A judge has handed down significant fines and bans for destructive logging on Haida Gwaii earlier this decade.

Gwaii Wood Products Ltd., Howe Sound Forest Products Ltd., and I. Crosby Contracting Ltd. were taken to court by the federal government over allegations of environmentally destructive logging practices over a four month period in 2010.

A provincial court judge in Massett found the companies guilty of environmentally destructive logging practices in October 2015.

On Monday, the three companies were handed hefty penalties:

  • Gwaii Wood, which was run by two members of the Haida Nation and owned the lot in question, was ordered to pay $120,000 immediately and up to an additional $400,000, dependent on whether they transfer a large enough area of the lot to a non-government conservancy organization.
  • Howe Sound Forest Products Ltd., which entered into a log sales agreement with Gwaii Wood, was ordered to pay $1.1 million and prohibited from carrying out any activity related to logging for five years (the company was dissolved in 2013).
  • I. Crosby Contracting, which was contracted to do the logging, was ordered to pay $580,000 and prohibited from carrying out any activity related to logging for six months.

Dr. Larry Reynolds, the senior prosecutor on the case, said the length of time between the verdict and sentencing was due to the complexity of the case — but he was happy with the outcome.

“We are quite pleased with the judgment,” he said.

“It sends a significant message, not only to the offenders but the forestry industry at large, that this kind of devastation … with respect to prime fisheries habitat won’t be tolerated.”

‘Cataclysmic’ damage

The land in question, DL 413, is approximately 62.5 hectares in size and 3.5 kilometres from Port Clements and includes Mallard Creek and several tributaries which flow into the creek.

During the trial, expert witnesses testified that the scope and haphazard nature of the logging and road construction had damaged the fish habitat to the point where it would take centuries to fully restore.

“It kind of breaks my heart yet. I have never seen anything like this before. I’ve seen lots of streams. I’ve seen lots of Mallard creeks. I’ve seen lots of tributaries, but I have not seen such an intense … imposition of all the streams, wetland features in such a small area, with an estuary on it for the fish to move back and forth,” said Al Cowan, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

In his ruling, judge M.J. Brecknell said the extent of damage was “difficult to accurately and completely express in words, the extent of the devastation to the fish-bearing streams and wetlands,” calling it “cataclysmic.”

Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee hopes the steep fines act as a warning.

“These are significant fines. These are real fines, which one would have to believe is going to shape behaviour in the future in companies right across the province,” he said.

Reynolds said that while the fines were large, the prohibitions on logging activity — which were requested as special remedies by the prosecution — would also be a strong deterrent.

“Payment of a fine may not be the end of it. It can actually put your business practice at risk, if it’s a significantly egregious offense,” he said.

“This was a very significant offence, and it was accompanied by a very significant penalty.”