Vancouver Sun

Hereditary Chief Ted Walkus in Johnson Creek where the Wuikinuxv Nation has a joint-venture with Interfor.  [PNG Merlin Archive]
Handout, PNG

B.C. First Nations are increasingly collaborating in the province’s forestry industry.

 

While forestry remains solidly one of British Columbia’s most important industries, real change continues.

For example, there has never been any doubt that hundreds of communities across B.C., from the coast to the Interior, rely on the forest industry for their livelihoods. But for many decades, First Nations did not participate widely in the success of the sector.

In recent years, that has begun to transform dramatically. In fact, I’d say that within the last decade, participation by First Nations in B.C.’s forest sector has increased 10-fold.

As the legal and policy landscape surrounding Aboriginal rights continues to change, the forest sector is developing new approaches to forest management, land use and First Nations relationships. These approaches will position B.C. for the future, strengthening bonds of trust and transparency with First Nations.

The increasing involvement of First Nations in the forest sector is partly due to changes in legislation that have provided First Nations with greater and more equitable access to forest licenses and opportunities.

But it’s also because of the persistence of First Nations in building capacity and know-how in sustainable forestry and in ensuring their forestry operations are independently certified as well-managed.

And it’s thanks to innovative joint-ventures like the one among Interfor, the Wuikinuxv Nation and my own firm — Capacity Forest Management.

Several years ago, the Wuikinuxv Nation’s forest company, Kvamua, was struggling. But as the largest licensee in the region, Interfor stepped up to help, providing a portion of its own timber allocation to Kvamua in order to get the company back on a sound financial footing and support the Nation’s vision for its members.

Interfor also supported our firm’s work in re-structuring Kvamua. Since then, Capacity Forest Management and Kvamua have managed a number of successful joint-venture projects with Interfor, providing jobs for the Nation’s people and revenue for the community.

Today, Kvamua is a thriving First Nations forest company.

The joint-venture with Interfor and the Wuikinuxv Nation in the Great Bear Rainforest is a model agreement that is setting a new standard of cooperation between First Nations and major forest licensees.

That is why Capacity is proud to be part of the shifting landscape in sustainable forestry where we continue to see increased participation, ownership and success by First Nations from all parts of B.C.

Another key to this success is ensuring First Nations forest operations are certified as well-managed by a rigorous, independent certification standard such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

A challenge for many First Nations is that their forestry operations are small-scale, so certification fees for these operators can be unaffordable.

The average First Nations forest licensee, for example, has access to about 10,000 to 25,000 cubic meters per year, which is small relative to the major forest companies.

Yet certification like SFI, which helps ensure the environmental, social and economic values of forests are protected, has commonly become a requirement in both the domestic and international marketplace.

Without having their forest lands certified, First Nations have difficulty selling timber to local mills that require certified timber for processing.

Our company worked with SFI to develop an umbrella approach to the standard that provides many small First Nations with access to world-class forestry certification they could not otherwise afford.

Now, smaller First Nations operations like Kvamua have had their forests certified to the SFI standard, as have large operations like those of Interfor. It’s a great fit for First Nations, forest companies, mills and the markets that depend on certified products.

And many First Nations have found the SFI standard to be compatible with their own culturally and historically informed understanding of how best to protect B.C.’s forests.

From the recognition of indigenous cultures, the protection of special sites and the conservation of water and wildlife to the minimization of visual impacts and ensuring community involvement, the SFI standard shares many of the same values that are important to First Nations history and future.

In 2012 alone, we brought in 43 First Nations licenses, achieving third-party certification to the SFI Forest Management Standard on their forest operations.

The profits from these sustainably managed forests flow back into each First Nations community, providing much-needed funding for schools, housing, transportation, and economic development.

These SFI-certified operations also act as a capacity-building engine, helping to train and employ many First Nations people while providing them with in-demand sustainable forestry skills.

It has been enormously satisfying working with SFI on partnerships like the one with Interfor to increase the diversity of B.C.’s forest sector through the rapidly growing involvement of First Nations.

With the enhanced transparency and rigorous environmental protections that come with forest certification, and through innovative joint-ventures with large companies like Interfor, First Nations continue to build the groundwork for a very successful future in one of this province’s most vital sectors.

Corby Lamb is president of Capacity Forest Management, which specializes in the management of First Nations forestry operations throughout BC.