A man who illegally harvested cedar from an area of major cultural significance in B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest has seen his fine increased more than tenfold, in a decision the Wei Wai Kum First Nation's elected chief called a "game changer."
Timothy Holland will now have to pay $131,759 for cutting and removing timber outside his legal tenure in Wei Wai Kum territory, following a recent decision from the Forest Appeals Commission. His original administrative penalty had amounted to $12,000.
An appeals commission panel estimated that Holland, operating as Bigfoot Forest Productions, made at least $167,110 by "wantonly and flagrantly" ignoring the boundaries of his Forestry Licence to Cut (FLTC) between 2017 and 2020.
Wei Wai Kum Chief Chris Roberts told CBC he believes the increased fine will serve as a powerful deterrent for anyone thinking of doing the same thing within his nation's territory.
"It's a game changer. I think that's something where we can say, wow, OK, there's clearly penalties and consequences that people will face when these types of actions are taken," Roberts said.
The original fine was determined by a district manager for the Campbell River Natural Resource District, following an investigation that saw Holland threatening government employees and natural resource officers by phone and email, the appeal decision says.
Roberts said it was "incomprehensible" for Holland to pay just $12,000 for his offences.
"How does that act as a deterrent? I think it would almost have the opposite effect, where if someone could get away with paying a small fine, what would stop anyone else from doing it again? There would be a net gain from the illegal activity," he said.
'More convenient' to log outside authorized area
The higher fine is the result of an appeal from the Forest Practices Board, which argued in part that Holland shouldn't be allowed to profit from breaking the law.
Holland did not participate in the appeal process. According to the decision, when a government lawyer reached out to ask for his submissions, he replied with an email reading only: "Kiss my ass."
Holland could not be reached for comment. The only phone number CBC could locate for him has been disconnected.
The decision from the Forest Appeals Commission was written by panel chair Linda Michaluk, who noted that the investigation was a result of complaints in 2019 and 2020 from a former employee of Holland and one of the Wei Wai Kum Guardians, a group that helps protect, restore, and monitor ecosystems within the nation's territory.
The illegal logging took place in Loughborough Inlet, around 50 kilometres north of Campbell River.
Michaluk wrote that investigators determined "all but a few of Mr. Holland's harvest sites occurred well outside of the authorized area," using evidence including timber scale records, helicopter flight records and interviews with Holland.
"Mr. Holland made numerous statements attesting to the fact that he cut timber 'right off the beach' because 'it would take you, like, two hours,' to hike up to his FLTC. I take that to mean that it was more convenient for Mr. Holland to harvest timber outside of his authorized area," Michaluk wrote.
She also noted two voicemails and one email to government employees in which Holland threatened violence, including a September 2020 voicemail saying, in part, "You'd better watch yourself. If you come out… to my place… then I'll f--king hurt you… You've got a problem with me, buddy."
'Very, very little left' of culturally significant cedars
Roberts said the illegal logging took place within the core of his nation's traditional territory, an area that has already been deeply affected by logging and industrialization.
The fact that Holland was taking cedar was particularly distressing.
"There's nothing that ranks higher in cultural significance and value to our people. It's right up there with salmon," Roberts said.
He said projects have been underway for several years to identify what are known as "large cultural cedars" within the territory and across B.C.
"There are very, very little left for our personal uses, those being to replace our traditional dugout canoes or totem poles, various carving wood materials for smokehouses, and the list goes on," he said.
Protocols are now in place with most major forestry companies to preserve most of these trees for use by local First Nations, Roberts explained.
He said he can't be sure of the current extent of illegal logging within Wei Wai Kum territory, but cedar prices are rising, which creates incentive for poachers.
But Roberts said the Wei Wai Kum Guardians will be watching, along with legitimate logging operators.
"All users of resources in British Columbia should be cognizant of the fact that they are going to be operating in the area of, for the most part, unceded territories," he said.
"Do your homework and establish those relationships with the local nation and territorial government that you're operating in, because it's not just the regional government or the federal government — you have to pay attention to the rights and responsibilities that we as First Nations have."