Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister called for First Nations management of the Whiskey Jack Forest during the Feb. 4-5 First Nations Forestry Summit in Thunder Bay.
“We’re willing to explore the possibility of three First Nations, including us, Waubaskang and Whitefish Bay, to see if we can get the SFL (Sustainable Forest Licence) and manage the forest under our own terms and conditions,” Fobister said on the second day of the summit.
“We clearly informed the (Natural Resources) minister of our objection to their FMP (Forest Management Plan). We want to manage the forest in a way that is sustainable and protects our values as well.”
Fobister said some areas identified for clearcuts in the Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan 2012-2022 are adjacent to previous clearcuts.
“So it’s going to look like a larger clearcut,” Fobister said. “Some areas have not been tree planted and (in) some areas the land has been damaged to a point where it can’t grow anything anymore — it’s just brown grass.”
Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti said there are nine First Nations groups with an interest in the Whiskey Jack Forest.
“So it can’t just be about three First Nation groups,” Orazietti said. “It’s got to be about all of the First Nations in the area. And I think it is also about folks who have an interest in the area — communities and the businesses that are relying on the fibre in the area.”
Orazietti would prefer to see an Enhanced Sustainable Forest Licence model developed for the Whiskey Jack Forest.
“It would definitely give greater say and control and management to the First Nations in the area of the Whiskey Jack in partnership with other groups that have interests and other stakeholders that are of interest to that particular region,” Orazietti said. “For five years now there has not been any wood flowing off their traditional territory and this is a real economic disadvantage to the people in these First Nations.”
Orazietti said the harvest levels in the Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan are well below the “high-water mark” of 5,000 hectares per year that used to be harvested in the forest.
“We’re less than a 1,000 hectares this year,” Orazietti said. “And we’re down to, as far as
2014-15 goes, we’re down to .001 of the total forested area of the Whiskey Jack in terms of harvest.”
Orazietti said the proposed harvest levels are “well below” the potential for harvests in the Whiskey Jack Forest.
“I want to see people that live there in these communities benefit for generations to come,” Orazietti said. “I don’t want to see this to be a 10-year, 20-year short endeavor where there’s overharvesting and there is not adequate silviculture and reforestation.”
Grassy Narrows rejected the Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan in December when they raised concerns about the impacts of the clearcut logging on “much of what little mature forest remains” on their traditional territory and the potential elevation of mercury levels in fish due to clearcut logging.
The First Nations Forestry Summit was organized by the Independent First Nations Alliance to provide an opportunity for First Nations to talk about their vision of forestry.
Lac Seul presented a history of logging in their area as well as an update on how they are getting involved in forest opportunities.
“We manage the Lac Seul Forest — it’s about a million hectares,” said Lac Seul Chief Clifford Bull. “We were able to negotiate with Domtar a wood supply agreement over two years.”
Bull said a wood allocation from the Lac Seul Forest was also provided to the McKenzie Lumber Incorporated sawmill in Hudson, which is located across the lake from Lac Seul’s Frenchman’s Head community.
“They were able to start their mill with one shift at the moment, and we are hoping to get another shift going early this spring,” Bull said. “We roughly have about 25 people at the sawmill now. It’s a good story to tell — the forest industry is starting to slowly come back.”
Whitesand First Nation provided a presentation on plans to develop a community sustainability initiative involving a co-generation wood pellet sawmill.
“We are currently working on a co-gen pellet plant sawmill for our community which is slated to begin construction either this summer or mid-fall,” said Clifford Tibishkogijig, Whitesand’s economic development officer.
The summit also featured the challenges and opportunities for First Nations in the forestry sector, a legal opinion on the First Nations relationship with provincial and federal governments regarding forestry issues and discussions on forest stewardship.
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