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Logging disruptions by First Nations?
Send the bill to the band council
By Jim Stirling
The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities recently threw caution to the wind, peered into its crystal ball and in September published its view of what lies ahead for the U.S. forest industry. Not surprisingly there are issues and concerns that resonate across Canada’s forest industry.
The U.S. report noted both domestic and foreign lumber markets share a relatively positive outlook.
“However,” it cautioned, “as demand ramps up, capacity is a significant concern.” Mill closures during the recession put loggers out of work and sent would-be loggers looking elsewhere for opportunities. The report also noted the “rising operating costs associated with high fuel and equipment costs and the lack of long term contracts has reduced logging capacity by 25 per cent.”
Logging capacity issues are here and now in Canada’s forest industry and likely to get worse if (when) the U.S. lumber market sustains momentum, especially if coupled with Chinese and other Asian market upturns.
The U.S report suggested that opportunities for the lumber sector exist with more promotion of wood’s use in green building systems, and it encouraged wider acceptance of more certification standards.
Turning its attention to bioenergy and biofuels, the report predicted pellet manufacturers in the U.S. face increasing competition (for raw material) from OSB mills. “As European demand for wood pellets—driven by government subsidies— continues to rise, questions associated with market stability, the sustainability of U.S. forests and carbon accounting for wood biomass will be an ongoing part of the discussion pertaining to this emerging industry.”
The U.S. report also took a look at what the future might hold in terms of challenges surrounding the supply chain and forest policy issues. “A strong reliable supply chain is critical to the success of all segments of the forest products industry,” noted the report in a statement of the obvious. “Changes in land ownership coupled with workforce and infrastructure reductions have contributed to an overall decline in the availability of wood raw materials.”
The report also called for the establishment of “a consistent and streamlined regulatory environment,” which would receive endorsement by any industry, anywhere.
It also quoted a U.S. Forest Service report on the future of America’s forests which estimates during the next 50 years the lower 48 states will lose from 16 to 34 million acres of forestland due to population growth, urbanization and other land use changes. Sixteen to 34 million acres is more than a 100 per cent spread but the valid point here is that vigilance is required to ensure Canada’s forestry provinces protect and enhance a functioning working forest land base. The U.S. report, perhaps in an attempt to conclude on an upbeat, wrote: “Ultimately, the long term health and sustainability of forests may just rest on cooperation throughout the forest products industry.” That’s a fine motherhood statement with some undoubted truth. But it’s unlikely to sway distant forest executives with eyes on the world’s stock exchanges.
One of the challenges here not mentioned in the U.S. report—directly at least—are the complex issues surrounding First Nations. First Nations and the forest industry have come a long way together in the last few years, certainly in British Columbia. The nation’s highest court has recognized First Nations’ rights pertaining to traditional lands and the requirement to consult in a “meaningful” way about any proposed industrial activity. The forest industry has demonstrated it respects those rights and by and large has done its best to comply.
Partnerships and joint ventures with native groups are common in B.C. as are band-owned forest companies and contractors. But incidents still occur. They clearly indicate important issues remain unresolved, especially surrounding the core issue of land access.
In September, Central Interior Logging Association (CILA) contractors were prevented from working by blockades on roads leading to their legally granted harvesting locations. Four roadblocks in a three week period. The CILA reckons the blockades cost the contractors and operators involved more than $4 million in lost revenues and other expenses. Licencees had to make supply adjustments. No one involved was happy.
One of the blockades took place in the Takla Lake country, northwest of Fort St. James, and the other two in the Chilcotin. Patience is running thin among some native groups in that latter region west of Williams Lake. Solid native opposition to the New Prosperity Mine proposal at Fish Lake is front and centre but any alleged incursion on traditional lands is increasingly being met with forms of active opposition.
In each of the September standoffs facing CILA member companies, the blockades were not sanctioned directly by the bands that administer that territory. They were manned instead by individual family groups acting independently. It’s unclear whether they had issues with their band hierarchies or were simply opposed to any development activities taking place within their traditional territories. “We’re calling on government to find a better way addressing First Nations’ issues and for the law to be enforced,” commented the CILA in its newsletter. Fair enough. And perhaps as a last resort.
The responsibility for policing rogue factions within their ranks should first be the band councils’ before the white man sends in the cavalry with all-guns a-blazing. When innocent third parties—like loggers—are out of pocket as a result of this type of behaviour, the bill should go to the band council and its administration and be enforced. It might just get their attention and help strike the problem from the B.C. forest industry’s list of
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