The Simpcw First Nation says the North Thompson Valley forest tenure transfer from Canfor to Interfor approved by the B.C. government last week does not have its consent — but an agreement with the band is likely still at the negotiating table.
The province last week announced the transfer of two timber harvesting licenses in the Vavenby area to Interfor for a combined allowable annual cut (AAC) of approximately 349,000 cubic metres per year.
The transfer is a result of Canfor closing its mill in Vavenby, near Clearwater, in July of 2019, leaving about 175 people unemployed.
Interfor will use product harvested under the licences at its Adams Lake sawmill.
Public interest considerations facilitating the deal involve Canfor agreeing to create a $200,000 legacy fund with the District of Clearwater, provide $150,000 over five years to the United Way and give $500,000 to the Wells Gray Community Forest.
Further requirements include Interfor continuing discussions with local manufacturers on purchasing and supply agreements and for the company to work with displaced woodlands employees on employment opportunities.
“Simpcw did not give our free, prior and informed consent to this transaction and cannot comment any further at this time,” band Chief Shelly Loring told KTW via email.
Last year, Loring issued a statement that the transfer wouldn’t go forward unless the band has a role in management of the area forests and that it had an interest in acquiring tenure to grow its forests operations.
While there was no mention of the band in last week’s announcement, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said the Simpcw First Nation is still expected to be considered in the transfer as the recently passed Bill 22 ensures considerations for communities, workers and First Nations alike are reflected.
Donaldson said he was able to approve of the tenure transfer because Simpcw’s submissions to government — that the First Nation be involved in forest management on its lands — was reflected in the proposal between Canfor and Interfor.
“Their interests were taken into account in the decision,” Donaldson told KTW.
Details surrounding what that will look like, however, are still to be discussed between the band and Interfor, which is why they weren’t mentioned in Friday’s announcement.
“I’m looking forward to those arrangements being finalized — and that’s between Simpcw and Interfor,” Donaldson said.
The forests minister said he plans to speak with Loring regarding how the band’s submissions are being considered in granting the tenure transfer and how Simpcw’s talks with Interfor are proceeding.
Ric Slaco, Interfor’s vice-president and chief forester, told KTW via email that he had been in contact with Simpcw last week, requesting to meet. He said he is expecting to hear back from the band soon.
Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell said what was announced last week contained some of the aspects of the transfer, noting the deal will likely be finalized over the next couple of weeks.
“Part of that will probably be an announcement on what Simpcw gets and anybody else that’s involved,” he said, noting his understanding from speaking to those involved is a portion of the forest tenure transfer will be passed along to Simpcw and Wells Gray Community Forest.
“But at this time, all that still has to be dealt with because there’s so many variables,” Blackwell said.
He said the $200,000 legacy fund the District of Clearwater is receiving essentially amounts to four years’ worth of tax dollars it would have received from the Vavenby mill, had Canfor not closed it.