B.C. Provincial Government says Redistribution of B.C. Forest Licenses Remains its Long-Term Goal

When Canfor Corp. closed its Vavenby sawmill in 2019, due to the shrinking timber supply, and sold the cutting rights to Interfor for $ 60 million, B.C.’s NDP government had its first chance to use its new authority to intervene in long-term corporate forest tenures. The transfer went ahead after former forest minster Doug Donaldson and his deputy, long-time industry executive John Allan, provided a payment of $2.5 million to the Simpcw First Nation to buy a share of the tenure.

Documents obtained under B.C.’s freedom of information law describe difficult negotiations, with the Simpcw first demanding $1 million more to regain rights to their traditional territory in the Clearwater area north of Kamloops. According to B.C. Premier John Horgan, that agreement led to the latest step in his government’s overhaul of Crown Forest management. Five big forest companies still control the largest portion of B.C.’s timber rights, and Horgan’s plan to double the Indigenous share isn’t based solely on using taxpayers’ money to buy it back. It includes strengthening the minister’s authority to decide on harvesting and road building, and the intention to “enhance legal mechanisms to allow tenure to be redistributed for harvesting.”

The Vavenby transaction allowed Interfor to supply logs that keep its historic Adams Lake sawmill near Salmon Arm going. But Horgan’s government wasn’t about to see it happen without recognition of Indigenous title and resource rights in the regions. “Although it was difficult and hard negotiations, it was a template for where we’re going when it comes to compensatory take-backs,” Horgan said of the payment to the Simpcw on June 1. “We need to look beyond the tenure holders to the people of British Columbia.”

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, whose members benefit from the decision, sees that as only a start. Speaking on behalf of the group at Horgan’s announcement on June 1, Takla First Nation Chief John French said the 1.24 million cubic meters of wood apportioned to Indigenous tenure holders in the region is the biggest in B.C.’s history. “As true partners, we need to have access to tenure volume equivalent to 50 per cent of what our territories contribute to the forest sector,” French said. “Equal revenues from shared forest.”

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Redistributing B.C. forest licences a long-term project, Horgan says