The impact of continued logging operations in Haida Gwaii — ecological and social impacts for the Haida Nation

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"Remains of a moss-covered totem pole on the site of the Haida Village Skedans. - Located on Louise Island, part of the Archipelago protected in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve." -Susan Womersley


The islands of Haida Gwaii,  colonially known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, are home to the Haida Nation and to ecologically diverse old growth forests [1]. The Haida Nation has been victim to colonial violence and conjoined resource extraction since 1774[1]. Upon the colonization of the islands Haida Gwaii, European settlers saw an opportunity to take advantage of the pristine landscape, disregarding the local Haida first nations populations who had inhabited the islands for thousands of years before their arrival. Settlers firstly introduced many alien species on the islands to establish sources of food and economic gain[2][3]. In 1882 the Indigenous communities were push into areas marked reserves that accounted for less that 15km2 of the land and the rest of the Haida Gwaii was claimed for the province of British Columbia[4]. From this point forward, the logging industry began to grow along with the degradation of the landscape. The provincial government of British Columbia has, against rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada,  continued to allow logging companies to exploit forests of Haida Gwaii without consultation with the Haida Nation[4]. Continuous logging of the forests has had great impacts on hydrological cycles, and contributed to habitat loss and fragmentation[5]. In turn, this has caused a reduction of native populations of species that inhabit the Haida Gwaii forests[6]. The Haida Nation is and has always been deeply dependent on and interconnectedness with the natural environment for as long as it has existed; thus, there have been strong responses to the exploitation of the forests[1]. Due to this interconnectedness, members of the Haida Nation believe that undoing the ongoing colonial violence they are victims of is only possible if done simultaneously with protection of the environment[4]. The most famous Haida protest against the illegal loggings, the Islands Spirit Rising, occurred in the spring of 2005, in response to the forestry giant Weyerheuser violated the agreement they had made with the Haida Nation on forestry policy, as well as the British Columbia government’s failure to consult them on policy[4]. During this movement, the land-defenders and their supporters  famously mobilized in acts of protests as well as worked with the judicial systems to achieve their justice[4]. After the Haida people retaliated the exploitive logging companies practicing on their claimed lands, forestry and its role on Haida Gwaii now meets some of the highest standards concerning the well-being of the environment[7]. However, tensions remain despite the advancement of the government and the Haida co-managing the lands. The government wants to optimize economic-based objectives for all efforts put into sustainable based management[7] and the Haida making claimants trying to preserve their values and cultural practices[8].


Haida Gwaii’s Environment

Located in northern BC, Canada, Haida Gwaii begins 50-130km off the coast of the mainland and is made up of over 350 islands [2]. Graham and Moresby are the two islands that make up a majority of the area of Haida Gwaii.


Haida Gwaii is apart of the temperate rainforest biome. One of rarest biomes on earth making up less than 10% of the earth’s terrestrial surface with British Columbia alone holding a majority of it[9]. The sea surrounding Haida Gwaii is responsible for regulating and balancing its climate, keeping the mean temperature mild[10]. Being just 3m above sea level[10] Haida Gwaii experiences much of its precipitation as rainfall[2]. Overall, Haida Gwaii’s climate is cool and wet throughout the year, as such, the air is humid, overcast days are common and fog is frequent.


Haida Gwaii is rich in biodiversity, being home to more than 6800 recorded species of biota. The isalnds’ high precipitation with relatively low fluctuations in temperature makes for favorable living conditions for many species. Populations of alien species are present on the islands which were introduced by ignorant settlers during the 18th century. Some of these alien species exist in localized populations while others are more invasive and competitive. Because of Haida Gwaii’s geographical isolation, many species, native and alien, have evolved into subspecies with distinct characteristics[2].


Haida Gwaii is mostly dominated by conifer forests consisting of Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar and Sitka Spruce at low elivations, and Mountain Hemlock and Yellow Cedar at higher elevations[2]. Understory dynamics are sunlight dependent, thus areas with dense canopy cover have sparse understory growth, consisting mainly of mosses and lichens. Where enough light gets through the canopy, many native plants start to develop and compete in the understory. However, understory development and tree regeneration has been greatly impacted by grazing from Haida Gwaii’s invasive deer population [2] [11][12].

