May 1, 2020 (North Vancouver) – Many First Nation Woodland Licences (FNWL) and other small First Nation tenure holders are feeling abandoned by the provincial government’s recently announced support for the BC forest sector.
In a press release earlier this week, the BC government announced a three-month deferral on stumpage rates in an effort to support the forestry industry, as we deal with the consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The BC First Nations Forestry Council (the ‘Forestry Council’) supports actions that maintain jobs for families and rural communities who have been hit hardest by economic downturn in the sector. Unfortunately, this industry cost savings measure does not address the viability of small First Nation tenure holders.
Many First Nations have not been harvesting on their FNWL because of provincial policies that have added costs, high stumpage, and tough market conditions even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The forest industry is an integral part of many First Nations’ economies,” explained Chief Harley Chingee of McLeod Lake Indian Band. “Current market conditions have caused McLeod Lake to curtail operations at the Band’s 100% owned Duz Cho Forest Products mill. Government’s stumpage deferral will help industry meet their financial commitments to their contractors while we are left waiting for the industry to return to normal operations.”
“This announcement is strictly about cash flow for industry,” said Dr. Charlene Higgins, Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Council. “It doesn’t address tenure viability, regulatory hurdles, and provincial policies that have increased costs and administrative burdens that prohibit small First Nations tenure holders from harvesting on their licences. First Nations will not benefit from having mills around to buy wood if they can’t harvest their volume and get it to market.”
BC First Nations communities have also not been involved in the development of additional silviculture guidelines, and the tree planting program approved by the Office of the Chief Forester, that allows tree planting to proceed in the interior of BC.
“Indigenous communities are being left out of major decisions the Province is making to address the impacts of COVID-19. This does not align with the principles of the UN Declaration or the intent of Bill 41 (DRIPA),” added Chief Bill Williams, President of the Forestry Council.
The provincial government has yet to fully endorse and implement the BC & First Nations Forest Strategy that provides a framework for how industry, the BC government, and First Nations can work together to build an inclusive and strong sector that can put the entire industry in a better position to weather challenging times such as this.
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