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May 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal




In an era of fully committed forestry resources, opportunity still exists in a corner of that historical land of entrepreneurial spirit and adventure: the Yukon Territory.

By Jim Sterling

A secure land base, abundant wood fibre, a transparent regulatory regime, good infrastructure and team players with a vision. What’s missing to complete this mix is an experienced forest industry partner or partners. A firm with an entrepreneurial spirit willing to seize the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and help develop a sustainable forest industry.

That’s the summarized scenario that exists north of 60 in the southwest corner of Canada’s Yukon Territory. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN)—working in concert with the Yukon Territorial Government—have identified a land base for long-term forest development containing an estimated gross volume of 2.5 million cubic metres of white spruce. The emphasis will be on harvesting—and processing into forest products—the stands infected by the spruce bark beetle.

The First Nations and territorial government are seeking proposals from interested forest companies to begin the process in 2006. The concept of working with a First Nations/government alliance raises a cautionary warning flag for the forest industry used to operating in some Canadian provinces. But the Yukon is more progressive. To start with, the CAFN settled their land claims in 1995 and have developed a strategic forest management plan for the 960 square miles of their traditional territories. The political climate has changed in the Yukon since devolution in 2003, a process that saw a fundamental shift in how the land base is managed. More responsibilities have been assumed by the territorial government from the federal government.

The result is a new, cohesive forest economy envisaged for the Yukon, fully integrated with other land base uses. That in turn means forest companies interested in working on CAFN or territorial lands will know all the rules up front. The risk of nasty surprises is minimized.

The CAFN is adopting an open-minded, flexible position in developing a working relationship with a forest industry partner(s). “We’re casting the net pretty wide,” says Ian Robinson, economic development officer for the CAFN based in Whitehorse.

“I think broadly speaking, we’re looking at a small to medium sawmill operator and maybe more than one company. But we’d certainly entertain any interest from a single, large, integrated company,” expands Robinson.

Robinson says there is a small-scale logging industry in the southwest Yukon and depending on the operation’s volume, providing logging capacity may well be part of an agreement. The local market for forest products is limited, he notes. But a good highway system exists, the Alaska market is close and access to two ice-free, deep water ports are 268 kilometres and 330 kilometres respectively from Haines Junction, in the heart of CAFN traditional territory.

Robinson adds that the availability of the beetle-killed spruce could lead to development of a wood biomass based industry. He says if more than one company
grasps the development opportunities, a small, serviced industrial park could be established on CAFN lands to provide their needs.

The companies would have to deal only with CAFN, simplifying the regulatory procedures. To Bill Schmidt, that represents a key advantage: “You are dealing directly with a group of people who can make decisions.” Land claims are settled, land base ownership is secured. Schmidt is a consultant to the CAFN and operates WDS Timber products, based in Vanderhoof, BC. Schmidt used to work for the Yukon government and has developed a keen interest in the CAFN and government’s plans. He also contributes a forest industry background: “I know what not to do,” he points out.

Schmidt says communities in the traditional territories expect a core development from forest companies moving to the Yukon. “Industry will bring in qualified people and that expertise can be transferred to the community,” says Schmidt. That means training and jobs. “The biggest benefit (for us) is employment,” confirms Chief James Allen and
CAFN. “In a lot of our communities there is large unemployment. It could help develop entrepreneurs in our communities, people who can start their own businesses with equipment or trucks.”

But Allen anticipates further benefits, including to the forest land itself. The beetle-killed wood is dry and subject to blowdown. Salvaging the wood would improve access to traditional hunting areas for trappers and enhance moose habitat, he says. Logging around communities also helps protect them from uncontrolled widlfires.

Allen says a forest industry in the CAFN territory could benefit from the US/oil companies proposal to build a pipeline along the Alaska Highway corridor through the southern Yukon.“We could be supplying cants for that project.”

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, working in concert with the Yukon Territorial Government, have identified a land base for long-term forest development that contains an estimated gross volume of 2.5 million cubic metres of white spruce.

The spruce bark beetle began attacking the forests of the southwest Yukon with a vengeance in the 1990s, explains Susan Skaalid, manager, forest operations for the Yukon government. The beetles radiated out in concentric circles before moving back to hit some stands multiple times. “We’ve got a variety of fibre and we’re open about that,” she adds. About 750,000 cubic metres have been identified for salvage during a 10-year period.

Skaalid says an integrated landscape plan, along with community plans, environmental assessments and a TSA analysis have all been completed. Together with CAFN’s forest management plan, they chart the course of where forest development will occur now and into the future. That’s a big plus to prospective forest industry partners: the leg work of consultation and research has been completed. Skaalid says it was accomplished with CAFN and the territorial government working as a team with mutual interests. “We want the (forest industry partners) to succeed,” she says.

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations have settled their land claims and developed a strategic forest management plan for the 960 square miles of their traditional territories.


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