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Rural communities vie to be sustainable licence holders

Frustration is mounting as three communities vie to be the new sustainable licence holders (SFL) for the Crown land surrounding Marathon , Manitouwadge and Pic River . Competition is fierce and other organizations are jockeying for the same spot.
Granting approval for Crown land harvesting will allow northwestern communities to develop value added initiatives. (Photo supplied)

Frustration is mounting as three communities vie to be the new sustainable licence holders (SFL) for the Crown land surrounding Marathon, Manitouwadge and Pic River.

Competition is fierce and other organizations are jockeying for the same spot. The three communities want to form an equal working partnership that would see new forestry initiatives sprout in the region.

Other organizations both private and public have also put in a proposal to obtain the same Crown lands, one a bankrupt company, said Byron LeClair, economic development officer with Pic River First Nation.

In his view it is "bizarre" to think the same organization that has had an opportunity to do it right the first time and didn’t, is asking for another kick at the can.

"I cannot see those same parties going back to the province and saying ‘give us back the forest, we think we have a great idea for it’ because those ideas have not worked in the past. They have had their chance and ultimately it is the local communities that bear the brunt of the economic cost for their failures."

The collective forest suffers in the long run when stumpage dues are not paid or replanting has not been done, he said, adding that the province's past response was to give them more of the forest.

"To me the whole system leading up to the restructuring of the tenure has been government-blessed corporate theft."

Pic River worked with companies in four or five units for more than 30 years but has not been an SFL holder. Still, the community took part in renewable projects. They submitted the bills to the SFL holder who had been paid by the province for their work but that same SFL holder refused to pay Pic River back their share of financial compensation. The injustice is an "ultimate slap in the face," said LeClair. To see the same companies come back to the province and say they are going to look out for community interest, he "doesn't buy it."

So, the three communities believe they have a better recipe for the region; one that includes a three-way equal partnership that could attract more investment, include agriculture projects, and value-added biomass components. It all hinges on wood access.

The restructuring of the tenure system has brought new players to the table, LeClair said.

"Forest must remain in control of the local communities. Who is going to care about the local forest more than the residents?"

Pic River is hiring a forester immediately to jump on some initiatives and has asked for an extension on their tenure proposal. They are still awaiting word if it has been granted.

"We waited this long, what’s another six months if we are going to do it right?"

All three parties are staying pretty tight lipped as to what they would use the fibre for.

Daryl Skworchinski, economic development officer with Marathon says the shuttered Marathon Mill could be upgraded to be a bio-based facility simply due to the infrastructure that is already in place. They have had interest from investors who are "a little more than tire kickers."

Manitouwadge economic development officer Dave Raymond said they will be scouting for investors once they are deemed SFL holders. Pic River, a progressive First Nation community of 964, has three hydroelectric generating stations in its stable with Umbata (25 megawatts) on the White River, 13.5 megawatts on the Black River and now Twin Falls on the Pic River system. Another $400 million worth of renewable energy projects in various stages of development are ongoing as of June 2009.

The Ministry Northern Development, Mines and Forestry is not disclosing any information on the proposals currently being accepted for the use of about 11 million cubic metres of wood.

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