First, a reminder of the Oct. 11 deadline for public input into the online engagement process (engage.gov.bc.ca) for the Interior Forest Sector Renewal Policy and Program Engagement Discussion Paper.
The last section of the discussion paper describes the government’s intention of seeking opportunities to meet Indigenous interests for greater participation in tenure holdings and forest products manufacturing. Many First Nations communities have the largest populations in the more remote areas of this province. Forest resources often are the only opportunity to provide a steady source of employment for both the First Nations and local non-First Nations populations.
The number of Indigenous Nations’ timber volume as a percentage of total Interior licence volume (not including Community Forest Agreements and First Nation Woodland Licences) has increased from seven per cent in 2004 to 12 per cent in 2018 but there are still many rural communities that have no revenue from forest resources.
A licence of any form represents an opportunity for profit from log sales but there are more long term gains in revenue if locals are involved with timber harvesting and transport along with some sort of wood processing facility. While this is the best long term approach it is also the most risky from a financial level especially in times of market uncertainty and the initial lack of experience in the rural communities.
A less risky approach is to strike a deal with a log purchaser ( usually a major licensee) to have the company do all of the planning and work needed to get the cutting permit and pay a fixed amount for each cubic meter. While this is often the most pragmatic approach during the first years of acquiring a licence it is the most limiting choice in terms of long term local employment.
Joint ventures are in many cases a better choice because there is a greater level of experience to draw from in the non aboriginal community. Joint ventures can be between a major licensee and a First Nation when establishing a log harvesting company or between a First Nation and local community group when establishing a community forest.
One of the best examples in the Williams Lake TSA was the West Chilcotin Forest Products joint venture between a community, First Nation and major licensee. While this venture was successful for more than two decades it was likely the lack of infrastructure, relatively poor timber resource and distance from markets that were the main reasons for the shutdown. It is important that there are programs available to provide training or support for new ventures in the remote less productive stands. The most encouraging news recently was the government support through the Forest Enhancement Society of helping the Ulkatcho first nation to move pulp logs to Nanaimo through the Bella Coola port.
Some First Nations sawmill purchases have not turned out for a number of reasons but the exception is the operation set up in the old school at Riske creek where a variety of mills and projects have been ongoing for a number of years. Another option to consider could be the establishment of a Tribal park concept along with other tenures like non replaceable forest licenses and or community forests.
Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.