Pre-settler contact, Haida Gwaii’s forests were predominantly old-growth with strongly established dynamics and stewarded by the local indigenous populations. However, post-settler contact has significantly changed the forests of Haida Gwaii through clearcut logging of its old-growth forests, indigenous suppression and the introduction of invasive species, resulting in drastic changes of the ecology dynamics of the islands. It is important to focus on restoring Haida Gwaii's ecology since these temperate rainforests play a very important role globally in providing significant carbon sequestration within tree trunks as well as in the humus in the forest floor[13].


Haida Gwaii is home to diverse populations of fauna, all at different trophic levels, inhabiting its terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. The island’s variety of native terrestrial mammals is quite small, only consisting of roughly 13 species, black bears and caribou being the largest of them. The native bird populations and community of marine species, however, are large and diverse. Haida Gwaii is unique in that the islands’ isolation and distinct habitats has resulted in various endemic species that such as the three-sided stickleback, coastal black bear, Saw-whet owl, Dawson caribou (now extinct) and Marten, Nebria[11]. These are just some examples of species native to Haida Gwaii, that through the influence of selection and adaptation to their environment, developed morphological distinctions that classified them into subspecies. For these reasons Haida Gwaii is occasionally referred to as "the Galapagos of the North"[14].

Invasive species have shifted dynamics on Haida Gwaii as they’ve established a few dominant populations. Some species may have been deliberately or accidentally brought over by the Haida first nations through canoe trips to the mainland, while some were deliberately introduced by settlers for the purpose of food or income (via trapping and fur trade)[2][3]. Not much was thought of in terms of ecological impacts when species were purposefully being introduced to the islands, but now, in the present-day, the populations of invasive species have expanded rapidly, causing major ecological impacts and concern for Haida Gwaii’s natural environment. The current most prominent and troublesome of the invasive species being the deer population, whose constant grazing is halting the growth of native plants and forest regeneration on previously logged sites [12].

Indigenous Peoples

A Haida House

The indigenous people of Haida Gwaii, the Haida, were a rather large population before the settlers arrived, approximately 10000-15000. They were the stewards of the land, living in harmony with nature. Haida villages were dispersed through the islands, but the two main populations were located on the north end Old Massett and south-east part Skidegate of Graham Island[15]. Potlatches were important to the Haida nation, it was where they organized their social structure, as well as exchanged and redistributed wealth. Potlatches were also a place where tradition and ceremony was practiced, where laws and histories were established and passed on[16]. Since much of their history was held and passed on orally, much was lost when diseases and epidemics introduced by settler contact reduced their population to roughly 500[11]. Despite this, the resilience of the Haida Nation survived the following years of oppression, involuntary assimilation, and ban of the potlatch, and somehow managed to preserve some of their traditional heritage and identity to see the present-day.

Currently, the Haida nation is claiming Aboriginal title to their traditional, ancestral, unceded land. They have had no luck trying to reach a treaty agreement with the government of British Columbia and so have had to withdraw from their negotiations with the provincial government[15]. As discussed later in this wiki page, they have had some success in gaining control with reducing logging, the establishment of protected areas, claims on resources, and other means of reconciliation.

Ecological Impacts

A surveyor examines a monumental cedar on Haida Gwaii.

Haida Gwaii’s forests play an extremely important role in climate mitigation as they are among the world’s largest carbon sinks and have a high carbon sequestration potential. Additionally, they are not very vulnerable to large-scale disturbances such as fire and drought unlike interior British Columbia’s highly vulnerable temperate forest[17]. Depending on the site quality, individual temperate forests on Haida Gwaii can store up to 1,300 tonnes of carbon per hectare[17]. For scale, temperate forests can store 3-5 times more carbon than the interior forests of British Columbia[17]. The preservation of high-carbon-priority forests, like Haida Gwaii, prevents future emissions through timber extraction and sequesters existing emissions through carbon sequestration [17]. Yet, over the past 100 years, logging operations have exponentially increased[1]. Extensive industrial logging on Haida Gwaii heavily contributes to local and global ecological and environmental degradation.

According to the Haida Gwaii Timber Supply Review (TSR), 842,782 m3/yr of timber is annually harvested over 147,746 ha of land[17]. That is 2,000 hectares of land being clear cut on Haida Gwaii each year[17]. Clearcuts are projected to remain sources of carbon for 1-3 decades after the timber is harvested[17]. These are carbon sources long after the timber is harvested due to soil and decomposition processes[17]. Furthermore, clearcutting has critically disrupted forest hydrology; severely impacting mammal, fish, and avian habitats[17].

