Donaldson says forest tenure in Fort Nelson area could be made available if new mill owners come forward

Peace River North MLA Dan Davies questioning Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson about the Ministry's plans for timber rights in the Fort Nelson area. Photo credit: B.C. Legislature

FORT NELSON, B.C. — B.C. Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson says that arrangements can be made for local timber rights to help the struggling economy in the Fort Nelson area.

Peace River North MLA Dan Davies questioned Donaldson in the Legislature on Tuesday about his meetings with Davies and officials from the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality during the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Vancouver at the end of September. Davies asked Donaldson specifically about the situation regarding timber rights in the Fort Nelson area, specifically those that have been under-utilized.

Back on September 7th, the Forest Practices Board announced that it was auditing Canfor’s practices pertaining to forest license A17007, which is located in the Fort Nelson Timber Supply Area. Fort Nelson mayor Bill Streeper said that his community is asking the provincial government to examine reasons why there are no available forest tenures, and how those can be arranged in order to help rejuvenate the local economy.

Streeper said that there are currently two Canadian investors that have surveyed Canfor’s PolarBoard OSB mill in Fort Nelson with the possibility of purchasing the mill and reopening it, however he added that neither the mill’s current owner nor the prospective investors have said anything about a potential deal. Streeper also said that he and a staff member travelled to China several weeks ago to speak with another prospective investor whose primary concern is the availability of obtaining a cut license in the area.

Donaldson told Davies when questioned in the legislature that his Ministry would be available to discuss fibre supply if a prospective investor came forward with a business plan. The full Hansard transcript and a link video of the exchange can be found below.

D. Davies: Just switching up a little bit into a forestry question. Northern Rockies and Fort Nelson have been hit extremely hard in the local economy: first of all, forestry — Fort Nelson, in 2006, was the forest capital of British Columbia; that has since gone — and now, most recently, the natural gas industry.

I know that there were a number of meetings during the recent UBCM — speaking with government. Actually, I think the town met with you and myself. I think we had a meeting. There was obviously pledging to assist the community in any way possible to move them into some sort of economic relief with, certainly, a belief that forestry is probably the best of all of these options for them to move into some economic strength.

So kind of a two-part question. The first is: looking forward, what does the plan look like for government and your ministry moving forward to assist them moving toward having a viable forest sector? Secondly, I’m sure that you’re aware that a lot of the timber rights are tied up in Northern Rockies. What is the plan to work with that issue to try and resolve the timber rights and to kind of get a forest industry started in Northern Rockies?

Hon. D. Donaldson: To the member, I really welcome the synopsis and the question that he posed in these budget estimates, because there’s lots to be done in forestry. Some of it is much longer term — we’re talking about growing trees and things like that — but then there are other opportunities that present themselves.

The one he is describing, I believe, is an opportunity that could well become a reality in a shorter time frame than some of the other projects that are around the province, which would be fantastic. As he described, we met together with the Northern Rockies municipal district — I believe that’s their proper term; really, the Fort Nelson people — and municipal council there. He mentioned that in 2006, it was the forestry capital of B.C., in that yearly thing. In the last ten years, there’s been a decline in that kind of activity in the Fort Nelson area. The mayor described how some property values have decreased by 40 percent. That’s hard for anybody to take, and it’s an unbelievable number.

From that meeting, we made it clear that if there is a viable business opportunity, our senior staff are made available to speak with the investors, to speak with Fort Nelson about potential fibre supply for that. We’re really anxious and keen to hear from the investors about their potential business investment.

As well, I met with the Fort Nelson band. I believe it was yesterday. The Northern Rockies municipal district was fully aware how important it is with partnerships with local First Nations. The Fort Nelson band is also interested in partnerships, so that builds an incredibly positive picture for potential fibre. Like I say, we’ve got senior staff on it right now and just looking forward to moving ahead.

D. Davies: Thanks, Minister. Okay, that is good. It’s good to see that there is a bit of plan, moving forward, with the regional municipality of Northern Rockies, I think is the terminology.

Just the one piece that was missed on the question that I’d asked was with the land that is tied up. The timber rights are presently tied up. There was no mention to that. That is one of the big issues right now for getting the industry moving.

From what I understand…. In fact, I believe that you will have a letter landing on your desk today. It’s an invitation from the mayor and council of the Northern Rockies. I think they wrote a letter to you today, inviting you to come up. They have people that are interested in looking at the PolarBoard plant that’s up there that is near turnkey. But the timber rights is where the issue is. I’m just wondering if you can address how the government will be moving forward with those.

Hon. D. Donaldson: Yes, the regional municipality of the Northern Rockies. I want to get that on the record, because I’ll be in trouble with Mayor Streeper if I don’t say that.

Your question about land tied up in timber rights. I believe you’re referring to Canfor and the timber rights held by Canfor. There’s a certain undercut volume there.

What I can say right now is if there’s a buyer for a private enterprise, like the PolarBoard plant, willing to come forward to elaborate on their business plan, then we will be there to discuss fibre supply. Exploring options creatively with First Nations and the community is what we’ve been doing. But I want you to know that I see this as a very win-win situation that we can hopefully get underway, because the people in Fort Nelson deserve those jobs locally.

Video: https://videoarchive.leg.bc.ca/Harmony/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20171018/-1/4832?mediaStartTime=20171017144414&mediaEndTime=20171017145444&viewMode=3

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