A new forest licence has been awarded to the Westbank First Nation, in part of their traditional territory north of Big White. It will allow the band to harvest 32,400 cubic metres a year.
The value of the new licence in timber sales could vary from the $40 a cubic metre or so that pulp wood receives, to a high of $80 a cubic metre for top-grade timber, and prices vary with the markets, explained WFN forestry manager Dave Gill.
That would make the licence worth $1.44 to $2.56 million. The logs would be sold to either Tolko Industries or Gorman Brothers Lumber, and will include spruce and balsam, with a small amount of pine.
A signing ceremony was held by the WFN Tuesday afternoon with Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson who said the licence will allow the WFN to participate further in what is a cornerstone of resource activity in B.C., the forest industry.
WFN chief Robert Louie said the band has been managing a community forest licence on the west side of the lake since 2002 that is slightly larger, yielding 55,000 cubic metres, as well as another smaller licensed tenure near the one announced this week.
It includes 9,000 hectares in a 16,000-ha area that is a traditional trapping area for the WFN, he said, and includes the area around Two John Lake, Derickson Lake, Mount Moore, Jubilee Mountain and St. Margaret Lake, near the Graystokes.
Louie said the forest licence is a proud step toward self-sufficiency for the band.
In addition to the jobs and economic spinoffs there will be for the whole community and region, Louie said the band also brings its knowledge of the importance of protecting wildlife, plants and water resources in the area.
“We are careful and prudent and take care of all things that form a part of our lands,” he commented.
The licence is a 15-year replaceable forest licence, which means it is likely to be renewed at the end of the 15 years, in perpetuity.
That allows the band more certainty on the tenured land, and ensures good stewardship.
“We take silviculture seriously as well as wildlife. We’ve been managing the land with the needs of streams, lakes, plants all considered. Stewardship is extremely important,” commented Louie.
This is the first such licence awarded to a first nations band in the Okanagan Timber Supply Area, noted Thomson, but it is part of an ongoing plan to improve access to forest tenures for first nations people in the province.
The industry has gone through one of the most difficult downturns in its history, but “we’ve built new markets and now we’re seeing a very positive outlook,” he commented.
Gill said in the coming year a forest stewardship plan will be created, cut blocks planned out and when that’s completed, cutting will begin.
The licence is the result of years of effort involving members of the band and the provincial government.