British Columbia practices a philosophy called “sustained yield forest management” to manage its forests[1]. This strategy is based on liquidating and replacing old growth forests with faster growing tree farms[1]. Trees that would naturally grow to be around 500-1000 years old are expected to be harvested every sixty to eighty years; roughly twelve and a half times less than their projected life spans[1]. Due to this ecologically straining practice, British Columbia has lost more than 142 salmon runs, and 624 are about to go extinct. The Ministry of Environment lists logging as the third largest factor in endangering species in the province[1]. Furthermore, the provincial government estimated that restoring watersheds damaged by logging operations will cost between $1 billion to $4 billion dollars[1].

Increased mass wasting events

Research of the islands concluded that clearcut logging and the construction of roads increased the frequency of mass wasting events such as landslides by 34 times and the volume of soil moved 35 times more than that in adjacent unlogged terrain. Approximately 39% of the soil mass wasted from forested terrain and 47% from clearcut areas entered stream systems. In total, sediment delivery to stream channels in logged areas increased by 23 times[18].

Moss covered canoe decays in the forest on Graham Island.

Loss of Carbon Stocks

Haida Gwaii’s forests and bog ecosystems contain the world’s largest carbon pools, is the most vulnerable to future fire and drought. Additionally, they have among the world’s highest carbon sequestration potential[17]. An estimated 2,000 hectares of Haida Gwaii’s forests are clearcut each year. This is an average loss of 61% of the carbon within one year of year of clearcut harvesting. The latter clearcuts are expected to remain carbon sources for the next 1-3 decades. It is expected that continuing soil decomposition will result in a loss of three-quarters of the site carbon before carbon neutrality is achieved[17].

Climate Change

As part of Canada’s Commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, British Columbia has committed to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2050. British Columbia’s 2017 carbon emissions relating to logging (the removal of woody debris and trees, accelerated decomposition of the forest floor and soil) were estimated as 42 million tonnes of carbon, and an additional 26.5 million tonnes of lost carbon capture potential[17]. Thus, a sum of 68.5 million tonnes of carbon are annually emitted into the atmosphere[17]. Furthermore, forestry emissions are not recorded in official carbon budgets[17]. Thus, further distancing Canada from achieving its climate targets. Missing these carbon targets will consequently exacerbate the effects of rapidly a destabilizing climate, terrestrial, and aquatic systems[17].

Social Impacts

Over many centuries, the Haida have relied on the forests for their material, cultural, and spiritual well-being. The red cedar has been of particular cultural significance, as members of the Haida Nation have used its wood for thousands of years for fashioning canoes, totem poles, clothing, and ropes for example[1]. As a result of overexploitation of the forests by the logging industry, the Haida communities have been subject to a loss of livelihood, loss of traditional practices and culture, violation of human rights, land dispossession, and loss of landscape. [1]

Economic losses

Moreover, one of them main social impacts has been the flow of logging revenue accruing away from local communities; an estimated 105 million cubic meters of raw logs, valued at over $12 billion, left the islands during the twentieth century.[19] As a result, instead of supporting the long-term social and ecological interests of the Haida, resource extraction on Haida Gwaii has enabled the development of distant political and financial centers with little benefit to the population of the local region being exploited.[1] This caused outrage from the local communities and led to an increase in opposition to logging.

While many Haida worked in the forestry industry, there was a lot of poverty and unemployment amongst Haida communities. Moreover, the ability of traditional resource harvesting activities to provide sustenance outside of the forestry industry was negatively impacted by the continuous logging operations taking place in the island[4].

