For much of the past month, Weyerhaeuser officials could only watch as angry residents on a British Columbia island set up roadblocks that...
For much of the past month, Weyerhaeuser officials could only watch as angry residents on a British Columbia island set up roadblocks that idled log-yard workers and prevented the transport of felled timber by barge.
Now, activists representing the Queen Charlotte Islands northwest of Vancouver, a region Native people call Haida Gwaii, plan to continue their protest by attending the Federal Way company’s annual shareholders meeting tomorrow.
The battle is part of a simmering years-long war between the Haida Nation and the B.C. government over who really owns — and who should play a role in managing — the vast swaths of ancient timber in the archipelago northwest of Vancouver Island.
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The conflict has been joined by environmental activists hoping to win concessions from Weyerhaeuser over its international forest practices.
It’s arguably one of many conflicts the company may have hoped to leave behind when it agreed this year to sell its coastal B.C. holdings to Toronto-based Brascan and focus more on the smaller trees growing in Canada’s vast interior forests.
In February, the timber giant announced plans to sell, for nearly $1 billion, several sawmills, more than 600,000 acres of private timberland and the rights it obtained by acquiring MacMillan Bloedel in 1999 to log millions of board feet of timber on the islands.
Within a month of the announcement, the Haida Nation complained it had not been properly consulted about the sale in accordance with a recent Canadian court ruling. Dozens of residents immediately began interrupting Weyerhaeuser activities near Queen Charlotte City.
Carrying signs that read “enough is enough,” they set up checkpoints along the island’s major roads and refused to let company workers, contractors or government forestry employees through.
Everyone else was free to pass.
“We’ve been sending our local manager out to say ‘Are you going to let us work today?’ They’d say ‘no,’ and we’d say, ‘OK,’ and turn around,” said Weyerhaeuser spokesman Frank Mendizabal, who could not estimate what the nearly monthlong protest has cost.
Residents complain the B.C. government and Weyerhaeuser shirked responsibility to include them in discussions about the sale.
They said they were “seizing” the timber until their demands were satisfied, though it was not clear yesterday what those demands were precisely.
The parties were in negotiations yesterday.
Members of the Haida Nation have for decades complained that outsiders profit heavily from lands that should be theirs, and that neither timber companies nor the B.C. government manage the land in a way they deem sustainable.
“At the rate we’re logging, our concern is that there won’t be enough for future generations,” said Haida member Bob Mills, acting as a spokesman for protesters.
But Mendizabal said the Haida Nation has had input into nearly every harvest decision, and that “we’re having ongoing discussions with the Haida on a variety of issues.”
He also said securities laws prohibited Weyerhaeuser from discussing details of the sale publicly with outsiders in advance of the deal because such knowledge could be considered insider information.
“All of this has to be hashed out, and that’s an issue for the Canadians,” he said.
Still, Haida members from Canada and Washington plan to converge in Seattle today to perform a ceremonial dance and seek publicity for the fight on the islands.
Tomorrow, some of them will join environmental activists at the company’s meeting, where they expect the Haida Nation’s attorney will be given an opportunity to address Weyerhaeuser executives.
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or firstname.lastname@example.org