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Fort Nelson says “use it or lose it” on pulpwood agreement

FORT NELSON, B.C. – The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality says that it wants a pulpwood agreement that is not being used according to its original terms and conditions to be terminated by the provincial government.

Fort Nelson, which has been hard-hit by the downturn in the oil & gas industry, says that changes to the BC Forest Act are hampering its efforts to revitalise its forestry industry.

The changes to the Act in 2003 removed provisions that required forest license holders to process wood in the area where it was harvested. The municipality elaborates by saying that these changes, along with the government’s failure to enforce the terms of existing Pulpwood Agreements threatens their economic sustainability.

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Fort Nelson points to the lack of harvesting in two sizeable forest tenures in the Fort Nelson Forest District. Forest License A17007 allows for the harvesting of 553,000 m3, and Pulpwood Agreement #14 allows for 610,000 m3 of harvested wood. Neither has seen any activity since 2008, when the PolarBoard OSB Mill and the Tackama Plywood Mill were closed.

Fort Nelson’s Community Development Officer Mike Gilbert says that the community feels as though the tenure system allows for tenure holders to speculatively “hoard” the timber, instead of harvesting and processing it, or allowing others to do so. Gilbert says that this lack of activity also means a lack of economic activity for Fort Nelson. The Fort Nelson area’s forests have remained relatively untouched by the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation that has spread across the rest of the province. Gilbert added that a number of proponents wishing to operate in the area have raised serious concerns over the potential lack of long-term access to harvestable timber.

Regarding Pulpwood Agreement #14 in particular, Fort Nelson has argued since 2012 that license holder Canfor is not in compliance with the agreement’s terms, which state that the harvested timber must also be processed in the Fort Nelson area. The agreement was granted to support the operation of the Fort Nelson PolarBoard OSB facility, and stipulates that tenure only exists as long as that mill continues to function, which it hasn’t for eight years. Canfor previously announced that the mill has been closed permanently.

Minister Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson acknowledged that “the tenure holder’s Pulpwood Agreement (PA14) is in non-compliance at this time” in a letter to the Regional Municipality on March 9, 2016. Gilbert says that Minister Thomson stated that while the agreement would not be renewed, it would also not be terminated until its expiry on  December 31, 2019. T

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Northern Rockies Mayor Bill Streeper stated in a letter to Minister Thomson on October 11, 2016  that:

“… you have the authority to take steps to cancel PA14 and free up 610,000 m3 of timber. The failure to cancel PA14 is contrary to the statutory mandate applicable to pulpwood agreements. It is in recognition of the dire situation facing our community that the NRRM must consider the option of a legal challenge…”

Fort Nelson wants previous changes to the BC Forest Act regarding tenure to be changed, and for terms and conditions of existing Pulpwood Agreements to be more stringently enforced. The municipality also wants to see those changes have greater local and First Nations involvement, flexibility and adaptability to changing realities, and have rewards for innovation and investment that leads towards economic diversification.