The Fort Nelson First Nation says it is “on the doorstep” of a new forest economy in the Northern Rockies region after securing what it calls a “major forestry tenures commitment” from the provincial government.
In a news release Wednesday, the First Nation said the provincial forests ministry has offered a number of forest licenses amounting to 1.26 million cubic metres of timber a year, “making it one of the largest forest tenures commitments ever made to a First Nation in history.”
The First Nation says the licenses, committed to in a July 2022 letter from government, are to enable to the construction and operations of a new pellet plant in partnership with Peak Renewables.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime for our people,” Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale said in a statement.
“We have worked hard to bring this tenures commitment home. With these licences, we are on the doorstep of creating a viable forest economy in our territory that will bring lasting benefits to our people and everyone in our territory for generations.”
The tenures in the Fort Nelson Timber Supply Area will be subject to the First Nation’s land management framework, “applied to long-term (minimum 20 year) forest plans,” according to the release.
In a provided backgrounder, the First Nation says the global demand for wood pellets is expected to double in the next eight years, and which grew “at an annualized rate of about 1.66 million metric tonnes per year from 2010 through 2021.”
However, it adds that the current rail line between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John “is not operating at a standard” to service the project, with between $60 million to $75 million required in upgrades.
“With the delivery of fibre commitments from the Ministry of Forests, our pellet facility project has huge momentum,” Gale continued.
“Now, the very last piece of the puzzle is a commercially viable rail transportation option. In order for the forest opportunities to be realised, we need both the provincial and federal governments to unlock this opportunity by making a direct investment in the railway upgrade - doing so will be a recognition of our governments’ commitment to UNDRIP and true economic reconciliation.”
The First Nation estimates would create more than 1000 jobs, including 224 during railway upgrades, 400+ during pellet plant, terminal and transload facility construction, 32 for railway operations over 30 years, 73 in pellet plant operations over 30 years, and 350 in forestry operations such as harvesting and hauling.
The First Nation says "$12.6 billion in oil and gas royalties and tenure sales" have been taken out of the region and its traditional territory since 1974.
“The needed capital is a fraction of the wealth that has been taken from our land,” Gale continued. “Without a contribution from B.C. and Canada, this once in a generation opportunity will be lost. The survival of our community depends on it.”
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