By Lloyd Dolha
A tiny Vancouver Island First Nation is poised to take over one of the most valuable Tree Farm Licences on the island. In a deal announced in early March, the Klahoose First Nation (located on Cortes Island in the Strait of Georgia) will acquire the harvesting rights to thousands of hectares in the Toba Valley—one of the most valuable timber regions on Vancouver Island’s South coast. The area, considered by the Klahoose to be part of their traditional territory, contains about nine million cubic metres of old growth cedar and fir.
With the assistance of the second provincial Incremental Treaty Agreement, the 300‑member Klahoose First Nation will acquire the cutting rights to Tree Farm License 10 for $3.75 million from the bankrupt Duncan-based Hayes Forest Services Ltd. Klahoose Chief councillor Ken Brown said the deal holds vast potential for his members in terms of employment and economic development opportunities. “This has provided the band with the opportunity to move away from the shackles of the INAC world,” said Chief Brown. “When you become strong economically for your community you can move away from those limitations.”
Brown said acquiring the tree farm license has given the Klahoose access to 25 percent of their traditional territory. The chief was disdainful of the treaty process, which he said has so far only offered them three-quarters of one percent of their traditional territory after repeated negotiations. “The definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different result,” he said. The First Nation has fought for over twenty years against logging companies with interest in the pristine area. The band blocked the only access road to the timber-rich area through the reserve at the mouth of the Toba Inlet since 1988 because of concerns over past logging practices.
Last year, the Klahoose launched actions against both the provincial government and Hayes, arguing the First Nation had not been adequately consulted about granting a harvesting permit. They also requested the approval be denied in light of lack of consultation. In early December, the B.C. Supreme Court agreed, but stopped short of quashing the approval. The court ruled that provincial forestry manager Brian Hawrys had failed to properly consult the First Nation over the approval. “With respect to the process, I find it difficult to describe it as ‘consultation.’ While some information was indeed supplied by the ministry in response to requests from (the) Klahoose, much meaningful information was not,” wrote Justice Christopher Grauer in his decision.
Hayes had been developing a forest stewardship plan to log a portion of the Tree Farm License (TFL) in conjunction with Sunshine Coast Forest District. At the same time, the First Nation was negotiating with Hayes to acquire the rights to the TFL. According to the court, Hayes was open to all reasonable offers for the license but wanted to remain as the contract loggers for whomever purchased the license. “Thereafter, a stalemate developed,” wrote Justice Grauer. “In essence, [the] Klahoose maintained the position that nobody but the Klahoose First Nation would harvest the timber in their traditional territory . . .”
Hayes pushed ahead with its stewardship plan, which the Klahoose felt was inadequate. The First Nation wanted to see a comprehensive plan for the entire TFL. The Klahoose requested more detailed information about the plan but were rebuffed by Hayes and the Sunshine Coast Forest District, leading to the court action by the First Nation and the subsequent decision by the trial judge. “I have concluded that the scope of the Crown’s duty to consult with and accommodate (the) Klahoose in this case lay at the high end of the spectrum,” wrote Justice Grauer. “Whether the representatives of the Ministry of Forests and Range, who dealt with the matter, came to the same conclusion is unknown to me. If they did not, they were, in my respectful view, incorrect.”
The judge ordered a stay of all further activity on the TFL, but recommended the three parties continue to negotiate. “We now have closure on an issue that was not only creating difficulty for the Klahoose First Nation, but government as well,” said Chief Ken Brown. “For decades, the Klahoose First Nation realized no benefit from TFL #10 as the timber resources of our traditional territory passed through our reserve.”
The Klahoose will hold the TFL as one of the biggest Community Forest Licenses in the province. That status greatly reduces the stumpage costs to the First Nation from $25 to $30 per cubic metre to $8 per cubic metre, with an annual allowable harvest of 115, 000 cubic metres. Even with the economic recession, Chief Brown expects to earn approximately $2 to $3 million per year, expecting an increase to as high as $7 million annually when the economy picks up. Timber harvesting will generate 25 to 35 full time jobs for the First Nation, and profits will be used for other economic ventures.
The Klahoose recently signed a benefit agreement with Plutonic Power for the development of a run-of the-river hydroelectric project in Toba Valley. The project is comprised of three generation facilities on Jimmie Creek, Dalgleish Creek, and the Upper Toba River. Since then, Plutonic has upgraded the old logging roads, built new ones, and replaced all bridges in the valley.
Since all logging has been halted for over 20 years, the forest has had time to regenerate substantially. “The damage done to our rivers and streams caused by questionable logging practices of the past have been repaired during the reconstruction of the road accessing our valley,” said Chief Brown. “As a result of the newly constructed roads and bridges, we now have access into our traditional territory and an ability to pursue numerous economic opportunities, including a sustainable forestry program.”