Iisaak: A New Economic Model for Conservation-Based Forestry in Coastal Old Growth Forests, B.C

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

During the 1970's public concern began to build regarding industrial forestry operations on western Vancouver Island. In 1979, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) was asked by its member First Nations to address the declining employment of First Nations in the forest sector, and the damage poor logging practices were causing to fisheries and other resources. In the mid1980's concern focused on Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound, when Tofino residents organized a boat blockade of Meares Island. The Tla-O-Qui-Aht and Ahousaht Nations declared the Island a Tribal Park.

In 1993 opposition to logging in Clayoquot Sound led to widespread civil disobedience and the arrests of over 800 people for blockading logging operations. In reaction to the controversy, the provincial government established the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel, composed of scientists and representatives of First Nations, with a mandate to recommend special forest practices appropriate for the area. The Scientific Panel submitted a series of groundbreaking reports in the spring of 1995.

In the interim (March 1994) the provincial government and the five First Nations of the Nuuchah-nulth Central Regions, located in the Sound, signed the historic Interim Measures Agreement, which established joint management of their traditional territories until current treaty negotiations are completed. The Central Region Board (CRB), a unique board with equal aboriginal and non-aboriginal membership, was created as a bridge to treaty. One responsibility of the CRB is to promote sustainability in Clayoquot Sound. Meetings began at this time to discuss the possibility of a joint venture between MacMillan Bloedel, holder of one of the Tree Farm Licenses in Clayoquot Sound, and the five First Nations.

In April 1996 the Clayoquot Interim Measures Agreement was extended, notably with a commitment by MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. and the five First Nations in Clayoquot Sound to examine creating a joint Venture forest company. The declared purpose of the venture was to not only conduct forestry and logging operations consistent with the Scientific Panel recommendations, but seek to make Clayoquot Sound the leading global example of ecologically-sensitive harvesting techniques to maintain old-growth attributes and biodiversity.

In 1998 MacMillan Bloedel closed its logging division in Clayoquot Sound, resulting in the loss of over 100 jobs in the Ucluelet area, and significant impacts on the local community. The company worked with Forest Renewal B.C. to partially mitigate those impacts, but the employment and economic losses were nonetheless substantial.

From 1997 through 1999 the Central Region First Nations and MacMillan Bloedel pursued the development of the new joint venture. The CRFN formed Ma-Mook Natural Resources Limited (MNR) to represent their collective economic interests, while MacMillan Bloedel undertook the transfer of the Clayoquot Sound portion of their Tree Farm License 44 into a new TFL to be held by the joint venture. In 1998 both parties entered into a shareholders agreement detailing terms of the partnership. The First Nations ownership interest is assigned through the agreement with Ma-Mook Development Corporation, a subsidiary of MNRL. The parties selected the name "Iisaak", which means "respect" in the Nuu-chah-nulth language.

In July 1999 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd. and: Greenpeace Canada, Greenpeace International, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club of BC and Western Canada Wilderness Committee. In September 1999 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Iisaak Forest Resources and community interests and displaced forest workers in Ucluelet.

In November 1999 Weyerhaeuser Company purchased MacMillan Bloedel, creating the Weyerhaeuser BC Coastal Group out of MB's former BC operations and pledged to honour the commitments made by MB in Clayoquot. …