Colin Richardson has fished along the Skidegate Channel in Haida Gwaii all his life.
As a child, he worked as a deckhand on his father’s commercial fishing-boat, trolling for halibut and salmon.
The popular channel connects the Pacific Ocean to Hecate Strait and is lined with mountains that have been heavily logged over the past century.
Richardson says the trees were finally starting to grow back and regain their beauty, thanks in part to provincial restrictions.
But in 2009, he noticed a fresh gash in the forest, left behind by Teal Cedar Products — a Surrey-based logging company.
“We were horrified by what we saw,” he said.
“As [the loggers] started to go back there, it became very clear to us again that they weren’t even following their own rules.”
The band filed a complaint with the Forests Practices Board — a government-funded logging watchdog — which sparked an investigation.
The board found that there were clear logging violations — and that the Ministry of Forests had been aware of the suspect operations, but chose not to come down on the loggers.
And as other reports suggest, this isn’t the only time the provincial government has let these types of logging violations slide.
Since 2014, the Forest Practices Board has unearthed four instances where loggers violated visual quality objectives — the standards that harvesters must abide by so the province’s forests remain aesthetically pleasing.
“We want to have and see best practices,” said Tim Ryan, director of the FPB.
“It’s a matter of diligence on all parties.”
Every time a logging companies applies for a licence to cut, they must include a visual impact assessment that shows exactly how their operations will alter the landscape.
In particularly scenic areas, cuts usually have to be less than noticeable to help encourage tourism and recreation.
But in many cases, that’s not what’s happening — according to a 2010 evaluation, 39 per cent of the province’s logging operations failed to meet their visual objectives.
Near the popular rockslide in Hope and more recently along the Port Alberni Inlet, scars of suspect operations have defaced scenic hillsides.
Lack of enforcement
Joe Foy, an activist with the Wilderness Committee, says there’s no incentive for loggers to follow the rules.
“There’s not really any penalties,” he said.
“It’s a very lackadaisical enforcement. It’s kind of hard for the citizens to know what the heck is being required of forest companies these days.”
But the the Ministry of Forests does have the ability to penalize the violators.
Compliance and enforcement officers can investigate operations and levy fines when the rules are deemed broken.
In fact, before the FPB began looking into suspect logging operations in Haida Gwaii, the province’s compliance and enforcement branch had launched its own investigation, but eventually called it off.
It claimed an investigation “wasn’t in the public interest,” according to the 2014 FPB report.
More recently in Port Alberni, provincial enforcement officers were advised by Crown counsel to investigate overlogging on a scenic hillside — but officers chose not to follow up, according to a separate FPB report released last month.
‘Our system is broke’
According to Colin Richardson, who is now a forest stewardship director of Haida Gwaii, the system used to be more effective.
“[Before 1995], the province of B.C. had a large staff to go out and monitor — and they held people to account.”
But over the years and as legislation has changed, Richardson said enforcement staff dwindled — leaving a small group of people to bear the brunt of the work.
“Our system is broke,” he said.
In response to the allegations it’s turning a blind eye to supect logging practices, the province said in a statement that it was working hard to “strengthen the achievement of visual quality objectives.”
“We all want sound resource management,” it said.
Richardson said he’s working directly with the province and logging companies to elevate the standards on Haida Gwaii.