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Fort Nelson First Nation voices support for transfer of Canfor forest tenure to Peak Renewables

First Nations Major Projects Coalition chair and Fort Nelson First Nation councillor Sharleen Gale. Bill Phillips photo
Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale.

The Fort Nelson First Nation is voicing its support for Peak Renewables’ planned purchase of Canfor’s forest tenure in the region.

The proposed $30 million tenure transfer comes after Peak Renewables purchased Canfor’s Fort Nelson mill assets late last year. The facilities included two timber processing plants — the PolarBoard-oriented strand board unit, idled in 2008, and the Tackama plywood plant, which was shut down in 2008. Peak Renewable’s plan is to build a pellet plant., Conservation North, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have raised red flags about the plan, saying project will be ‘value-subtracted, not value-added’ in the forest sector and trees should not be harvested strictly for pellets.

The Fort Nelson First Nation says the groups voiced their opposition without specific knowledge about the band’ partnership with Peak Renewables Ltd.

“The FNFN partnership with Peak allows us to lay the foundation for sustainable economic opportunities for our people,” said Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale, in a news release. “Our partnership allows us to own these opportunities, to create sustainable jobs and to chart a sustainable course for future generations. The partnership is committed to both existing and future local value-added opportunities. This is reconciliation in action.”

She added the band has a long-term vision for a diversified economy in the territory that includes a vibrant, sustainable forestry sector, including a wide range of local opportunities. Their partnership with Peak on a pellet plant and associated forestry operations is designed to catalyze such a sector and ensure its success, she added.

Under the partnership, Fort Nelson First Nation will not only hold a large equity stake that can grow over time, but the project paves the way for stable, long term skilled employment and contracting opportunities for FNFN members and the town of Fort Nelson, she said.

Peak Renewables CEO Brian Baarda, former CEO of Paper Excellence, told Business in Vancouver that the plant would employ about 50 people. The woodlands operations would employ 300 to 400 in logging.

“Public statements by people far removed from our community and the project have wholly failed to mention the project’s strong commitment to the development of both existing and future local value-added businesses, including FNFN’s forestry tenures and the FNFN Community Forest partnership with the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality,” said Gale.

Peak and Fort Nelson First Nation have committed to the adoption of the band’s Land Management Framework for the pellet and forestry project. It includes a collaborative long-term harvesting planning process which comprehensively, and proactively, integrates traditional and ecological values.

“Our people hold an inseparable attachment to our lands and waters,” said Lands Director Lana Lowe. “Fort Nelson First Nation, as a nation, has a long and unquestionable track record of defending our territory and treaty rights when faced with unacceptable impacts from commercial activity. We take our rights and responsibilities to the land and water very seriously and we are applying that ethic to our forestry initiatives.”

First, there has been no forestry activity in the area since 2008 when Canfor closed the mills. Six hundred people lost their jobs making plywood and oriented strand board.

In addition to reviewing the provincial base case for the 2019 allowable annual cut determination, the band retained a team of environmental and forestry experts to analyze timber supply. The analysis concluded that the timber supply was flexible enough to both sustain important environmental and traditional use values, while also providing enough fibre to support both a pellet plant, as well as to support opportunities for local value-added manufacturing. The use of biomass as a sustainable and renewable source of energy has been well researched and documented and the long-term benefits of forest biomass energy are well-established in scientific literature as an important contribution to reducing climate change impacts by replacing more impactful energy sources such as coal and fossil fuels.

“Without talking to us, conclusive statements about Fort Nelson First Nation’s forestry projects have been made by groups that are far removed from our territory,” said Gale. “These statements totally fail to take into account the livelihoods of our people and our extensive land stewardship work. Since Canada forced us onto reserves and claimed our land for themselves, we have been told how we should live in our own territory. We unquestionably hold the best knowledge of our territory and an unalienable right to self-determination and to freely pursue our economic, social and cultural development in our lands.”

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