Almost a decade ago, as vice-president of Husby Forest Products, Bob Brash decried a tough new land-use plan for Haida Gwaii as a threat to the viability of commercial logging on the remote B.C. archipelago.

Today, as CEO of Haida Enterprise Corporation (HaiCo), Brash insists that the same plan — signed by the Haida and provincial government in 2007 — continues to pose forestry challenges while providing environmental protection.

“I won’t shy away from the fact that in my opinion this is the toughest standard on the coast of B.C.,” Brash said. “It’s not easy for our foresters and engineers. They have to do a lot of homework, a lot of field work, and a lot of consultations.

“It remains a challenge. It’s not easy.”

He describes the land-use plan as “ecosystem-based management on steroids” for its cultural and environmental requirements. “The list is long and onerous. It’s not wishy-washy. It’s stuff we have to live up to.”

Forestry has changed dramatically on Haida Gwaii in recent years.

When the Haida took over ownership of Tree Farm Licence #60 in 2012, the rate of cut declined to 340,000 cubic metres from 800,000 cubic metres annually. The Haida also have a tenure agreement with the province for another 120,000 cubic metres per year outside TFL #60.

About half of the Haida harvest is old-growth, sold domestically, while the rest is second-growth sent to Prince Rupert and predominantly shipped offshore as logs to the export market. Provincial rules prohibit the export of red and yellow cedar logs.

Although about half of Haida Gwaii is now protected — the vast majority of that old-growth — the old-growth debate continues, Brash noted.

“It’s a conversation that will never go away,” he said. “We try to do the job of balancing things.”

Elsewhere, Ahousaht hereditary chiefs in October announced a moratorium on industrial logging in their traditional territory, which covers almost 60 per cent of the land area of Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Across the Haida Gwaii forest district, the total cut has also declined — 2.4 million cubic metres in 1984, 1.8 million in 1994, 1.1 million in 2004 and 840,000 in 2014.

Cliff Fregin, incoming chair of HaiCo, agreed the challenge is to balance protection of the environment while remaining a viable business.

He wants to see more custom wood cutting on Haida Gwaii, the pursuit of value-added products such as spruce for musical instruments, and wood waste as an alternative to diesel-based energy. “We won’t be around if we’re not profitable. Haida Gwaii is a unique place, not close to markets.”

He’d also like to see better marketing of the Haida brand and the “sustainable way we do our work.”

The Vancouver Sun reported in October that three private companies were each found guilty of 20 counts of environmentally destructive logging practices near Port Clements on Graham Island in 2010.

Two of the companies had Haida ownership, including two former high-profile vice-presidents of the Council of the Haida Nation, Arnie Bellis and Frank Collison. While no official Haida organization was involved, the optics were not good.
“If there are private Haida companies out there, we want them to succeed, but we want it done right, we don’t want that to affect our business or the Haida Nation,” Fregin said. “That’s not the way we want to do business, for sure.”

The case is adjourned to Jan. 14 in Masset provincial court.

Brash served as district forests manager for the B.C. government in Dawson Creek, Chilliwack, and Haida Gwaii before joining the private sector with Husby Forest Products and then the Haida about six years ago.

HaiCo is the umbrella business arm of the Haida that includes Taan Forest, the logging operation, as well as tourism and fish processing operations such as Westcoast Resorts fishing lodges and Haida Wild seafoods.

“I’ve always had an affinity for the First Nation and what they were trying to accomplish,” Brash said. “It affects the way you think about things. You do things differently.”

Currently about 95 per cent of Taan Forest employees live on Haida Gwaii — including 19 company staff and about 120 on contract, including loggers and engineers — and about half of those are Haida, including Taan general manager Richard Jones. In the past, 60 to 70 per cent of workers were local.

There is also an effort to keep people working rather than resorting to layoffs during weak market conditions.

“We can get through and break even and keep people working,” Brash said. “There are people who have to put bread on the table.”

The Haida continue to achieve the “gold standard of environmental certification” — the Forest Stewardship Council — but would like to see more market results for the effort, Brash said.

“It’s a tough, onerous, extensive certification scheme that has far more requirements for recognition of First Nations rights, environmental action, and protection of old-growth stands,” he said. “A lot of people wave the flag about doing thing properly, buying sustainable products and stuff like that. When it comes down to the crunch and they have to pay a few cents extra for that most of them quickly lose their environmental stewardship, put it that way.”

Last October, three logging groups operating in the mid-coast Timber Supply Area — Western Forest Products, Interfor and B.C. Timber Sales — pulled their group certification with FSC to concentrate on implementing ecosystem-based forest management in the Great Bear Rainforest. The certification had covered 760,000 hectares of timber lands.

Interfor spokeswoman Karen Brandt said Interfor operations in B.C. continue to be certified under Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Canadian Standards Association is another certification group.

“All three standards are very comparable.” she said. “Over time they’ve come to the point they all look very similar.”