First Nation to restrict protesters' access to areas being logged

Huu-ay-aht First Nations will start restricting access to active logging areas in Tree Farm Licence 44 starting on Monday, saying logging activists and ­protests in its territory are ­putting forestry workers at risk.

The nation said in a statement that access is being restricted in response to an incident Thursday in which a forestry protester drove through barriers into an active logging area, putting the safety of the driver and forestry workers at risk.

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The nation pointed to recent incidents in active forestry areas of the Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations, “where individuals associated with environmental non-government groups disrupted logging operations by putting safety at risk.”

The decision follows a heated confrontation on Tuesday, when a group of loggers clashed with protesters near the Walbran ­Valley.

A video recorded by the ­Rainforest Flying Squad showed the contracted forestry workers yelling racial slurs and acting aggressively toward the camped activists. One ­Indigenous ­protester had his phone slapped out of his hands and was allegedly roughed up, receiving minor cuts and ripped clothing.

TFL 44, which covers 137,000 hectares and contains 780,000 cubic metres of ­allowable cut, is jointly owned by Huumiis Ventures, a ­forestry company owned by the ­Huu-ay-aht First Nations, and Western Forest Products.

It isn’t clear how the ­Huu-ay-aht will restrict access on logging roads in the area. Huu-ay-aht First Nations said it will provide further details regarding access restrictions and safety measures on Monday.

It said it will meet with neighbouring Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations, as well as officials with the provincial government on the matter.

There was no immediate response from the Rainforest Flying Squad.

“Any protest activity that puts human life at risk is completely unacceptable,” Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. said in a statement Friday. “While we support the right to peaceful and legal protest, it must not disrupt safe forestry operations.

Dennis said that Huu-ay-aht First Nations “strongly condemns the use of racist language, intimidation, or other acts of violence directed at protesters who are peacefully and legally protesting.” Hereditary Chief Derek Peters said anyone who does not conduct themselves by his nation’s three sacred principles — “respect, taking care of, and everything is connected” — is not welcome in the nation’s ­territory.

The TFL 44 Limited Partnership said it has engaged conflict-resolution specialist Dan Johnston to prepare a report and recommendations on how to ensure continued safe forestry operations, while also ensuring people can exercise their right to peaceful and legal protest.

“We ask everyone — forest companies, forest workers, ­environmental groups, Indigenous and non-Indigenous protesters, the RCMP, the B.C. government, the United Steelworkers, WorkSafe B.C., First Nations and their citizens and members — to do your part as well,” Dennis said.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nations, based around Port Alberni, announced plans last month to acquire 28% of TFL 44 from Western Forest Products, a move that would increase its influence on the future of the massive ­forestry tenure.

A vote by citizens of the nation gave Huumiis Ventures LP, wholly owned by Huu-ay-aht, the green light to move ahead with financing the deal. Huumiis already owns a 7% stake in TFL 44. The new plan would bump ownership up to 35% and give the company three of the seven seats on the TFL 44 board with Western Forest Products.

The deal represents an investment of $22.4 million, and lays the groundwork for an eventual majority share to be considered in the first quarter of 2023.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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