Victoria - British Columbia faces a growing problem with natives who believe they own the forests, according to the RCMP forest-crimes unit. As a result of a Supreme Court decision last year that recognized native claims, "a particular part of the native population seems to believe that the resource belongs to them," Corporal Colin Worth of the four member forest-crimes unit said in an interview yesterday.
There have been several cases in BC Interior of natives logging without permits, but so far the Ministry of Forests has not asked the police to get involved, Cpl. Worth said. Without some action from the government, there "remains a potential for a huge problem," he said. "The stuff that's going on in New Brunswick could be happening here tomorrow." Natives in New Brunswick have been cutting timber in open defiance of a court decision there backing the province's ownership of public forests.
BC Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick said yesterday he knew nothing about the issue, which was raised in the forest-crime unit's annual report. That report, which was circulated yesterday by Liberal MLA George Abbot was dated April 1. Forests Minister David Zirnhelt said he had no reports of natives rejecting provincial regulation. He also said he was skeptical of the numbers in the report, which estimated the value of timber lost from Crown land at $350-million.
I would ask the RCMP to verify those numbers and show us which studies they were related to ," he said late yesterday after getting a copy of the report. "Our estimates are 10 to 20 million dollars in revenue and that's about a third of the value of the wood." Cpl Worth said he has no evidence but he suspects organized crime is involved in the theft of logs and another estimate puts lost revenue as high as $1-billion. He said yesterday the government should be counting the value of the timber, not the revenue lost to the government. "If it's not there to harvest tomorrow, we've lost that value," he said. "Certainly there are groups of people that have gotten together to plunder the forest," he said.