The provincial government is giving a first nation a direct role in enforcing environmental laws on Haida Gwaii.
Under a new program that is being tried for the first time in British Columbia, the law-enforcement arms of the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Environment will be run jointly by the province and the Haida Nation.
The approach calls for the Council of the Haida Nation to fund and appoint a conservation officer who will join a small provincial team that is already in place on the remote archipelago off B.C.’s north coast.
“What we’ll see is more day-to-day involvement by the Haida in compliance and enforcement activities,” said Gordon Hitchcock, an inspector with the Conservation Officer Service.
Mr. Hitchcock said the province’s natural resource law-enforcement officers on Haida Gwaii have long worked with the local Haida, but under the new structure there will be a conservation officer appointed by the band sitting at the table when investigations are planned and working in the field in enforcement.
“We’ve had a good working relationship for years with the Haida Nation, but what’s new is we’ll now have that direct Haida influence in the field,” Mr. Hitchcock said. “It means that there will be someone there to highlight the do’s and don’ts in terms of culture.”
He said the enforcement team, which will include two natural resource officers from the Ministry of Forests and two conservation officers from Environment will also be given more autonomy from head office.
Instead of reporting to more senior officials off-island, the Haida Gwaii unit will largely be responsible for supervising its own regional operations, although ultimate control will still reside with the provincial government.
Mr. Hitchcock said the goal is to streamline the bureaucracy so that “their focus could be more on boots on the ground” and less on communicating plans and getting approvals from a distant office.
He said the approach is being tried on Haida Gwaii because “it is unique in terms of specific geographic boundaries” and because there is only one native culture on the islands.
Such an approach would be more difficult, he said, in a region where the boundaries weren’t so geographically distinct and where several different native cultures might have overlapping interests.
“Haida Gwaii has all the factors needed to support a model like this,” Mr. Hitchcock said.
The natural resources team will be responsible for making sure that provincial forestry laws are being followed, for pollution investigations and for enforcing fish and wildlife regulations.
Haida Gwaii consists of more than 150 islands that are clustered together about 90 kilometres west of B.C.’s north coast. The islands cover more than one million hectares, of which about 22 per cent is contained in parks and reserves.
In 2009, the provincial government signed an agreement with the Haida giving the band more control over forestry on the islands. In that protocol both parties agreed to pursue more shared decision-making, specifically respecting land and natural resource issues.
In statements, Forests Minister Steve Thomson said the new approach “builds on the shared decision-making model” and Peter Lantin, president of the Council of Haida Nation, said it ensures that “Haida values are embedded into the day-to-day operations of managing the forests and streams.”