Social conflict

Additionally, another impact was an increase in social conflict, specifically regarding logging companies which have repeatedly violated existing agreements and quotas. [20] As a result of increasing logging during the 1960s, conflict began to increase dramatically in the 1970s between the logging industries and the Indigenous peoples of the island. By the 1970s, the Haida had been subjected to over a century of disease and harsh government repression of their culture; therefore, with growing awareness of increasing resource scarcity, declining environmental quality, and the rights of indigenous peoples, clashes started to spread from valley to valley[4][1]. Along with this came mounting public discontent with the lack of consultation on forest management in the province. Discontent towards the continuous deforestation with no respect for the treaties continued to grow amongst the communities, with a battle taking off in 1974 over logging in an area known to be an important cultural and archaeological site by the Haida and a source of immense ecological diversity[21]. Moreover, during the 1980s, volumes of timber cut and manufactured continued to increase while employment steadily decreased[21]. Many protests continued to take place during the 1980; these often resulted in different factions being pitted against each other on the islands, even amongst Haida community[7]

Social Response

Ever since the first European settlement and ownership claims over the Haida forests, the Haida Nation has been excluded from the dictation of the fate of the forests[1]. In the 1970s and 1980s, a grassroots movement of the Haida Nation began in response to continued deforestation in South Moresby, one of Haida Gwaii's culturally important islands[1][4]. The movement gained publicity across British Columbia, and a conflict of interests between British Columbians began to grow, as some strongly opposed industrial logging while others did not[1][4]. The petitioning and protesting of the Haida Nation and their allies led the provincial government to establish the Environmental Land Use Committee which later proposed the protection some areas of Haida Gwaii[4]. In 1992, the provincial government passed legislation that granted some power to influence decisions regarding resource extraction to the communities most directly affected by it[1]. In 1993, the Gwaii Haanas Agreement was signed by the Canadian government and the Council of the Haida Nation to develop a collaborative planning process for the land management of South Moresby[4]. The Gwaii Haanas agreement legalized the Haida Nation's usage of the land for their cultural and traditional needs as well as appointed the official role of Haida Watchmen over the island to the Haida Nation[4]. Unfortunately, the positive impacts of these decisions on Indigenous rights were slight and the Haida Nation's resource needs continued to be disrespected[1].

In March 2005, the forestry company Weyerheauser violated an agreement previously made with the Council of the Haida Nation about their logging practices on South Moresby[4]. Additionally, the Supreme Court of Canada had ordered the British Columbia government to consult the Haida Nation on forestry policy in Haida Gwaii, but the British Columbia government continued to allow logging on designated protected areas on Haida Gwaii[1][4]. In response to these two events, members of the Haida Nation and supporters held The Islands Spirit Rising, a social movement in Haida Gwaii that spanned March and April of 2005[4]. The movement consisted of blockading rivers, seizing logs, and recording the names of those who continued to travel illegally into protected areas in hopes of pressuring both the government and Weyerheauser to better consult the Haida Nation[4]. These protests gained publicity and the Haida Nation received support from allies all over North America who held demonstrations of their own[4]. In addition to these protests, the Haida Nation pursued court battles and official negotiations to try and solve the issue[4]. The environmental activism seemed to be more effective than the Haida Nation's attempts to work within the system, and, in response to the protests, the province suspended logging in the disputed areas[4]. The head of the Council of the Haida Nation and the premier of British Columbia signed the Haida Gwaii Strategic Land Use Agreement[4]. This agreement promised that the land of Haida Gwaii would be managed in a pro-environmental way while also recognizing a number of official Haida areas that the Haida Nation could use and manage how they desired[4]. The Islands Spirit Rising is one example of many protests that have erupted in response to illegal and nonconsensual logging on Haida land[4].

Over the years, this movement has evolved into a strong political force leading influential campaigns about protecting ancient forests[1]. Regardless of the successes of political action, both activist and non-activist, taken by the Haida Nation in attempts to preserve their culture and land, many of the agreements signed by governmental forces continue to be violated. In 2017, the president of the Council of the Haida Nation reported that the government of British Columbia was continuing to allow illegal logging and implied that activist measures such as protests may need to be taken[22]. Similar news of British Columbian courts ruling against the Haida Nation have surfaced as recently as October 2019[23].

Ecological Restoration Efforts

Because of social outcry, forestry practices in Haida Gwaii have changed immensely since the early days of industrial logging. The allowable annual cuts have been reduced by over half, with Provincial ruling to halt any exports of yellow or red cedar. Across the Haida Gwaii forest district, the total cut has also declined - 2.4 million cubic metres in 1984, 1.8 million in 1994, 1.1 million in 2004 and 840,000 in 2014[7]. Forestry companies are now making a point of hiring local and Haida loggers and engineers to support the community’s economy, with efforts to keep people at work during lulls in the market[24]. With the industrial logging on Haida Gwaii focusing more and more towards environmental sustainability, there becomes the challenge of restoring the land degraded from the past, more severe, logging practices. The main issue with old growth restoration is that bringing the forest back to an old growth status requires restorative efforts to be continuous, since old growth status takes many human lifetimes.

