Les Leyne: ’Namgis logging deal seen as triple win

Les Leyne mugshot genericA new angle was introduced Friday in one of the many stalled treaty negotiations with B.C. First Nations. It funds logging operations on proposed settlement lands even before a treaty is signed.

The government announced a forestry-fund agreement with the ’Namgis First Nation, near Alert Bay, that involves logging in the Nimpkish Valley. It provides the ’Namgis with payments of several hundred thousand dollars a year based on logging in the region.

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It’s described as an “innovative” deal that is the first agreement to transfer benefits from proposed treaty-settlement lands in advance of an actual treaty.

The ’Namgis got to the agreement-in-principle stage of the treaty process two years ago, but the deal was rejected. It left the long-term logging on the settlement lands in some doubt. Western Forest Products has tree-farm licences in the area and has been logging, but harvesting on the proposed settlement land within the licences had been effectively frozen for the past few years.

The deal was portrayed as offsetting forestry revenues that would be lost to the First Nation due to harvesting prior to concluding a final treaty. It was described as a collaborative effort to balance WFP’s interests with the goal of advancing reconciliation with the ’Namgis, by protecting forestry jobs and the interests of the band. The funding will be to a maximum of $11.5 million.

It includes a cash incentive to sign a treaty. Funding will flow based on harvest volumes, up to $400,000 a year until the ’Namgis and the provincial and federal governments conclude a new agreement in principle is signed. The upper limit increases to $600,000 a year until a final treaty is signed, with a five-year limit.

’Namgis Chief Debra Hanuse issued a statement saying it represents an early flow of benefits from land within their traditional territory. The First Nation has several business interests underway, including a land-based fish farm.

They are also concluding a separate deal with WFP on logging on the lands in question that involves a limited partnership and sharing of revenues.

The provincial funding announced Friday represents the revenue the ’Namgis would have received if it were logged exclusively by the band after a treaty.

The ’Namgis claim 21,000 hectares of territory, and about 17,000 hectares of it is covered by tree-farm licences held by WFP. The company said it is pleased to partner in the ground-breaking agreement. The certainty will allow for investment in mills, now that log supply is assured.

It looks like an undeniably good deal for the 1,600-member First Nation. They get half the revenue from a joint-venture logging operation on land they are claiming in treaty negotiations. And they’ll effectively get the other half of the revenue from the B.C. government, on the assumption they’ll eventually have full control of the land under a treaty.

B.C. has concluded dozens of interim deals with individual bands while the main treaty talks inch along year by year with little or no progress. This one looks to be unique in that it assumes a treaty well in advance of a signing, and pays out accordingly. It also departs from the norm of freezing resource development in settlement lands until deals are signed.

It was described as a triple-win on Friday. The ’Namgis win a steady revenue stream from both the government and their logging operation with WFP.

The band also has a legal opinion that the deal would have no effect on any title case for outright ownership of the land that might develop. The company gets a sizable new log supply that could amount to about 100,000 cubic metres of timber a year. And the government gets the tax benefit of increased economic activity, and the goodwill associated with a good relationship.

The government and the First Nations leadership are still arguing about the import of the 2014 Tsilhqot’in court victory, where that Cariboo First Nation won outright title to 1,750 square kilometres.

It introduced more uncertainty into the treaty process.

B.C. now looks at side-deals like the one announced Friday on the basis that any deal is better than no deal.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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