A look at the recent work and involvement of the FNFC with regard to MPB management, Forests for Tomorrow, Timber Tenure Management and creating employment and advancing First Nations participation in the forestry sector.
When the Mountain pine Beetle epidemic was identified by the land and resource managers of BC the ability for the forest sector to respond and mitigate impacts was a call to action that has played a significant role in the transformation of the forest sector in BC. First Nations leaders engaged with the province and the federal government to ensure their communities were contributing to mitigation efforts and together the forest sector embarked on comprehensive MPB Programs including the Forests For Tomorrow project.
In 2005 it was agreed that First Nations would be included in the mitigation efforts and the Mountain Pine Beetle Working Group, an initial organizing body, was transformed into the First Nations Forestry Council, a non-profit society put in place by the First Nations leaders of BC to support First Nations affected by the MPB epidemic. First Nations received resources and organized community- based priority setting.
The priorities identified five years ago remain the driving priorities today. Unfortunately, adequate resources to mitigate priority issues have limited full implementation of the strategies and as such leave communities at risk. The top priority, as you could imagine, is the fuel-management issue created by dead and dying pine trees around communities. The secondary priorities include economic revitalization through new concepts such as bio-energy as well as the need for ecosystem and cultural restoration of the devastated lands.
We continue to work towards making communities safe, however, the cost of implementing treatment prescriptions (clearing fuel from around buildings and communities) is uneconomic. Such significant cost items have no place in today’s struggling economy and we continue to search for the magical bio-energy solution so we can remove all the fuel that surrounds communities.
The FNFC quickly became of relevance to all First Nations communities in BC as growing participation in interim accommodation agreements (treaty related agreements) that included forest tenure, clearly supported the need for a group like the FNFC.
FORESTS FOR TOMORROW
The need for restoration after the MPB epidemic drew significant attention to the issue of planting or natural reforestation and the silviculture prescriptions related to salvage operations within the impacted areas. Initial commitments for silviculture efforts included the Forests For Tomorrow program where major projects were offered to qualified contractors. First Nations were included in this process thorough a loose arrangement that requested the contractors try and include First Nations.
The Forests For Tomorrow program has been re-classified, like many MFLNRO programs, due to the massive reduction in government budgets. FFT programming can now be found in the Land Based Investment Strategy. MPB funding from Ottawa disappeared and investments in reforestation has become low priority as economic uncertainty is the new epidemic of most concern.
TIMBER TENURE MANAGEMENT
The New Relationship with the province has made available tenure opportunities for over 160 communities who currently hold harvesting rights in excess of 12 million cubic meters per year. This access is primarily short term 5 year non-replaceable forest licenses and includes a significant share of MPB uplift volume. The opportunity is staggering and unfortunately continues to be under-utilized.
Although this access to tenure seems like a good opportunity, the current forest sector economics and additional barriers unique to the aboriginal forestry sector are making this an extremely challenging venture.
The Forest Sector like other resource sectors in Canada and BC is facing a labour shortfall over the coming decade.
The demographics of First Nations communities clearly show a tremendous opportunity for linking supply with demand. The challenges of incorporating aboriginal people and merging the work force of tomorrow are varied and very difficult to resolve. The failure to adequately engage with First Nations in the past FFT program highlights the challenge in silviculture. As well, the lack of partnership companies and progress in tenure management clearly shows the continued struggle to build co-management in the forest sector.
First Nations values are based on caring and respect for the lands. Although economic challenges and cultural differences remain ongoing issues, as government-to-government discussions clarify title and rights, the First Nations Forestry Council is striving to build bridges in advancing First Nations participation in the sector and the ability to incorporate the many years of land based traditional knowledge into modern best practices for healthy forests.