Huu-ay-aht First Nations and Western Forest Products (WFP) are waiting for approval from the provincial government before closing a transfer of ownership interest for the tree farm licence located on Huu-ay-aht traditional territory.
Earlier this year, WFP and Huu-ay-aht reached a $36.2 million agreement that would give Huu-ay-aht a majority ownership interest in Tree Farm Licence 44 (TFL 44) Limited Partnership. The licence was issued by the provincial government to harvest trees in the area, which overlaps with Huu-ay-aht’s traditional territory. The Huu-ay-aht are one of 14 First Nations whose traditional territories fall within TFL 44.
The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) board of directors expressed support for the transfer during a board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 9.
Nathan Hume, lawyer for Huu-ay-aht First Nations and Huumiis Ventures, appeared before the board on Wednesday to talk about the project. The transaction, he explained, is fundamentally about reconciliation and forestry revitalization.
“This transaction builds on a strong positive history between Huu-ay-aht and Western, including a reconciliation protocol the two parties signed in 2018,” he said.
After this protocol was signed, Huu-ay-aht formed a special investment body (Huumiis Ventures) and acquired a seven percent interest in TFL 44. In March of this year, Huumiis announced that it was going to take a majority interest (51 percent) in TFL 44, as well as seven percent interest in the Alberni Pacific Division (APD) sawmill through a newly formed limited partnership with Western.
The transaction was agreed upon in March, but it is subject to certain conditions before closing. It must receive approval from Huu-ay-aht citizens, as well as approval from the provincial government. Hume asked the ACRD board on Wednesday for a letter of support from the ACRD to the provincial government.
Hume explained that there will be “no structural change” in the way business is operated at APD or TFL 44.
“Western will remain a significant minority interest holder in the tree farm licence and will remain a majority owner of the APD sawmill,” he said. “Huu-ay-aht will be playing more of a role, but Western will remain deeply involved. This is an ongoing relationship, not the end of Western’s involvement here.”
Huu-ay-aht First Nations, he said, is committed to balancing protection of the environment and growth of the economy when it comes to this transfer.
“This is their traditional territory,” he said. “They want to see this business succeed but they also need to see the territory recover from what it’s endured over the last couple of generations. Huu-ay-aht has a strong focus on sustainability and environmental protection, and old growth protection in particular. At the same time, TFL44 will be able to draw upon Western’s know-how, Western’s long-term investments and its own systems and inventory.”
Long Beach director Kel Roberts expressed concern about log exports, but Hume reiterated that the harvest will remain mostly the same as WFP’s existing operations.
“APD remains a major consumer of the harvest from the TFL, as do other Western mills in the region,” he said. “I do know that Western wants this wood, Western needs this wood and Western will continue to use this wood.”
Directors agreed unanimously on Wednesday to send a letter of support to the provincial government.
“Everybody seems to be very supportive of this,” said City of Port Alberni director Debbie Haggard.
Board chair and Huu-ay-aht First Nations councillor John Jack recused himself from both the discussion and decision on Wednesday.