida Gwaii, Weyerhaeuser has a harvesting agreement with the Haida to log less cedar than grows naturally. He said the forest company is also developing a plan with the Haida to ensure that there is a 1,000-year supply of monumental cedar trees growing on the islands.

Interfor representative Steve Crombie said his company is harvesting from two small licences in Heiltsuk territory, one of which is a joint-venture with the Heiltsuk. The Heiltsuk are not logging now on that licence. Cedar comprises 26 per cent of the timber within Interfor’s operating area but over the last 12 years they have harvested 25 per cent, one per cent less than the forest profile, he said.

The largest logging company in the region, a subsidiary of Doman Industries, has largely curtailed operations while Doman is under court-ordered creditor protection. However, Doman plans to curtail harvesting of all species by at least 285,000 cubic metres a year and is currently settling with logging contractors who will lose work as a result. Heiltsuk statistics show all forest companies operating in the region have tripled their cedar harvest over a 14-year period ending in 1999. The harvest went from 200,000 cubic metres to 350,000 in the single year between 1998 and 1999.

The Heiltsuk are seeking control over land-use decisions in their territory and in the report released Thursday, they outline what they want, an agenda that could put them on a collision course with the province. The Heiltsuk say they want forest companies to scale back their cedar harvest and to protect some areas from all logging and identify areas they say are suitable for sustainable logging.