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Sound Logging

Five First Nations bands have joined with MacMillan Bloedel in a joint venture that is scheduled to start logging in the controversial Clayoquot Sound area this coming summer.


By Paul MacDonald
Copyright 1998. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Larry Baird, chief councillor of the Ucluelet First Nation, part of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, has an interesting comparison to make when he talks about the council's joint venture with MacMillan Bloedel to carry out logging in the controversial Clayoquot Sound area on Vancouver Island.

"It's like having a shower down at BC Place with no curtains on, and the entire stadium is full," he says. "The eyes of the world are going to be on Clayoquot Sound and they are going to be watching us." Baird and the five central region bands that make up the council - and MacMillan Bloedel - obviously feel they are up to the challenge of finding an acceptable way of logging in an area that became a flashpoint for environmental protests in the early 1990s.

Environmental considerations will be of high importance in developing the management plan for the Sound, but Baird and the First Nations groups he represents are firm on one point-there will be logging in the Clayoquot.

"For environmentalists to say 'there will be no logging' puts our members and our bands at a distinct disadvantage," he says. "There will be logging in Clayoquot Sound. It will be done in an acceptable way, but make no doubt about it that we intend to carry out logging operations."

Clayoquot Sound gained national and world-wide attention when environmentalists protested logging in the area, resulting in hundreds of arrests in 1993. Bowing to intense political pressure, the BC government set up the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel, which has since outlined stringent regulations governing harvesting in the Sound.

Interfor has continued to harvest about 60,000 cubic metres a year at its Tree Farm Licence 54, which is primarily within Clayoquot Sound. MacMillan Bloedel, which used to be a major presence in the area, has curtailed its activities, however. MB closed its remaining Kennedy Lake operations in nearby Ucluelet early in 1998, setting the stage for the start of the joint venture.

Bill Cafferata, chief forester for MB, notes that there has been a "fair amount of conflict" over the issue of logging in Clayoquot Sound.

"There will be a lot of pressure on this joint venture to perform in terms of meeting environmental standards," he says. "We want to make sure we build credibility with the special-interest groups."

While MB brings a lot of forestry expertise to the joint venture, Cafferata says it will be looking to its joint venture partners, the First Nations Bands, for assistance in addressing the shifting expectations the public has about forests.

"People used to be concerned mostly with wealth creation, such as the amount of cubic metres harvested from the forest," he explains. "Now they are looking at other values, including spiritual and cultural values, and we feel our partners can assist us with that."

It's been close to two years since MB and the First Nations groups announced they had reached agreement on establishing the joint venture to operate in the Clayoquot.

Larry Baird says it has taken time to pull together the joint venture's business plan, and he expects to see loggers in the Sound by June 1999. He points out that the operation will not be what is viewed as a traditional West Coast logging show.

"We think we can operate differently, both on the logging side and perhaps, down the road, on the marketing and manufacturing side," says Baird.

"It will not be logging as the traditional West Coast industry has known logging," he adds. "Mere will be many different components to it." And how. Baird points to the 126 Science Panel recommendations that have to be considered in putting together the forest management plan. "I would describe the approach we're taking to it as innovative and creative. A lot of the harvesting is initially going to be done by helicopter."

Helicopter

Heli-logging is initially going to be the main harvestubg netgid fir tge Ckayoquot joint venture company, says First Nations Councillor Larry Baird, pictured below.

Larry Baird

In order to have the products that will be manufactured from the Clayoquot Sound timber accepted world-wide - some companies may be anxious about selling the product considering the storms of protest over logging in the area - the logging has to be done in a sustainable manner.

While the specifics have yet to be worked out, the harvesting methods being used - aside from the helicopter logging - will have to pass some pretty tough scrutiny as a result. The operation will be reviewing skyline logging systems to minimize ground disturbance, says Baird. They will also be looking at using smaller-scale logging trucks rather than the large off-road trucks so familiar to West Coast operations.

Those trucks are as familiar to Baird as his home town of Ucluelet, just down the way from Clayoquot Sound. Baird has spent 30 years in logging, first as a hook tender getting logs off the hillside and more recently as a logging truck driver at MacMillan Bloedel's operation in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. With that background, he comes at this task from a unique perspective.

"I know from first-hand experience that it's the breaking up of the ground that creates a lot of the disturbance of the soils and we will be taking that into consideration in determining how we are going to log."

In terms of the overall operation, Baird is adamant that the joint venture is not just some lame business venture to employ band members. The First Nations groups do eventually want to arrive at the point where a large percentage of the people doing the logging, and associated work for the company, are First Nations individuals.

Unemployment on the reserves in the area ranges from a low, if you can call it that, of 65 per cent to as high as 80 per cent. "What is in place now is a program of institutional welfare," says Baird. "We have to break that cycle and get things to the point where people have a job to go to."

Getting to that point may take a few years, but that's fine with Baird, as long as they are making progress towards that goal. "There are a lot of skills and expertise in running a forestry operation that you don't just learn overnight. But our plan is to put 150 people through training over the next three to five years and integrate them into our work-force." In the meantime, the company will be drawing on the skills of the non-native community and its partner, MB.

In addition to being a part of the First Nations group guiding the joint venture, Baird is also involved in treaty negotiations for the region. Timber rights are definitely on the agenda, he says. "When we sit down at the negotiating table, we want to talk about fibre because we want to run our own logging operations."

The joint venture company has been working to develop an attitude of trust among the Clayoquot interested parties, including environmentalists. "We have made it clear to these groups that we will not over-cut and we will be working within the regulations that have been set out."

While the company is the minority partner with a 49 per cent interest in the venture, MacMillan Bloedel has an important role to play. "They have world-wide markets and a marketing network that is already established. We don't have that and we don't have the resources to set that up," says Baird.

But there is also an exit clause to the joint venture agreement - the bands have the option of buying out MB. Should that happen, the joint venture may still want to work closely with the forestry giant, considering the marketing links that will have been set up, and MB's clout in the marketplace.

The company will be working to capitalize on those markets, whatever and wherever they may be. Baird notes they are working with environmental groups to target specific markets - Europe may be one - that have a specific interest in purchasing wood products from native land. There is even discussion of having a separate form of certification, " First Nations Certification".

In the future, there may also be opportunity for the company to take things further downstream, and set up its own manufacturing facility. While secondary manufacturing is not in any agreement, Baird says it is clearly in the picture.

"That's some ways out, though," he says. "We know we are going to have our hands full running a profitable forest company and we want to do that well. We want to learn from MB and other companies and make use of their expertise and do things right.

"We'll concentrate on that and at some point down the road, we can move on to the discussion of whether there is any merit to building a mill."

The joint venture is part of what Baird sees as the prep-work for the ongoing native land negotiations. "We're not waiting for a treaty to be signed. By the time the treaty rolls around, we'll have been in business for a number of years."

Baird admits that while the joint venture may be a step forward, there are likely to be some stubbed toes along the way. "We'll have our successes and our failures, but we'll learn from those. We will be on our way to employing more of our people."

At the end of the day, they will be harvesting the timber in the Clayoquot at sustainable levels, says Baird "We'd love to make a whole pile of money, but we're not going to do that at the expense of the resource. We're going to take a long look at how we can make money and invest that money and how best to utilize the resource.

"It's not like we do not want to make a profit. And we're not out there to create jobs for the sake of creating jobs. This business has to be viable. If we need to employ 40 people, we're going to employ 40 people, there won't be people hanging around. We'll use the expertise of MacBlo and a blend of the expertise of First Nations people and how we see things. But we're going to operate in a business-like manner."


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