VANCOUVER: First Nations get timber forest companies didn't cut
- First Nations get timber forest companies didn't cut
Gordon Hamilton Vancouver Sun
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
Four Vancouver Island First Nations have been awarded over half a million cubic metres of timber -- enough to build 25,000 houses -- taken back from forest companies who failed to meet provincial "use-it-or-lose-it" harvesting regulations.
The award marks the first major resource allocation under a new law aimed at increasing aboriginal participation in the forest economy.
It also sends a signal to forest companies that if they can't cut the timber in their tenures, the government is ready to give it to someone else.
On the coast alone, there are 20 million cubic metres of so-called undercut, timber that companies are required to harvest under minimum cut regulations but have been unable to do so, usually for economic reasons. Governments have traditionally avoided invoking these regulations.
"There's never any guarantee that timber will be carried forward. It is a sizable amount of timber," said Forests Minister Mike de Jong, who was in Port Alberni on Tuesday for signing ceremonies with the four First Nations.
The award also signals the government is willing to use the undercut as part of treaty settlement processes. The four First Nations have signed interim measures agreements with the province in which Victoria committed to provide them with timber. Throughout the province, First Nations are seeking access to resource revenues.
The four bands receiving timber all have experience in various aspects of the forest industry.
Tuesday's award is not a long-term tenure, however. Once the First Nations log the volume, the licence expires.
De Jong said the government reallocation demonstrates "our commitment to take concrete steps to enhance First Nations involvement in the forest economy."
Tom Happynook, forestry negotiator for the Huu-ay-aht First Nation at Bamfield, said his band intends to use the timber to generate economic wealth. The non-replaceable licence will provide a consistent revenue stream, he said, until another becomes available or the government allocates long-term tenure, something de Jong has hinted he intends to do throughout B.C. as part of Victoria's planned forest policy changes.
"This is a step in the right direction for the government. The timber is going to allow us to change to the social, cultural and economic circumstances of our community. It's going to provide much-needed revenue for us," Happynook said.
He also said the Huu-ay-aht are not seeking employment quotas. Band members want to work but they do not all want to be loggers, he said.
Happynook believes the Huu-ay-aht will have more cost-cutting flexibility than major licensees. They will not be bound by as many contractual obligations. However, it's impossible to estimate the value of the timber, he said. "It all depends on markets."
The stumpage the government stands to collect now the timber is to be harvested is about $11 million at current rates.
The timber came from Weyerhaeuser and TimberWest Forest, two major licensees with Crown tenure on Vancouver Island:
- TimberWest Forest, which lost 300,000 cubic metres from its Tree Farm Licence 46, stretching from Lake Cowichan to the Island's west coast to the Ditidaht and Pacheenaht First Nations at Port Renfrew and Nitinat Lake.
- Weyerhaeuser, which lost 265,000 cubic metres from its Tree Farm Licence 44 located in the Port Alberni-Clayoquot Sound region to the Uchucklesaht on Alberni Canal and the Huu-ay-aht at Bamfield.
Bryan Kofsky, economic development officer for the Ditidaht, said the band expects to receive more timber.
"This is the first," he said. "We wanted access to the forest resource."
He said it will take time to find out how viable an operation the band can create.
"[However], this is better than nothing and that's pretty well what we had until now. It's a big job. We don't expect to take it on alone and we are looking for a good partner."
He said the Ditidaht already operate a sawmill near their Nitinat Lake village, employing 28 people. The Ditidaht want to add an extra shift to the mill, creating another 20 jobs, he said.
The timber award is significant, Weyerhaeuser vice-president Tom Holmes said, bringing First Nations into the economy in a meaningful way. The licensees fought to retain their timber but Holmes said now the decision has been made, the transfer makes business sense.
Weyerhaeuser is in the process of forming a joint-venture company with the bands that received its timber. Weyerhaeuser will have first right of refusal to purchase the logs. The company lost the timber but it will not necessarily lose the fibre supply for its mills.
The bands receiving timber from TimberWest's tenures are also seeking joint-venture partners.
© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun
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