A New Brunswick court ruling has opened the door for natives to harvest Crown timber for personal use, and ordered the government to rewrite the laws to reflect native rights under a 200-year-old treaty.

Provincial Court Judge Murray Cain found two Woodstock men not guilty of illegally harvesting timber on Crown land.

Dale Sappier and Clark Polchies, both from Woodstock First Nation, were arrested with 16 hardwood logs on Jan. 12,2001. The men had cut down four yellow birch and 12 sugar maple trees from a government-owned lot outside Fredericton and were travelling back to Woodstock in their truck. Natural Resources officers seized the truck and logs and arrested the two men because they did not have permission to cut the trees.

In court, the men argued that a 1725 treaty signed with the British Crown gave them the right to harvest wood for personal use. The 16 logs felled by Polchies were to be used for flooring and furniture for a house on the Woodstock reserve. The rest was to be used for firewood. The judge agreed with the two men, and said new rules are needed to regulate such harvesting.

During the trial, forest management expert Thomas Spinney said New Brunswick’s wood supply is “on the edge” of running out, and cautioned the judge that steps must be taken to manage the resource.

But Cain dismissed the idea that native logging under the treaty would have a significant impact on the resource, saying instead that the wood aboriginals will need for personal use is not enough to make a dent in the pulp and paper industry.

“We are talking here not about a major onslaught on that inventory by aboriginals of this province but the treaty right of an aboriginal to harvest sufficient wood to construct for him a modest home and the necessary furnishing that he requires,” Cain wrote.

“In the case at bar the defendants had 16 logs to be used as flooring and for crafting furniture, a modest harvest as compared to licensees with machines that clear cut vast areas to support the forest industry.”

“To prohibit an aboriginal from harvesting an ample supply of wood for his personal use as hereinabove set out in the name of conservation is like using a sledgehammer to kill a flea.”

The judge gave the province eight months to draw up new rules, and suggested justice officials consult New Brunswick’s 15 bands for input. He also ordered the Crown to return the 16 logs to the two men.

New Brunswick Justice Minister Brad Green says he’ll study the decision and decide whether to appeal within the 30-day deadline.