The Northern Rockies has its community forest licence in hand, all it needs now is a mill and manufacturing hub.
The community forest, managed jointly between the Northern Rockies municipality and the Fort Nelson First Nation, allows for annual cut of 217,650 cubic metres per year. It's the province's largest community forest, and long considered a key part of rebooting the region's forestry sector.
“We’re rolling out the red carpet for any companies who want to come and harvest wood," said Fort Nelson Mayor Gary Foster. "The forest is there to benefit the First Nations community and ours."
The municipality and First Nation have worked for the last three years to develop their partnership and secure the community forest licence, formally executed in June.
It’s estimated community forests create one full-time job for every 3,000 cubic metres of wood harvested, with average total sales of $2.3 million in communities with 3,000 people or less.
“What we would really like is to keep this wood for a potential manufacturing facility in Fort Nelson,” said Foster. “Someone who is willing to come and open up a manufacturing facility in Fort Nelson could access that wood.”
Around such a facility, a cluster of companies could be attracted to set up shop, said Regional Development Officer Mike Gilbert, noting the end goal is not limited to one major harvester, but creating opportunities for several smaller players.
“The biggest thing in our favour right now is that we have what others don’t, and what’s going to be called for. It’s a relatively untouched resource,” said Gilbert.
The dominant tree species in the Fort Nelson region are aspen, white spruce, and pine. The area’s boreal forest doesn’t have a lot of pine so it wasn’t affected by the mountain pine beetle the way Interior pine forests were.
Dimensional lumber, oriented strand board, wood pellets, and plywood are a few of the timber products that could be produced.
While no plans with companies have been finalized, Gilbert says it’s only a matter of time.
“When you’re in the bottom of a well, it’s hard to see the daylight, so we’re just trying to climb up that rope right now,” said Gilbert.
Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale could not be reached for comment.
In a news release in June, she said the community forest was a win-win for both communities to own local forestry opportunities.
"We need to keep the benefits of our forest economy local and in our control," Gale said. "It will bring much needed local employment for former oil and gas workers and ensure that this focus continues to be community driven.”
Email reporter Tom Summer at firstname.lastname@example.org.