Finding market for unwanted low-grade wood builds thriving log export trade for British Columbia's Coast Tsimshian Resources, paying out a total of C$330,000 in first dividends to members of Lax Kw'alaams first nations

NANAIMO, British Columbia , December 24, 2010 () – Almost 1,000 people filed into the community centre in the isolated coastal first nations village of Lax Kw'alaams recently to pick up the first dividend cheques to be issued by their own wholly owned forest company, Coast Tsimshian Resources.

There were a lot of happy faces, Chief Counsellor Garry Reese said of the occasion. Reese is also chairman of Coast Tsimshian and was on hand for the day. The company handed out almost $100,000 in dividend payments.

"We are paying out $100 a member, and that's for every man, woman and child," Reese said in a telephone interview from the Lax Kw'alaams band office. "I think our people are quite pleased."

The band's total membership is 3,300, living mostly in Vancouver, or nearby Prince Rupert, about 1,000 kilometres northwest of Vancouver. By the time all the cheques have been sent out, Coast Tsimshian will have paid out $330,000 in dividends. That's not bad for a company that many were saying would fail only six years ago, when it acquired timber rights in a bankruptcy sale from one-time pulp and sawmilling giant Skeena Cellulose.

"We've come a long way since we first started harvesting in our first year, when we harvested only 15,000 cubic metres a year. This year we are probably going to be doing 750,000 cubic metres," said Reese.

Lax Kw'alaams, formerly called Port Simpson, is located on an isolated peninsula north of Prince Rupert and for most of the last 100 years, it has been economically depressed.

Now, Coast Tsimshian is the northwest's largest company, employing 200 people in logging, trucking, debarking and longshoring. With the nearest sawmill located at Smithers, there's no demand locally for the timber. High-grade logs like cedar go to mills along Metro Vancouver's Fraser River waterfront.

The rest is exported, mostly to Asia.

Lax Kw'alaams has based its success on finding a market for wood nobody else wanted: Low-grade hemlock and balsam that blankets much of the landscape of the tree farm licences.

Coast Tsimshian opened a trade office in Beijing, installed a log debarker at Prince Rupert's industrial park and the freighters began arriving, taking the wood nobody else could afford to process to China.

The first shipload of logs to China arranged wholly by Coast Tsimshiam, left Prince Rupert recently carrying 30,000 cubic metres of timber, brought in $4 million, Reese said.

The success of the company is attracting interest provincewide. At the beginning of December, it received the a B.C. government award as the province's top community-owned aboriginal business.

Reese said people once described Lax Kw'alaams as a village at the end of a forgotten road. It's not forgotten any more.

"Coast Tsimshian has had a positive impact," said Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem. "This business of low-grade species log export wasn't here two years ago."

Mussallem said China's low labour rates have made it profitable to mill the low-grade wood overseas.

"People don't like log exports. They have always said when you export logs you export jobs," said Mussallem. "But from our point of view it is good."

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