CANADA

A national park on hold

JANE O'HARA June 20 1988
CANADA

A national park on hold

JANE O'HARA June 20 1988

A national park on hold

CANADA

With the worldwide environmentalist movement watching, the federal government planned to throw a party. It was to be a big public bash with balloons, refreshments and an open-air ceremony at Canada Place on Vancouver’s waterfront. The occasion: the formal signing of an agreement between the federal and B.C. governments that would create a national park in South Moresby, the archipelago of islands at the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. But on May 29, 24 hours before the festivities were scheduled to begin, the Canadian Parks Service cancelled the event because of a last-minute snag between Ottawa and Victoria. The national park—and a demonstration of how two levels of government can resolve major environmental issues—would have to wait. Said Bruce Strachan, B.C. environment minister: “We both realize that once we designate Moresby as a park, it is going to be for a long time. So we had better get it right.”

The main stumbling block appeared to be how the federal and provincial governments would deal with the cost of compensating companies that stand to lose logging rights when the two governments reach agreement on the complicated, 100-page document that grew out of last July’s signed “memorandum of understanding’’ that designated South Moresby as a national park. As part of last July’s agreement, the provincial government proposed to transfer provincially owned Crown land for the park to Ottawa in return for $106 million in compensation and development costs. Patrick Thomson, the federal government’s co-ordinator of parks projects for British Columbia, said that it is Ottawa’s biggest-ever expenditure on a single park.

The deal followed a highly publicized, 13-year struggle by a coalition of local environmentalists and Haida Indians. Their goal is to preserve the plant and animal life—including some species found nowhere else—by stopping the major forest companies from logging on Lyell Island, the largest island in South Moresby. That campaign came to a head in the fall of 1985, when 72 Indians were arrested in Haida-led protests that blockaded logging roads.

Included in the federal-provincial agreement is a $31-million package compensating individuals and companies engaged in logging, including giants Western Forest Products Ltd. and MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., for lost

revenue. The federal government was to contribute $23 million, and the B.C. government, $8 million. Under the B.C. Forest Act, which the July agreement adopts, logging companies disputing the compensation offered for cancelled licences can apply to an arbitrator. Western, which owns treecutting rights on 216 square miles of the 560-square-mile park, declared

that the proposed compensation package was inadequate. Indeed, company officials said that their claim alone could exceed $100 million. Said Richard Matthews, secretary and general counsel: “We do not think anyone in government really ever thought that $31 million would be enough to cover this.” Said B.C. Premier William Vander Zalm of the remaining road-

block: “It all relates to compensation. I suppose now there is a bit of jockeying for position. It is all part of the game.”

While the two governments attempted to settle their dispute last week, Miles Richardson, president of the council of the 5,000-member Haida nation, followed developments from his home in Skidegate on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The Haida, who regard South Moresby as their ancestral homeland, are not signatories to the agreement and say that land is a commodity that cannot be bought and sold. Richardson, happy at the prospect of no more logging on South Moresby, said that he now wants to ensure that the Haida’s right to hunt, trap, fish and gather food is not affected. Said Richardson: “We need to work out the details of how we plan to coexist. Our people will not have a public park shoved down their throats.”

An agreement to save South Moresby’s plant and animal life from logging has been the dream of environmentalists and the Haida since 1974. But now that dream will have to wait until the two governments solve their differences.

JANE O'HARA in Vancouver