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Land deal protects coasts of Haida Gwaii

The B.C. government and the Haida Nation have completed a land use agreement that will see most of the entire west coast of Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte Islands, set aside as a protected area.

Combined with the existing Naikoon Povincial Park in the northeast and the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve on the south end, the agreement means about half of the land area is protected from logging and other industrial development.

"After 50 years of intensive forestry without holistic planning, this land-use agreement now starts to bring cultural, environmental, and economic interests into balance," said Guujaaw, president of the Council of the Haida Nation, in a joint statement with the B.C. government Wednesday. "It provides a firm footing to take the next steps in reconciliation of our competing yet coexisting title."

Reconciliation seemed far away as little as two years ago, when the Haida blocked roads and pursued court action in disputes over logging and land use. The announcement was made in Vancouver by Guujaaw and Premier Gordon Campbell, along with Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell, who has been meeting with Haida representatives over the last 18 months.

Bell said in an interview the agreement extends similar efforts on the North and Central Coast, which use "ecosystem-based management" for forestry for the half of the land that remains available to industry.

"There are specific standards and objectives around the percentage of old-growth that is retained," Bell said. "If there is insufficient old-growth within a spatially explicit area, then it is to be recruited over time, so you don't harvest the oldest wood even if it's only 70 or 80 years old, you allow that to move through ... to 250 years of age."

The deal sets aside not only culturally sensitive areas, but also 2,750 hectares of habitat for the Queen Charlotte goshawk, saw-whet owl and great blue heron. Among the Haida guests invited to the ceremony was environmentalist David Suzuki, who congratulated Bell on the agreement.

The deal allows some intrusions into the protected area, including corridors for electricity. With much of the remote island dependent on diesel generators for power, the Haida, local communities and industry wanted to keep options open for green energy.

"There's also a shortage of electricity at times on the islands for the relatively small industrial base that's there, so it's important that we look to the opportunities around tidal power, wind power, perhaps run of the river projects," Bell said.

There is a history of small coal mines and some hard-rock mining on the islands, and most of the known mineral deposits have ended up in the "operating area" in the central part of the islands. Access may be permitted through the protected area but no industrial development.

The agreement includes a minimum annual allowable forest harvest of at least 800,000 cubic metres, of which 120,000 cubic metres goes to the Haida.

Bell said the existing forest tenure holders are aware of the plan, and negotiations will determine what areas they will continue to log and what compensation they may be paid to give up cutting rights.

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