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Huu-ay-aht First Nations agree to old-growth logging deferral

Old-growth forest near Port Renfrew. NORMAN GALIMSKI

Huu-ay-aht First Nations on western Vancouver Island has approved a proposal to defer old-growth logging in the vast majority of its territory.

In early November, the provincial government recommended deferring for two years the logging of big, ancient and rare old-growth trees across 26,000 square kilometres in B.C. and gave First Nations 30 days to decide whether they support deferrals on their territory or require further discussion.

Huu-ay-aht has decided to defer harvesting in 96 per cent of the area proposed for deferrals, much of which is not planned for imminent harvest or is already protected, said Elected Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. and Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters in a statement.

They will continue to log in the remaining four per cent, or 645 hectares, of proposed deferrals, after determining that deferring old-growth logging in these areas would jeopardize as much as 65 per cent of the planned harvest over the next two years and result in “significant economic harm to Huu-ay-aht, local workers, Bamfield, and the Alberni region.”

“These deferrals would have an impact on small portions of many different harvest areas in a variety of ways, including making entire harvest areas uneconomic or inaccessible or making the deferred portion subject to forest health concerns,” the chiefs said in the statement.

The province’s technical advisory panel had recommended a two-year deferral of old-growth logging in nearly 15,000 hectares, or 29 per cent of the old-growth forest in Huu-ay-aht First Nations territory. There are 153,000 hectares of total forest in the territory and within Tree Farm Licence 44, of which 51,000 hectares or 33 per cent is old-growth, according to the nation.

They say they’re satisfied sufficient old-growth forest is protected without supporting the full proposed area. The decision is preliminary and could change as the nation proceeds with its own expert analysis, the chiefs said. A final determination is expected in mid-January.

Meanwhile, First Nations leaders across the province are criticizing the 30-day window to respond to the proposed deferrals and a lack of support for nations, many of which are economically reliant on the forest industry.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a legal expert on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said the 30-day period is not consistent with “free, prior and informed consent,” which requires meaningful time for nations to respond.

“The province had approximately 18 months to reflect on the matter of old-growth yet it pushed a 30-day window on First Nations,” said Turpel-Lafond, who authored a report last year on anti-Indigenous racism in B.C. health care.

The province is putting the onus on First Nations to approve deferrals but not providing the necessary support to make it economically viable for many of them to do so, said TJ Watt, a photographer and campaigner for the Ancient Forest Alliance.

“When they’re asking communities and nations to forego logging in these areas, those nations are going to be, of course, making a calculation as to what that’s going to cost them. And it’s not a fair choice in that situation to choose between logging old growth and making money, or deferring it and not making money,” Watt said.

The province needs to provide conservation funding for forestry-dependent communities to ensure the deferrals can be implemented in all proposed areas, which currently remain at risk of logging. He highlighted an area in Vernon Bay, on the west coast of the Island, home to red cedar trees up to 12 feet in diameter, where recently approved cutblocks overlap with proposed areas for old-growth deferral.

“We’re kind of in this situation, which is going to be happening all across the province, where you’ve got approved cutting permits, over top of recommended deferrals and nothing in the way to stop those forests from being cut,” he said.