After months of speculation and hearsay, Resolute Forest Products has confirmed that it will be relinquishing its logging rights inside the Abitibi River Forest.

The company owns a 40% stake in the Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL) for that area, and after closing its Iroquois Falls mill in December, Resolute says it wouldn’t be right for them to retain logging rights they do not plan to use.

“Since we permanently closed the Iroquois Falls mill, it is only fair and reasonable for us to release our rights,” said Seth Kursman, Resolute’s vice-president of Corporate Communications,

Sustainability and Government Affairs. “So we are working in collaboration with the Ontario government and our other (licence) partners” to complete that process.

Now that Resolute is relinquishing its logging rights, what happens to that timber remains to be seen.

According to the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources, that decision will be left in the hands of the members of Abitibi River Forest Management, a co-operative of forestry companies, First Nations and other stakeholders that jointly control the SFL, of which Resolute was the largest member.

The ministry says what happens to Resolute’s forestry rights will be determined by their internal shareholder agreement, and that the government will have little say in the matter if Resolute’s shares are only divided up among the other license holders.

“Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry does not determine the contents of shareholder agreements,” wrote Jolanta Kowalski, MNRF’s senior media spokeswoman, in an email response to The Daily Press. “The ministry considers the redistribution of consumer and harvest shares in multi-shareholder Sustainable Forest Licence companies to be internal company business that does not require ministry approval or consent.”

If the members of Abitibi River Forest Management Inc. decides to transfer Resolute’s shares to a forestry company outside their group, that would require government approval and likely another round of First Nation consultations.

The Daily Press left messages with several staff and executive members of the Abitibi River Forest Management Inc. to find out what their shareholder agreement says about the relinquishing of licence shares and whether they will be redistributed among current members or transferred to an interested outside company. The Daily Press did not receive a reply.

Regardless of what happens now that Resolute has officially decided to pull out of the SFL, the Town of Iroquois Falls will be watching very closely.

Mayor Mike Shea said what the community wants to see is a deal that will allow forestry operations to resume and create jobs for residents in Iroquois Falls.

“Moving forward, we need to find quick ways to make sure that a lot of that wood gets re-allocated back to Iroquois Falls,” said Shea. “That’s what council’s wishes are and, I believe, every citizen of Iroquois Fall wishes for the same thing. We are — through the ministry — working diligently to make sure those rights remain in our back yard and provide future employment for people in the area.”