Invasive Sitka Black-tail Deer

Sitka black-tail deer

One of the greatest challenges today, comes from the dynamics of invasive species and the regeneration of stands. Currently the Sitka Black-tail deer, that were purposefully introduced as a food source during colonization[2], have been halting the growth of cedars in both old and secondary growth forests. The exponential growth of this deer population needs to be controlled, however, because their lack of predators, and the national park status of Gwaii Haanas, there is little hunting pressure on the species[14] [25]. Mitigating the impacts of the deer population on stand regeneration is proving to be one of the more difficult conservation efforts. Research is slow paced, observations of regenerating stands that started in the late 90’s have lasted well over a decade due to the rate of tree growth. However, this slow paced research produced data on deer behavior and cedar growth trends with deer exclusion[12]. The data concluded that with the absence of deer, seedling mortality is greatly reduced and saplings are faster to establish[12]. Stands more easily regenerate in the absence of deer populations, however, there is conflict in excluding deer from certain areas because it increases grazing concentrations in the areas that are available to them, resulting in more severe impacts for the non-exclusion area. Adding to the conflict of exclusion, reestablishing stands would need a minimum of 50 years to grow to a height where they would be tolerant to the grazing deer population[12]. This would likely result in detrimental impacts from grazing on non-exclusion sites, thus for successful restoration it was concluded that reductions of the deer population need to be implemented and promoted[25][12].

Riparian area: Haans Creek - Haida Gwaii
The entrance to a black bear den.

Riparian Zones

Streams and riparian zones are immensely important to forest ecosystem health, providing nutrient cycling and habitats that make them a hotspot for biodiversity in forest ecosystems. Unfortunately many riparian zones fell victim to industrial logging during the early and uninformed practices in Haida Gwaii. Since then, efforts have and are being made to restore these vital areas. In 2011 restoration began on Lyell Island in Sandy Creek and Powrivco Creek. The restoration started with a monitoring plan that would collect pre-disturbed characteristics for the areas. This period of monitoring involved collecting data from a permanent sample plot for inventory which included tree volume, decay class, and species[14]. From the measurements of the sample forest stand, the volume of large woody debris (LWD) that would be supplied from mature trees was estimated per unit area. LWD’s have a great influence over streams and riparian zones as they can influence stream flow and pooling, while regulating organic matter, sediments and nutrients that are carried by the stream. LWD’s can be influencing a stream for close to a century and are essential for fish habitats. Taking into account the importance of the role LWD’s play in stream dynamics,14 permanent sample plots were established in Sandy Creeks as riparian zones and 9 were established for Powrivco Creek, based on their estimated supply of LWD volume per unit area. To be thorough, measurement error assessments were made to ensure that the amount of land needed for an effective riparian zone was not underestimated. From the data collected in this restoration project, it was predicted that the current riparian zones would have a 100 year stem exclusion phase to reach the old growth status they once had[14].

Black Bears Dens

Haida Gwaii is home to some of the largest black bears in the world. Black bears are important to Haida culture. The Council of the Haida Nation Cultural (CHN) Feature Identification Standards Manual (FISM) outlines guidelines for identifying black bear dens for forest area surveyors[26]. These black bear dens are only protected in Haida Gwaii and The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia[27]. In accordance to Haida Gwaii’s 2014 Land Use Objectives Order, black bear dens and with a surrounding reserve zone of at least 20 meters in width around the den must be preserved[26].

Cultural and Monumental Cedars

Cultural cedar stands as defined in CHN’s FISM as three or more culturally modified trees, monumental cedar, or a combination of the latter where each tree is within 50 meters from another tree[28]. A culturally modified tree is a tree that was modified prior to 1920 the Haida people as part of their cultural use [28]. Monumental cedars are red or yellow cedars with a diameter at breast height of at least 100 centimeters and is at least 7 meters tall above where the trunk meets the forest floor[28]. The 2014 Haida Gwaii Land Use Objectives Order (HGLUOO) outlines that culturally modified tree stands and their surrounding buffer zones (an area with a minimum of 0.5 tree length surrounding the stand) must be protected [28].



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See Also

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:CONS200. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.