Environmental groups are trying to bully First Nations into abandoning their logging plans in Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt says.
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“I'm really disappointed in the environmental community and the bullying that's going on of First Nations who are desperately trying to get away from welfare reserves to becoming economically self-sufficient, self-governing communities,” Harcourt said in an interview Thursday with CBC News.
Two companies, MaMook Natural Resources, which is owned by local First Nations, and Coulson Forest Products of Port Alberni, are planning to log in the Hesquiat Point Creek area.
Environmentalists have said it's a pristine valley and one they're determined to protect. They've threatened a resumption of the protests of the past.
Harcourt said he hopes it doesn't come to that.
“When you threaten to put on a worldwide boycott of these small, vulnerable communities, I think that's as close to being a bully as you can get.”
In 1993, when Harcourt was premier, the NDP government introduced a land-use plan known as the Clayoquot Compromise. It expanded the park system, but still allowed logging on more than half of the land base around Clayoquot Sound.
That year, protestors set up camp amid blackened stumps in a huge clearcut known as the black hole.
More than 800 people were arrested for blocking logging roads in violation of a court injunction obtained by forest giant MacMillan Bloedel.
But Harcourt said Thursday the current logging plans are consistent with the principles his government endorsed in the 1990s.
In 1994, the NDP government signed an interim measures agreement with First Nations in Clayoquot Sound that gave aboriginal people far greater control over land-use planning and logging. At the time, the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal council said it hoped to use its new-found clout as a way to end the huge industrial clearcuts of the past.
Harcourt said Thursday his government never intended to end all logging in the old growth forest, just that it be done in a sustainable way that allows First Nations to have a better economic future.
Last Monday, environmental groups announced a truce so they could try to resolve their differences with First Nations over the plan to log at Hesquiat Point Creek.
Groups such as Greenpeace and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee released a statement saying they're hopeful about the outcome.
“Because we want to ensure that a resolution addressing both First Nations economic development and forest conservation is given every opportunity to emerge, we will reserve further comment at this time,” the statement said.
The former premier said he, too, hopes those talks will result in an agreement.
“I hope that through these negotiations the bottom line isn't that the First Nations are going to end up unemployed and being given phoney promises about other economic opportunities,” Harcourt said.