British Columbia's Tseshaht First Nation signs C$10M settlement over 2004 removal of private land from TFL 44, receives 25-year tenure providing about 40,000 m3/year of timber

PORT ALBERNI, B.C. , November 15, 2011 () – Tseshaht First Nation has announced the signing of a settlement over the removal of privately-owned land from Tree Farm License 44 in 2004.

Chief Councillor Les Sam said the agreement, known as a First Nations woodland tenure provides about 40,000 cubic metres of timber annually over a renewable 25-year term. "It happened really quickly. We signed the deal last week," Sam said. "We were in negotiation with the Ministry of Forests over the removal decision. It came about because Tseshaht wasn't consulted prior to the decision."

Back in 2004, then-forest minister Mike de Jong approved the removal of more than 70,000 hectares of land, situated within Tseshaht and Hupacasath traditional territory, from the TFL, and the matter has been in litigation ever since. Sam said the agreement, which includes some cash for planning purposes and has a total value of about $10 million, flows from the landmark Haida Decision in B.C. Supreme Court.

"The Haida Decision took place shortly before the removal took place," Sam said. "The decision affirmed the need for the province to consult and accommodate First Nations on land decisions affecting their traditional territories."

For Tseshaht, the long-term agreement fulfills the vision of the late George Watts, who signed the first forestry agreement with the province 12 years ago.

"That was the Equis agreement, for about 10,000 m3 at Cataract Lake, near Lyall Point on Barkley Sound. That's being harvested now," Sam said. "We also have a forest range agreement signed with the province in 2004 that we're still harvesting."

"This is called an 'evergreen' contract," Tseshaht forestry manager Robert Hunter said. "It will be extended indefinitely as long as we are in compliance."

But the new tenure, split into packages at Cataract Lake, on Sproat Lake and off Ship Creek Road near Polly Point, allows Tseshaht to plan for the long-term, Sam said. Most of the timber is second-growth Douglas fir, with some third-growth.

"We can do a whole range of initiatives now that we have a long-term area-based tenure," he said. "We can start sending some of our students into forestry careers. And we recently founded an engineering arm."

Hupacasath First Nation CEO Robert Duncan said his nation is in the process of completing a similar compensation agreement, and should be ratified by the members within the next month.

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