Vancouver, Canada — A bushman in Bella Coola, B.C., has won $325,000settlement after suing the B.C. government for failing to protect his ancestor’s1912 shack and outbuildings from a forest fire in 2004.
John Edwards, a 79-year-old recluse, sued the B.C. government in 2004 forcompensation after a forest fire swept through his property in Lonesome Lake, aremote valley in northwest B.C.
The settlement deal is a unique one; the government has agreed to pay thebushman $375,000. In exchange, Edwards has promised that when he ceases to livethere, the land will be placed in trust for the animals and wilderness.
From that point forward, the land will treated like private parkland andnever again used for residence a goal the B.C. government has sought for years.
”This settlement isn’t just a standard settlement. It’s a little bit morecreative and I like it for that,” said Doug Eastwood, counsel for thegovernment. ”It’s a win-win situation.”
Edwards, a tough man with a knotted white beard, has spent his entire life onthe property built by his father, Ralph Edwards, in 1912.
With no access roads to the land, Edwards ventures out only a few times ayear to restock on supplies in nearby Bella Coola, B.C.
He once said his only companions have been the foxes, squirrels and martensthat ”are like family to me.”
The Edwards family became world famous after Pulitzer Prize-winning authorLeland Stowe wrote a book in 1957 about the family’s dogged determination tosave a dwindling flock of trumpeter swans.
Their work earned Edwards’s father the Order of Canada and a place in B.C.lore.
For Edwards, the 2004 wildfires were nothing short of preventable, and itleft him angry that 19 buildings, 65 hectares of valuable timber and twogenerations’ worth of personal belongings were destroyed.
He emerged from the wilderness in 2005 to sue the government for ”grossnegligence” for failing to stop the massive wildfires.
Neither Edwards nor his lawyer, Robert McDonell, could be reached for comment.
But Eastwood says Edwards, who has since built himself a new, one-room shack,will be able to use the money to rebuild on the property.
The two-year long negotiations have been marked by disputes over the value ofthe land, Edwards’s refusal to sell his property to the government, not tomention the difficulty of reaching him.
McDonell had to pitch a tent in the remote valley to consult with his clientat times, while Eastwood chose not to trek into the isolated land, but fly overthe property in order to assess its value.
”It’s literally just this little dot of private ownership in this vastpark,” says Eastwood. ”And it’s amazing how isolated he is and how beautifulit is up there.”
Eastwood says the government has long feared the Edwards family would sellthe property to someone who would one day develop it for commercial use.
”Mr. Edwards makes such a little environmental footprint on the land becausehe’s so environmentally sensitive himself that it’s not a problem. But the landin private ownership could be put to different use,” said Eastwood.
Edwards, who has no current plans to move out, has yet to appoint a trusteeof the land.